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2021 report card: J.T. Realmuto

Is it possible to be disappointed with a solid season?

Philadelphia Phillies v Atlanta Braves Photo by Casey Sykes/Getty Images

#SignJT was the go-to hashtag for all Phillies fans in the summer of ‘20 (you know, the one where you spent it inside all day?).

Once Realmuto was secured to a contract extension last season, he set about trying to build on his case as the best catcher in baseball. You could make the argument for someone like Will Smith to have taken that mantle, but when combining all of the things that go into being a major league baseball player - offense, defense, baserunning - the best option behind the plate still resides in Philadelphia.

2021 stats

537 PA, .263/.343/.439, 17 HR, 73 RBI, 24.0 K%, 8.9 BB%, 108 wRC+, 4.4 fWAR

The good

Realmuto’s defense was good.

Real good.

Using Baseball Prospectus’ catching stats, Realmuto would finish first in CDA (catching defense adjusted), FRAA (fielding runs added), and framing runs, and second in blocking runs. Looking at Statcast data, he was a little lower in framing runs (finishing with 4, good for a tie for ninth among all qualified catchers). If you look deep enough, you can find some people who were unhappy with his defense this year, but the issue that they might have is that he is so good, so efficient behind the plate, it’s difficult to notice unless he is gone for an extended period. Since he’s pretty durable, the team hasn’t had to miss the defense too much.

At the plate, his wRC+ of 108 was good for eighth among catchers with at least 350 plate appearances, slightly down from last year, but still among the best in the game. He’s still far and away the best baserunner of all catchers (5.5 RsR, first among catchers), so as far as being complete, Realmuto is still the best.

The bad

With each report card, we have to look for something to say was “bad” about each player. Some players will not have as much written here, but we have to look for something. Maybe it’s the expectations, maybe it’s the guaranteed amount of money he’s owed, but there is the ability to make the argument that Realmuto’s season had a tinge of disappointment to it. The power was down, the strikeout rate continued to continued to climb, and if you are still a believer in batting average, that was down as well.

It’s not just those numbers that are falling as well. Looking at his Statcast data, there are some concerns that maybe catching every day, though it’s his own stated desire, might not be the best idea, that maybe a quality backup should be a priority starting in 2022.

J.T. Realmuto 2019-21

Stat 2019 2020 2021
Stat 2019 2020 2021
K% 20.7% 24.6% 24.0%
Whiff% 23.8% 29.8% 27.0%
Barrel% 8.7% 13.6% 8.6%
Exit Velocity (mph) 90.2 90.2 89.7

Is this cherry picking? Sure. There are areas where Realmuto actually is getting better, like how his hard hit rate just continues to climb. But it’s a little hard to get happy about that when he’s not hitting the ball as much.

There are nitpicks, of course, but these are the kinds of red flags that begin popping up that a player is in decline. While this doesn’t particularly apply to Realmuto, they should apply to the fact that backup catching needs to get higher on their priority list.

The future

Well, he ain’t going anywhere for the next four years, that’s for sure.

His future as the catcher of the Phillies is secure, but there is starting to come a time where the team is going to want a viable backup to give him some time off. With the DH coming (maybe) as a result of a new CBA, Realmuto’s offense will have the ability to remain in the lineup every day. That means for the days when he isn’t catching, someone will have to. The team has taken steps to remedy this issue by nabbing some catching depth this offseason, but Garrett Stubbs may not be the best answer. This means Rafael Marchan will have to step up or maybe someone comes available during spring training. Either way, they’ll need more production than what Andrew Knapp has given them the past few years.

Final grade: A-

The defense was good, but as stated, the offense left some wanting a bit more. Granted, by comparison to other catchers, Realmuto was still among the best in the game offensively, so does any disappointment in his season get attributed to his contract or to unfair expectations set on his shoulders?

In the perfect world lineup, Realmuto is probably the fourth or fifth best option. With Harper being the clear top dog in Philadelphia, there has been a bit of a vacuum behind him in the pecking order. Jean Segura was a productive bat last year, but it also felt like Realmuto had to pick up the slack for other’s lack of production. Adding another bat would be huge for the team and for Realmuto, who wouldn’t necessarily be asked to help carry the lineup. He’s still one of, if not THE, best catchers in the game, so let’s enjoy him while we still can.