Is J.T. Realmuto the new top dog at the catcher position?

When it comes to the catcher position Buster Posey has been the gold standard, especially in keeper leagues. Prior to 2017 his name consistently appeared in the top-5 at the end of the season, not only at the position but in most of the standard scoring categories. The general consensus when it came to catchers was that if you can’t get Buster Posey, wait as long as possible to fill the position.

For the past two years Posey has been a shell of his former self. The decline actually started in 2016 when his average dropped and he managed just 14 home runs. He still totaled 80 plus in both runs and RBI so the alarm didn’t sound – that is until 2017. His average moved back above .300, but the power dropped yet again (12 HR) and the run and RBI totals didn’t crack 70. That brings us to 2018, and I don’t need to remind you what a bust Posey was last year.

While fantasy owners have been clamoring over the power of Gary Sanchez, the upside of Willson Contreras, and the potential of a number of catching prospects, one name has been lost in the conversation. OK, maybe lost is the wrong word – it’s not like fantasy owners have no clue who J.T. Realmuto is or what he has done. However, when it comes to drafts and keepers, Realmuto is a name that has been lost in the conversation.

For starters, let’s take a look at which catchers finished in the top-10 for the past three years.

2016 2017 2018
Jonathan Lucroy Gary Sanchez J.T. Realmuto
Buster Posey Buster Posey Yasmani Grandal
Wilson Ramos J.T. Realmuto Wilson Ramos
J.T. Realmuto Yadier Molina Yadier Molina
Yadier Molina Salvador Perez Salvador Perez
Evan Gattis Willson Contreras Evan Gattis
Yasmani Grandal Mike Zunino Yan Gomes
Russell Martin Welington Castillo Willson Contreras
Salvador Perez Yasmani Grandal Francisco Cervelli
Gary Sanchez Kurt Suzuki Kurt Suzuki

Both Willson Contreras and Gary Sanchez are there in two of three years, as is Wilson Ramos, Evan Gattis and Kurt Suzuki. Yadier Molina, and Salvador Perez, and Yasmani Grandal appear all three years. And mixed in there are the likes of Russell Martin, Yan Gomes, Mike Zunino – those plucky waiver wire additions that made some owner happy that year.

Then there is Realmuto – a top-5 option for the past three years, and yet he has rarely been mentioned in keeper conversations – except maybe in NL only and two-catcher formats – and despite two years of success he was an average 13th round pick in 2018. So why is nobody giving Realmuto more respect?

Before we dig into the underlying metrics we’ll take a look at his fantasy relevant stats, starting with batting average. I filtered the players using 400 plate appearances.

2016 2017 2018
Molina .307 Posey .320 Ramos .306
Ramos .307 Realmuto .278 Posey .284
Realmuto .303 Sanchez .278 Realmuto .277
Lucroy .292 Contreras .276 Gomes .266
Posey .288 Molina .273 Molina .261
Castillo .264 Barnhart .270 Cervelli .259
Barnhart .257 Perez .268 Contreras .249
Rupp .252 Lucroy .265 Barnhart .248
Vogt .251 Zunino .251 Lucroy .241
Gattis .251 Grandal .247 Grandal .241

There’s Buster Posey sitting in the top-5 all three years. Yadier Molina is there as well, but given his age he is hardly a keeper consideration. And then there is Realmuto. He isn’t the .300 hitter that Posey is, but he is capable of reaching that number in a given year and has a nice baseline well above the masses. Considering you’re lucky to find anything above a .250 outside the top 6-7 players that average can go a long way. So what else is Realmuto good at?

2016 2017 2018
Posey 82 Sanchez 79 Realmuto 74
Lucroy 67 Realmuto 68 Grandal 65
Martin 62 Posey 62 Molina 55
Realmuto 60 Molina 60 Gomes 52
Ramos 58 Perez 57 Perez 52
Gattis 58 Zunino 52 Contreras 50
Perez 57 Contreras 50 Barnhart 50
Molina 56 Grandal 50 Chirinos 48
McCann 56 Castro 49 Posey 47
Vogt 54 Lucroy 45 Lucroy 41

Over the last three seasons Posey and Realmuto have reached 60 runs five times, only five other players over that span thave reached or exceeded that total. This year was especially impressive for Realmuto considering the Marlins gave him zero support or protection. That makes two categories where Realmuto is a great asset, but in fantasy owners only care about one thing – Power!

