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Just How Good is Cameron Rupp Anyway?

Earlier this season, the Phillies catcher was looking like a young fantasy breakout at a position that is a wasteland in 2016. He’s been struggling lately. Which version is closer to his true talent?

Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Brian Garfinkel/Getty Images

If you read my post about Russell Martin or have paid attention to fantasy baseball at all this year, you know the catcher position has been terrible. Just awful. We are all grasping at straws to fill that slot on our rosters. Sure, Posey is still Posey, Lucroy is back to his old self, and guys like Martin and Yasmani Grandal have rebounded from very slow starts, but the position is still razor thin.

That lack of depth means that any catcher that emerges and looks like he might have upside, especially if he is young, is highly valuable and worth monitoring. That’s the reason I was first drawn to Cameron Rupp of the Phillies. Coming off a disappointing first year in the big leagues, he quickly pushed veteran Carlos Ruiz aside and assumed the starting catcher role this year.

This table shows his 2016 stats. You can plainly see, since I have split it up this way, that his first half and second half are wildly different. He’s kind of the bizzaro Russell Martin in this way. Martin’s had a stellar second half after an awful first half.

AVG OBP SLG K% BB% BABIP
1st Half 0.287 0.329 0.507 25.20% 4.10% 0.354
2nd Half 0.209 0.289 0.365 28.90% 9.40% 0.26

So, what’s changed? Can it be fixed? Is there something wrong with him now or is this just regression to the mean?

His second half strikeout rate has gone up, which isn’t good, but his walk rate is also up, so that cancels some of that issue. I’ve buried the lead a bit here, since we should probably have discussed his BABIP first. Look at that drop from first to second half! Anyone with that kind of BABIP collapse is going to fall hard. So, that’s clearly a big contributor to his drop in production.

Part of the reason I was excited about him to begin with was that he was hitting the ball hard in the first half. His hard hit rate was 33.3% for the first half, which isn’t bad for a catcher. That was coupled with 9 HR in just 222 PA and a 0.220 ISO. Throw in that sweet 0.297 average and the fact that his HR/FB rate of 18% wasn’t extreme, and you’ve got something very intriguing. More impressively, his average exit velocity was 92.77 mph, which would put him about 27th in baseball on the current exit velocity leaderboard, in the range of Jake Lamb, Yoenis Cespedes, and Albert Pujols.

His second half hard hit % is actually up to 35.9%, despite the poor results. His second half exit velocity sits at 90.4, so his BABIP drop looks somewhat legit, but not to that extreme level. His overall fly ball distance average of 328 feet (still 323 feet since the break) puts him in elite company like Trevor Story, David Ortiz, and Joey Votto (using the slightly out of date numbers at baseballheatmaps.com). His exit velocity and distance come from Baseball Savant.

He ran low BABIPs in 2014 and 2015, is a slow catcher that pulls grounders quite a bit, but doesn’t pull his overall batted balls very much. His profile looks mostly like a low BABIP guy and certainly not the 0.354 guy we saw in the first half. His OPS drops from 0.772 with no shift to 0.606 with a shift, so it clearly hurts him.

All that being said, he can still hit the ball pretty hard and I think he is an interesting deep sleeper at the position for 2017. He is mired in a slump right now, resulting from regression to the mean, plus some extra, in his BABIP but his overall power profile still looks strong. I’m going to use him in my 14-team league where Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki have been my catchers this year and see if the power continues and rescues his collapsing BABIP. With catcher this season, you just have to throw the spaghetti against the wall and see what sticks, and I think you could do worse than taking a chance on this 27-year-old. Someday soon (like in mid-2017)Jorge Alfaro might be an issue for Cameron’s playing time, but that’s a story for a different day. Tschus!