In the American League, the end of the season is going to bring about a brutal debate among fans and writers alike.
Who is the AL MVP this season?
The two candidates, Aaron Judge and Shohei Ohtani, leave writers with no real wrong choice from which to choose. Ohtani is having a season that is almost beyond description, an All-Star on both sides of the baseball, offensively and on the mound. One could compare him to Babe Ruth, but in all actuality, what Ohtani is doing is more impressive than what Ruth did when you consider all of the outsides circumstances (travel, talent level, schedule, etc.) It doesn’t detract from what Ruth was able to do in his career. It’s just an acknowledgement of what Ohtani is doing this season. It would take a historic season in order for someone to beat Ohtani out for the MVP...
...which is exactly what Judge is doing in New York. Though the team is slumping its way towards the playoffs, the fact that Judge has been so good for the entire season, the fact that he has carried the team to the playoffs has to account for something considering Ohtani will once again be watching October at home. It’s going to be a stirring debate for the weeks to come.
In the National League, it’s more than likely that Paul Goldschmidt has this National League MVP wrapped up. He’s in contention for a Triple Crown at the moment, has carried the Cardinals to a likely division crown and has been as steady as they come all year long. It’s not as though it isn’t deserved, but there really hasn’t been anyone to challenge what he has been able to do in St. Louis (though I’d look long and hard at Manny Machado, Mookie Betts and Austin Riley).
What will be interesting in this race though will be the down ballot votes that players get. If Goldschmidt is indeed the runaway winner, how does the top ten look?
This is where Realmuto comes into play.
I’m not about to make the argument that Realmuto deserves to win the MVP over Goldschmidt. Even a homer like me can’t stretch the numbers that far. Instead, I’d argue that Realmuto deserves to be in the discussion as a top five candidate.
Coming into Sunday’s game, Realmuto was at 5.5 fWAR, good for eighth among all National League batters. I don’t think I need to tell you that not only is that good for all batters, but for catchers, it’s just a runaway argument for how much better he has been than the others at his position the league. He’s almost a full win better than the next catcher, Sean Murphy, but if we’re counting the National League only, he’s a full two wins better than the next nearest catcher, Will Smith. And it’s not like it has been a full season thing either.
If you remember back to the end of June, Realmuto was not playing well at all. On June 24, his batting line was sitting at .236/.313/.352. He had only four home runs and 27 RBI and there were some pretty strong calls among some in the fanbase for his moving on to a new team. Then he caught fire. It feels, anecdotally at least, that his season got started right around the time he missed the series in Toronto, but the fact is that he was starting to get hot before that. Beginning on June 25, Realmuto began his hot hitting that has carried over into today. Cherry picking at its finest, he has (through Friday’s game) hit .318/.383/.599 since that June 25 dawned on the world. It’s not just a good stretch for the team, it’s as good a stretch during that time for anyone in the game. Among all batters in the game with at least 230 plate appearances, Realmuto’s 167 wRC+ ranks 11th in baseball since June 25th.
And that’s just his offense.
Try to imagine the Phillies without Realmuto behind the plate for an extended period of time. Nothing against Garrett Stubbs, of course, who has been excellent in his backup role this season, but Realmuto has been simply outstanding defensively. His throwing out base runners at a 42% clip is tied for the best among all catchers with at least 500 innings behind the backstop. He has thrown out 27 runners, seven more than anyone else in the game. All while catching 100+ more innings than anyone else this season.
There are also intangibles that we cannot quantify, but from anyone who watches the team, it is clear how much the pitchers depend on him behind the plate, knowing that anything he calls for a pitch is probably the right call, anything in the dirt probably gets blocked. It’s a full and complete trust the team has in everything he does for them.
Is it enough to get votes for the MVP award? That’s where the voters come in. Catchers don’t really do well in the MVP voting unless their offensive season is something so far out of the ordinary, it cannot be ignored. While Realmuto has been solid with the bat, there isn’t anything eye popping about his numbers. He doesn’t have 30+ home runs, 100 RBI, those being the magical numbers that voters seem to be drawn towards. Instead, Realmuto’s case really does depend on those same voters taking his game in its totality, recognizing his greatness this season on both sides of the ball.
Will it happen? It’s probable that they don’t. Voters just love themselves some nice, big offensive numbers to look out before they fill out their card. But before they do, they really should look at the impact Realmuto has had on the team this season because without him, they aren’t in this playoff chase. Some mid- to down-ballot MVP votes should reward that season.