I know home runs reign supreme in today’s game, but stolen bases are just as important – especially at a position which offers little in the way of speed. Not to mention the fact that stolen bases are on the decline league wide so any extra thievery is welcome. So, for the sake of my argument I am going to look at HR+SB to see how Realmuto stacks up against the competition.

2016 2017 2018
Gattis 34 Sanchez 35 Perez 28
Lucroy 29 Perez 28 Grandal 26
Grandal 28 Molina 27 Realmuto 24
Realmuto 23 Zunino 26 Molina 24
Norris 23 Realmuto 25 Zunino 20
Ramos 22 Contreras 25 Chirinos 20
Perez 22 Grandal 22 Gomes 16
Martin 22 Hedges 22 Ramos 15
McCann 21 Posey 18 Cervelli 14
Posey 20 Maldonado 14 Contreras 14

Prior to 2018 Realmuto was looked down upon because he didn’t possess that typical 20+ home run power. However, when you factor in his speed he moves from outside the top-10 and into the top-5. In 2018 he didn’t even need the speed to finish in the top-5. The problem is, heading into 2019 there will be doubters when it comes to his new-found power. I’ll admit to being skeptical myself. However, Realmuto will be 28 next season so he is still young enough to continue swiping bags. I’m sure if the Marlins put any sort of talent around him in 2019 the steals will return, and that will more than make up for any lost power. I see no reason to expect less than 20 total.

2016 2017 2018
Lucroy 81 Sanchez 90 Perez 80
Posey 80 Molina 82 Realmuto 74
Ramos 80 Perez 80 Molina 74
Martin 74 Contreras 74 Ramos 70
Grandal 72 Posey 67 Grandal 68
Gattis 72 Realmuto 65 Chirinos 65
Castillo 68 Zunino 64 Cervelli 57
Wieters 66 Grandal 58 Contreras 54
Perez 64 Hedges 55 Lucroy 51
Molina 58 Wieters 52 Gomes 48

As for RBIs: Realmuto fell short in 2016 (48 – 15th overall), but keep in mind that half of his at bats were out of the bottom-third in the order. In 2017 he was moved up, with a majority of his at bats between the fifth and sixth slot, and the results put him two RBI short of the top-5. In 2018 he primarily batted second and third (Buster Posey territory). Short of a few major free agent signings or trades we can expect Realmuto to stick here for the foreseeable future. That means more 70+ RBI seasons.

Now that we’ve seen where he ranks among the other catchers it’s time to look under the hood and see if Realmuto can continue at this level.

First off the power we saw this year could be sustainable. We’ve seen the ISO and hard hit rate move up the past two years. During that span his ISO ranks among the top-10 catchers as did his hard contact in 2018. There has also been an increase in fly balls. The increase hard contact has not only helped out with the long-ball, it has also increased the line-drive rate which could help with the batting average.

After averaging an 82% contact rate for his career Realmuto slipped down to 78% in 2018. Part of that is probably due to being challenged more, given he was the only real offensive threat in the lineup. He had a few more swinging strikes, but not enough to raise any red flags. I can’t see the Marlins being that bad again (can they?) so expect the contact to improve as the surrounding cast matures and improves. Realmuto’s contact rate ranked in the top-5 (among catchers) prior to 2018, and the fact that he drew more walks this year (a three-year trend) only solidifies his plate discipline.

I know Realmuto plays half his games in a pitcher’s park with a really bad team. And I know that people are wary the power he showed this year won’t stick. All I have to say to that is:

1. the numbers don’t lie
2. he produced all by himself in 2018
3. we should see at least 15 home runs annually moving forward – 20+ HR+SB

As I stated earlier, Realmuto will only be 28 years old next season. While it seems he has been around forever he is still young. The power is finally developing. The bat is solid and is even better with a little protection. And best of all, he is a stolen base threat giving you a true five-category producer.

If you are in a league that keeps 7 or more players you have to put Realmuto on your list of players to consider. Since most people still don’t consider him a keeper you can probably get him in a trade for less than market value, but this could be the last year.

You can talk about the power of Sanchez and the upside for Contreras, but I’ll take the established veteran who is coming into his own, and is just a few years older.

 

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Jim Finch

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The self proclaimed Grand High Exhausted Mystic Ruler of Fantasy Baseball. While I am not related to Jennie or Sidd Finch, I will attempt to uphold the integrity of the Finch family name as it relates to baseball. You can also find me at FanRagSports.com

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