Data Ball With Jason Ferrie

Already the league’s best catcher, J.T. Realmuto stands to get even better in 2019



The Phillies acquired J.T. Realmuto earlier this month. (Russell Lansford/Icon Sportswire)

In an offseason full of major moves, Philadelphia Phillies general manager Matt Klentak waited until just prior to Spring Training to complete one of the biggest trades in franchise history. The team sent a package highlighted by RHP Sixto Sanchez and catcher Jorge Alfaro to the Miami Marlins in return for All-Star catcher J.T Realmuto. Many have touted Realmuto as the best catcher in baseball, which naturally generates excitement in the Delaware Valley. Over the course of the last three seasons, Realmuto has been worth 12.3 fWAR, which is the best among catchers since 2016.

The best part for the Phillies is that the data shows Realmuto is still getting better.

Through trending wins above replacement, we can see that Realmuto is getting better relative to his peers’ year-to-year as he has posted 3.7, 3.8 and 4.8 fWAR over the past three seasons.

When digging specifically into his batted ball profile, Realmuto is growing as a hitter. There is a ton of talk about launch angle in baseball and rightfully so. We know that certain players can maximize their potential by doing specific things at the plate. Realmuto had his best offensive year this past season and it is no surprise that his launch angle increased by just about five degrees. You’re probably asking what that means in terms of performance. Using StatCast data, we can see how often Realmuto would be producing a hit, or at least improving his odds:

Year Avg Exit Velocity Average Launch Angle BA 1B% 2B% 3B% HR%
2017 88.2 9.8 0.622 59.5 2.7 0 0
2018 88.9 14.4 1.000 90.5 9.5 0 0

Obviously, Realmuto is not going to hit the ball at the same exit velocity and launch angle all the time, but this does show that lifting the ball at his exit velocity has allowed for even better results.

Another rate that has gone up for Realmuto is his barrel rate. For those who don’t know, a barrel is defined as batted ball events whose comparable hit types have led to a minimum .500 batting average and 1.500 slugging percentage. Realmuto made a massive jump from 6.3-percent in 2017 to 9-percent last season. This can also be attributed to his improved launch angle and above average exit velocity.

But why mention this? Well, the point is that Realmuto was a very good offensive player in Miami and that isn’t an ideal park for hitters. Baseball Prospectus’ park factors by handedness ranked Marlins Park the worst stadium in baseball for right-handed hitters in 2018. If we look at Citizens Bank Park, it turns out that Realmuto will now be hitting in the seventh-best park for right-handed hitters and the second-best in terms of home run factor, according to 2018 park factors. In 2017, Citizens Bank had the eighth highest right-handed hitter run factor and was the best for right-handed home runs. Park factors can vary year-to-year, but bet on the increased launch angle helping Realmuto in the years to come.

Below is an overlay of Realmuto’s batted balls in Citizens Bank Park:

Hitting is much more than just putting the bat on the ball, though. To get where a hitter wants to be, they need to have an approach. Over the past few seasons, Realmuto has done a great job improving his walk rate. Realmuto has increased his walk rate from 5.1-percent to 7.2-percent over the past three seasons. Part of the reason for this increase is Realmuto’s ability to lay off pitches outside of the zone. During the aforementioned span, Realmuto has watched his chase rate decrease from 30.2-percent to 25.9-percent. In the zone, Realmuto has been consistently aggressive offering at 66.5-percent of pitches in 2017 and 66.9-percent of pitches in 2018. Baseball Savant also measures a metric defined as “meatball,” which if you follow baseball, you can imagine the exact pitch type. Realmuto has also done a better job at going after these pitches—jumping from 69.7-percent to a career-best 75-percent. Realmuto is offering at fewer pitches out of the zone and more in the heart of the plate.

The lone knock on Realmuto could be his strikeout rate is trending up from 18.3-percent in 2016 and 2017 to 19.6-percent last season. It shouldn’t be an issue with the walk-rate going up and the power improving for Realmuto. Strikeouts are bound to happen, especially if you make the decision to trade some contact for power.

As is, Realmuto was productive enough for the Phillies to part with their No. 1 overall prospect for. The idea of the soon-to-be 28-year-old getting better is a scary one. But with an improved launch angle and a move to a more hitter-friendly park, the 2018 National League All-Star projects to put together the finest season of his career in 2019.

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