Cameron Rupp has been surging for the past month and a half, producing a .298/.353/.575 slash line over that period. Pretty solid numbers in their own right, and he has been one of the most valuable offensive forces in baseball over this stretch (ranked 29th by wOBA). It is even better when you consider he is a catcher with a 7% owned rate in the Yahoo leagues.
Following the conclusion of the 2015 season, during the end of season meetings, Pete Mackanin suggested Rupp may benefit from altering his bat path. During the off season, Cameron with the aid Chris Edelstein, a batting instructor he has known since childhood, went to work on shortening his bat path and focusing on the top of the ball. He came into spring training this season with a newly adapted swing, one in which he describes as having “a minor adjustment.” In early May, Rupp told Joe Harris, a contributor of MLB.com:
“A lot of balls I’ve had for hits this year I don’t think would have translated into hits last year,” Rupp said. “Maybe a couple of routine fly balls on the doubles I hit, even the home run I hit wasn’t handled very well last year. So I think it has kind of given me more success this year and early on it shows.”
Those a few hefty claims by Rupp, and luckily we have quite of bit of information available to check it against. The obvious place to start is with his GB/LD/FB rates, and for this I will be using the strict MLB definitions of these ball types using their launch angle. A ground ball is anything under 10 degrees, line drive is 10-25 degrees, fly ball 25-50 degrees, and a pop up is anything over 50 degrees. On my xStats sheet (which you can easily find by going to xstats.org) I have these numbers available for each batter and pitcher, they are slightly different than the numbers you will see on fangraphs.
Looking at these numbers, you see his ground ball rate is up, line drives are down, fly balls are even, and pop ups are cut in half. On their face, this definitely looks like a down grade. Fewer pop ups is great, but trading line drives for ground balls isn’t exactly ideal, generally speaking. So lets look at the average exit velocities for these batted balls.
|AVG EV||GB EV||LD EV||FB EV||AVG°||GB°||LD°||FB°|
His exit velocities have definitely improved substantially, going up 2.7 MPH overall, and 3.2 and 3.3 MPH for ground balls and line drives respectively. His fly ball EV has dropped, though. His vertical launch angles have changed slightly, deviating further from a flat trajectory, with the ground balls being further down into the ground, and line drives and fly balls higher into the air. However, I’m not sure the change is large enough to make much of an impact, positive or negative.
His batted balls are being hit much harder, though, that should result in a dramatic uptick in BABIP, and his results bear it out. He has had a 60 point jump in BABIP, from .281 to .341 this season, while his xBABIP went from .286 in 2015 to .375 in 2016.
|%GB Pull||%LD Pull||%FB Pull|
|%GB Mid||%LD Mid||%FB Mid|
|%GB Push||%LD Push||%FB Push|
The push and pull rates have changed significantly as well. As a percentage of the balls in play, his pull rates are up across the board. Ground balls, line drives, and fly balls, all up. His ground ball rate up the middle has more than doubled as well. This is all especially impressive when you factor in the exit velocities for these batted balls. His ground balls up the middle have an average exit velocity of 103.4 mph (!!!). His line drives up the middle and to right field, his push side, are upwards of 98 mph on average, and his fly balls to right field aren’t far behind at 97.6 mph.
|GB Pull||GB Mid||GB Push|
|LD Pull||LD Mid||LD Push|
|FB Pull||FB Mid||FB Push|
Rupp is absolutely scorching the ball to center and right field, and as you can see in the following chart, his xBACON (expect batting average on contact) rates have gone through the roof for these types of contact. .706 for ground balls up the middle, .728 on line drives to right field. His line drives to right field have had their xBACON jump from .587 to .728. That is a huge leap. Additionally, his average batted ball distance on balls hit above 10 degrees (line drives and fly balls) has gone from ~287 feet in 2015 to ~306 feet in 2016, an 18.5 foot leap, and his expected home run per ball in play rate (xHR/BIP) has gone from 6% in 2015 to 8.2% in 2016.
|GB Pull||LD Pull||FB Pull|
|GB Mid||LD Mid||FB Mid|
|GB Push||LD Push||FB Push|
Pete Mackanin has claimed that Rupp’s new swing and approach has allowed him to hit the ball up in the zone, where he would have whiffed helplessly in the past. In the following two charts, you can see Rupp’s slugging percent heat maps fro 2015 and 2016. It is easy to recognize just how much hotter he is this season all over the zone, but also take note at his success higher in the zone. You can look at his other heat maps to find the same pattern for swinging, contact, AVG, and ISO. Across the board, he is much better at hitting pitches up in the zone, in addition to everything else previously discussed.
Cameron Rupp has, by every metric I have available to me at the moment, taken a very significant leap forward. He’s right, he ought to be hitting more doubles and home runs, relative to last season. I’m not so sure about the fewer routine fly balls aspect of his comment, it seems he is likely hitting the same number of those, perhaps even more, actually, but overall his production is up. It is up by a lot, both by the expected outcome metrics that use his raw batted ball information, and by in game success. Cameron Rupp is a different hitter this season than he was in years past, and he absolutely should not have a 7% owned rate. There is no guarantee that this will last forever, pitchers may find a new weakness and exploit it, but for the time being, especially the month of June, Cameron Rupp has been a very valuable asset. If you’re in need of a catcher, there stands a solid chance that he is available to you right now, given his ownership rate.