J.T. Realmuto calmly set his bat down as he began to trot around the bases after a third inning home run Saturday evening at Citizens Bank Park. There’s nothing wrong with flash – Realmuto’s teammate and good friend, Bryce Harper, is full of it – but Realmuto is more from the Matt Williams school of setting the bat down and running around the bases without a ton of emotion after he hits a home run.
And who can argue with how Realmuto carries himself? The 28-year-old was an All-Star for the second consecutive year in 2019 and he’s been scorching-hot since the All-Star Break. His approach to the game is obviously working quite well for him.
The Phillies acquired Realmuto from the Miami Marlins in February, in what almost certainly will turn into one of the most consequential trades in franchise history one way or another. Sixto Sanchez, the Phillies former No. 1 overall prospect, has a 2.86 ERA in 19 starts across two levels of the Marlins minor league system and looks like he may develop into a front-line starter for a division rival. Sanchez headlined a deal that also included catcher Jorge Alfaro, pitching prospect Will Stewart and $250,000 in international bonus slot money.
General manager Matt Klentak certainly doesn’t appear to have fleeced the Marlins in the deal that landed him one of the two or three best catchers in baseball. But Realmuto is having a memorable first season in red pinstripes.
Even while working with a starting pitching staff that’s been in constant flux and a bullpen that has been devastated by injuries, Realmuto has had an elite defensive. Among all qualified catchers, Realmuto is first in defensive WAR, first in would-be basestealers thrown out (33), second in defensive runs saved (10) and third in framing runs above average. He appears to be a lock to win his first Gold Glove Award in 2019, and given that FanGraphs says he’s been the most valuable overall defender at any position, he seemingly will be in the discussion for the National League Platinum Glove Award.
The season that Realmuto’s having defensively becomes even more noteworthy when you consider that he didn’t grade out even close to this well in four seasons as the Marlins full-time catcher. Over the last three seasons, Realmuto has averaged -8.3 defensive runs saved. His elite pop-time as a catcher has always made him effective at throwing out potential basestealers, but his career-high before 2019 was 28 in 2016. Even in defensive WAR – an area where Realmuto did grade out well – his previous career-high was 15.2 in 2017, a number he’s ahead of by a pretty comfortable margin this season.
Realmuto’s work behind the plate helped propel him to the All-Star Game in Cleveland in July. Beyond the fact that the Phillies needed an All-Star, Realmuto deserved to be there on his own merits when compared to other National League catchers. But the offensive explosion that many expected Realmuto to have in 2019 – the thought was that he would benefit both from being in a better lineup and playing his home games in a better hitter’s park – didn’t happen in the first-half of the season. That’s why Chicago Cubs catcher Wilson Contreras was the starting catcher for the National League All-Star team and despite his defensive acumen, there was some feeling that Realmuto underachieved in his first-half as a Phillie.
But for whatever offensive explosion Realmuto didn’t have in the first-half of the 2019 season, he’s made up for it since the All-Star Break.
The solo home run that Realmuto hit 415 feet Saturday evening came in his 115th at-bat since the All-Star Break, and was his ninth home run since the midsummer classic. In 308 at-bats in the unofficial first-half of the 2019 season, Realmuto hit 10 home runs. Before the All-Star Break, Realmuto slashed .273/.328/.438 with a .767 OPS. By and large, Realmuto’s first-half numbers were still very strong when compared to other catchers. But they pale in comparison to his offensive output since the All-Star Break – he’s hitting .308, is slugging over .600 and has an OPS north of .940.
At Realmuto’s introductory press conference, Klentak responded to questions about a potential extension for Realmuto by saying “I think it’s a good idea to date the person before you ask to marry them.” Things aren’t necessarily pressing, as Realmuto has another year of team control before he can become a free-agent. But Realmuto talked about potentially spending the rest of his career in Philadelphia at the All-Star Game, and given how his first season with the club has played out, it would seemingly behoove the Phillies to lock up Realmuto long-term this offseason.
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