Analysis

In 2019, J.T. Realmuto cemented his status as best catcher in baseball


On February 7, 2019, prior to signing superstar Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies general manager Matt Klentak made a big win-now move, trading top prospect Sixto Sanchez and young catcher Jorge Alfaro to the Miami Marlins as part of a package for All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto.

After this trade, along with the acquisitions of Harper, Andrew McCutchen and Jean Segura, the Phillies had suddenly added four former All-Stars to a group that had won 80 games in the year prior.

However, despite the additions, the team failed to meet expectations in an 81-81 season. But while many things went very wrong for the 2019 Phillies, one thing went even better than planned – the acquisition of Realmuto.

At first, the returns on the trade appeared to just be OK. Realmuto was a defensive stud out of the gate, but was not as good as advertised at the plate during the first half of the season. Heading into the All-Star Break, he had only a .767 OPS to go along with 10 home runs and 42 RBIs. That certainly isn’t bad offensive production for a catcher, but not what the Phillies were looking for when they traded a blue-chip prospect for him.

Despite his struggles on offense, Realmuto still earned the Phillies lone All-Star bid behind his stellar defense. He threw out 26 baserunners to lead baseball and his overall defensive contribution had him 25th in baseball in fWAR despite the offensive inconsistency.

In the second half of the season, Realmuto got stronger. He put together an incredible stretch, hitting 15 home runs with a .892 OPS, while continuing to provide excellent defense behind the plate.

In the last two months of the season, Realmuto was especially good, becoming one of the most valuable players in baseball. His 2.6 fWAR after Aug. 1 ranked sixth overall in the National League. His 15 doubles and 28 extra-base hits after the midsummer classic led the Phillies to go along with 11 home runs and .591 slugging percentage, which trailed only Harper.

J.T. Realmuto had an excellent first season in Philadelphia. (Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

Realmuto’s season may have been, statistically, the best all-around one for any Phillies catcher ever. He was the first catcher in franchise history to have 35+ doubles and 25+ home runs in a single season, and his caught-stealing percentage of 46.7 percent was the highest for any Phillies catcher since Bob Boone in 1973.

He also cemented his place as the best catcher in baseball right now. He led all catchers in hits, doubles, extra-base hits, runs, RBIs, caught stealing and fWAR, among several other categories.

No matter the metric, the story holds true for Realmuto’s 2019 season – he was great. It doesn’t seem out of the question that he will get some National League MVP votes, considering he finished seventh in the league in fWAR in addition to being the highest-rated defensive player in the league, according to Fangraphs‘ metrics.

He may become the first Phillie to ever win the Platinum Glove Award in addition to likely becoming the first Phillies catcher to win a Gold Glove Award since Mike Lieberthal did it in 1999. In addition to an MLB-leading caught-stealing percentage, Realmuto improved his framing, the part of the game the Phillies thought needed the most help. He finished fourth among all catchers with 8.0 framing runs above average.

There is no question that the Phillies gave up a sizable haul in order to get Realmuto. Alfaro is clearly a tier or two down from Realmuto, but offers promise as an everyday major league catcher in the years to come. And Sanchez, just 21, ranks as the 22nd prospect in baseball, according to MLB Pipeline.

But, it certainly seems that the Phillies made the right decision when they sent these two very talented players packing in this acquisition. Their next move should and will be to try to give Realmuto an extension this offseason. There is mutual interest from Realmuto, too, and it seems more to be a matter of when and for how much, not if, he will sign an extension.

Catchers typically have a shorter peak than other position players, and one of Realmuto’s prime years was wasted in this lost 2019 season. He started 130 games at catcher in 2019, the most in baseball, and his season ended early after dealing with right knee soreness that led to a meniscus cleanup, showing the fragility of the position.

Realmuto will be 29 in 2020, and the Phillies need to capitalize on having the best catcher in baseball in his prime. Trading for him was a win-now move, and Sanchez and Alfaro were valuable pieces to give up. The Phillies have to back it up by bolstering the current roster in a vital offseason.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Todd Heller

    November 2, 2019 at 3:07 pm

    Great writing as always jonny!!

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