J.T. Realmuto - Is He Worth It?
In 2010, J.T. Realmuto was drafted in the third round by the then Florida Marlins. In his senior year of high school, he hit .595 with 28 home runs. He always possessed a rocket arm, which planted him behind home plate. Throughout his career in the minor leagues, Realmuto averaged a .734 OPS. He was called up in 2014 and had his first full season in 2015 as the catcher of the now Miami Marlins. In that season, he managed a .696 OPS and had some defensive struggles. Fast forward to 2021, and Realmuto is on the verge of being the highest paid catcher in the league. Is he worth this moniker?
Worst to First
When Realmuto first entered the league, he was not considered a great defensive catcher. Realmuto ranked in the 27th percentile in framing and was second in 2016 in errors committed for a catcher with 10. Throughout his time in the majors, he improved drastically. One area to mention is framing. Framing is a catchers ability to turn balls into strikes. Here's Realmuto's breakdown per year:
As you can see, Realmuto is a whole different catcher. He was ranked in the 95th percentile this past year and was only behind Omar Narvaez (53.7%) with converting 51.9% of non-swing pitches into strikes. He went from 40th in strike rate in 2015 to second in 2020.
Now, Realmuto hasn't always had issues as a defensive catcher. Much like another fellow catcher that had/has defensive problems Gary Sanchez, Realmuto also features a strong arm and a crazy pop time. Pop time is a term for a catchers ability to catch the ball from the pitcher, stand up, and fire a strike to second or third. Since 2015, Realmuto has consistently ranked in the top five for pop time to second and third. His pop time to second has been between 1.89 - 1.93 seconds (first in the league last year) and to third, it's been between 1.4-1.5 seconds. Here's a wonderful compilation of every caught stealing by Realmuto.....it's seven minutes long!
Catchers That Rake
Realmuto's bat has always been his strong point. Much like how we highlighted George Springer and center field in last weeks blog, catcher is also a position that typically features the below average hitters. Catchers have perhaps the hardest job out of any position player in that they are always crouched down, dropping down to smother bad pitches, and even taking bats to their heads in some nasty follow through swings. Below, is the past four years for catchers sorted by OPS with a minimum of 300 games played:
Why did I pick 300 games as a barometer? Well, typically catchers take games off due to the immense physical strain. Even with playing 458 games, Realmuto mustered a league leading .812 OPS. I will note that players like Grandal and Sanchez have hit more home runs than Realmuto, but Realmuto has also gathered more RBIs and stole more bases.
Now that I mention stolen bases, JT Realmuto is the Bugatti of the catcher position. Out of the six years he's been in the league, Realmuto has been first in sprint speed, only finishing second last year to Jorge Alfaro. This is rare out of a catcher to exhibit speed. Out of 454 players, Realmuto ranked 84th ahead of speedsters like Jazz Chisholm, Oscar Mercado, and Ozzie Albies.
Dolla Dolla Bill Y'all
What's Realmuto asking for? Reports have been saying 5 years and between $125-$200 million deal. Before we dig into that, here is what the current top five of catchers are earning sorted by total value:
Realmuto beats every one of these catchers in every category, and is struggling to take first overall from Posey. Even on the low end at 5 year/$125 million, Realmuto would become the highest paid catcher, surpassing Posey by over $5 million per year. Looking at average annual value for other positions, this would put Realmuto in the range of Giancarlo Stanton, Bryce Harper, and Paul Goldschmidt. If he gets the higher end of $200 million, this would put him in the $40 million range, which would be more than Trout and Cole. It's safe to say that Realmuto is not the second best position player in the field with players like Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger, and Aaron Judge that share the same ground. Looking at Wins Above Replacement (WAR), Realmuto ranks 24th since 2017.
Realmuto has improved in his fielding ability going from one of the worst defensive catchers, to one of the best. He's been the best hitting catcher since 2017, and also the fastest. If he's truly asking for upwards of $200 million in 5 years, I'd say that's an overpay. $125 million would honestly be the top end of what he should be receiving. As long as the average annual value doesn't top $25 million, I'd say that would be a great price to pay for the best catcher in the league.