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2016 Miami Marlins Season Review: J.T. Realmuto

How did Realmuto’s first full season as the starting backstop play out?

Miami Marlins v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

As we continue to barrel full steam ahead into what promises to be an interesting off-season for the Marlins, it’s important to take a look back and some of the individual player performances we saw from the Fish, in order to properly gauge their needs.

We’ve already thrown out evaluations on several bullpen pieces (Mike Dunn, Dustin McGowan, Kyle Barraclough, A.J. Ramos), a starter (Adam Conley), and one player who jumped successfully between starting and coming out of the pen (David Phelps).

So, it’s only appropriate that we begin to turn our attention to the offensive regulars (not to be mistaken with regulars who are offensive). Today’s piece is on starting catcher J.T. Realmuto.

You may recall that Realmuto first took over the starting catching job in early 2015 after Jarrod Saltalamacchia was unceremoniously dumped. He would go on that season to put up a triple slash line of .259/.290/.406 in 467 plate appearances. Realmuto tantalized with his power/speed potential, slugging 10 home runs, legging out seven triples and stealing eight bags. Behind the dish he was a mixed bag, showing superior skills throwing out baserunners (with the best “pop-up” time in baseball), adequately blocking balls in the dirt but ranking out poorly in the pitch framing department.

Overall, Fangraphs data bestowed upon him 1.9 fWAR between his offensive and defensive contributions, placing him roughly in the (upper) middle of the pack amongst his peers at the catcher position.

Coming into 2016, Marlins fans were understandably excited about Realmuto’s growth potential. Let’s dig into the numbers a little bit, shall we?

Offensively, Realmuto would garner a .303/.348/.428 triple slash with almost 100 more plate appearances than he had in 2015. His 3.5 fWAR put him at third in all of baseball in perceived value to his team; only Buster Posey and Jonathan Lucroy ranked higher, solid company indeed. He stole 12 bases, probably a mild disappointment in that it wasn’t much of an improvement over 2015 and he lead off in 23 games, giving him more opportunities on the basepaths. Still, that he is capable of providing double digit stolen bases at the catching position should not be overlooked, and he remains one of the speediest catchers in baseball.

One interesting thing that occurred was that the triples disappeared. Realmuto hit only one home run more in 2016 than he did in 2015; his ISO (Isolated Power) dropped almost 20 points from .147 in 2015 to .126 in 2016, though he did hit ten more doubles. He walked more and struck out more (understandable given the increased PA) and made contact at about the same rate (86.2% to 82.4%).

Also of note is that Realmuto was running a .357 BABIP which was 10th in baseball, suggesting that we’re not likely to see another .300 average season out of him next year as that rate is unsustainable. Interestingly, Christian Yelich was 11th on the list, but Yelich also has a career .363 BABIP, so in his case, the number does not appear to be an outlier. Back to Realmuto, he’s probably closer to a .280-ish hitter, which puts him in Buster Posey territory and is obviously still quite valuable from a catcher.

Wagering a educated guess based upon the statistical information at hand, I’d say he’s probably closer to the 2016 batter’s profile on the power front and 2015 in regards to the average. It would be surprising to see him belt more than 15 home runs on a regular basis (though he may pop a 20 in on us one of these years).

As we turn to the defensive side of things, it’s important to mention that evaluating catcher defense remains tricky. One must account for things like blocking, pitch framing and throwing out runners. One would also like to account for game management, as we know this is undeniably an aspect of a catcher’s contribution from game to game; unfortunately for the latter, proper measurements have yet to have been developed and we remain reliant on anecdotes and the eye test. In this regard, the only indication we have that Realmuto is an average or above average “game manager” is that Mattingly and company never tried to supplant him with, say, Tomas Telis.

Defensively, Realmuto picked up a 10.3 DEF contribution (DEF is Fangraphs attempt to combine UZR, or fielding runs above average, with a positional adjustment to reflect difficulty of position played). Realmuto’s rating was 4th in baseball amongst catchers with at least 500 PA. DRS (Defensive Runs Saved), however, has him at -8, worst among regulars with 500 PA.

Fangraphs doesn’t factor pitch framing into it’s DEF equation, and according to Statcorner, Realmuto was worth -15.7 RAA (runs above average) in 2016. This jives with last year’s data, indicating that, alongside his slightly positive contributions with rSB and RPP (Fangraphs measurements for stolen base prevention and blocking, respectively), Realmuto’s mixed bag profile defensively may be legitimate. It’s certainly worthy of a larger investigation which is beyond the scope of this review.

Overall, Realmuto had a productive 2016 and should be counted on by Marlins fans to be an important part of the lineup as we look ahead to 2017.