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“Is J.T. Realmuto of the Phillies Still the Top Catcher in Baseball?” – Phillies Nation

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J.T. Realmuto remains one of the best catchers in the sport. (Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

Halfway through the 2022 season, Philadelphia Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto appeared like he may no longer be at the height of his powers, as he slashed .252/.323/.399 with a .722 OPS prior to the All-Star Game. It was still very good production, but short of the high standard he had set for himself over his first three seasons in red pinstripes.

But Realmuto squashed any thoughts that he was beyond his prime with a monster second half of the 2022 campaign, slashing .307/.367/.583 with a staggering .949 OPS, ultimately earning a top-10 finish in NL MVP voting.

There wasn’t a massive second-half surge for Realmuto in 2023, though. Make no mistake, he was still one of the more productive catchers in baseball, homering 20 times and driving in 63 runs. But a year after posting a career-high 6.5 WAR, FanGraphs says that Realmuto finished 2023 with a 1.5 WAR, a lower mark than he finished the pandemic-shortened 2020 season with. (Leo Morgenstern of FanGraphs did an excellent deep dive on what may have caused the plummet.) Realmuto finished the 2023 campaign with .252 batting average, a 24-point dip from 2022. His on-base percentage dropped from .342 in 2022 to .310 in 2023. And while he remained effective at throwing out would-be basestealers, the two-time Gold Glover posted -4 defensive runs saved, a pretty drastic drop from the 11 he posted in 2022.

So as Realmuto enters his age-33 season, is he still the best catcher in baseball? MLB Network released their annual top 10 catchers right now list, and Realmuto, who had been No. 1 in the three prior years, fell to fourth. Adley Rutschman of the Baltimore Orioles claimed the top spot, followed by Will Smith of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Sean Murphy of the Atlanta Braves.

After a relative down year for Realmuto, we wouldn’t argue with this list. But it’s worth pointing out how much larger of a workload Realmuto had than the other three behind the plate, and that’s before a second consecutive lengthy postseason run. Realmuto caught a career-high 1,142 innings last year, the sixth time in his career he’s surpassed 1,000 innings behind the dish. Smith caught 959 innings for the Dodgers. In his age-25 season, Rutschman caught 934 2/3 innings, also getting some at-bats at DH. Murphy — who was spelled by veteran Travis d’Arnaud on a fairly regular basis — caught 866 innings in his first campaign in Atlanta.

But while it can be worn as a badge of honor that Realmuto has carried such a large workload, he may benefit from a lessening of his total innings behind the plate as he ages. What happened right before the 2022 All-Star Break? He wasn’t eligible to play in a two-game series in Toronto because of his vaccination status. The Phillies then had an off day Thursday, and Realmuto returned for a three-game sweep of the Miami Marlins on the weekend of July 15-17. And then the Phillies had four more days off because of the All-Star Break. Realmuto had already started to heat up before a period with quite a bit of rest, but he returned from the All-Star Break and put together the best half of baseball in his career. There may be a lesson to by learned from that, particularly as Realmuto approaches his mid-30s.

In any event, while Realmuto may have relinquished the BCIB title, he remains one of the top players at his position. You can win a World Series with the fourth-best catcher in baseball, particularly when you have Bryce Harper, Trea Turner, Kyle Schwarber, Nick Castellanos and Bryson Stott to take some pressure off of him.

 

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