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A look at the rise of J.T. Realmuto

The Marlins’ newest catching situation is looking like the best option they have had since.....that one season with Pudge?

MLB: New York Mets at Miami Marlins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

J.T. Realmuto was first introduced to Marlins fans in 2014 when he drove in 9 runs in 11 games, but really came onto the scene in 2015, when he took over the starting catcher job after Jarrod Saltalamacchia was released in May. Realmuto went on to appear in 126 games for the Marlins in 2015, slashing .259/.290/.406.

Despite the underwhelming .290 on-base percentage and a below-average wRC+ of only 86, the young catcher did enough to earn himself the starting job again in 2016, and Marlins fans are now witnessing his breakout season. Realmuto has upped his numbers in basically every offensive category this season, slashing .311/.345/.413 with a wRC+ of 104. Although there has not been a huge increase in home run power, with only 5 homers and a .413 slugging percentage, Realmuto’s doubles have increased.

So the real question is: why the big increase in all offensive categories for J.T. Realmuto? Let’s take a look.

The big thing for Realmuto has been his ability to cover the entire plate and hit the ball to right field. As you can see from his spray charts (via FanGraphs), Realmuto got most of his hits to left field in 2015. He took 41.2 percent of his hits to left field and only 22.8 percent of his hits to right field.

Source: FanGraphs

The difference in 2016 is very noticeable. The spray chart shows a very even distribution of hits to left, center and right field. He has taken only 35.8 percent of his hits to left field this season while 64.2 percent of hits have gone to center or left.

Source: FanGraphs

The change in Realmuto’s ability to spray the ball around the field has partly been caused by just the fact that he is a more experienced hitter with already an entire major league season under his belt, but it has also been caused by better plate discipline and plate-coverage.

Realmuto’s O-Swing%, which measures the percentage of swings at pitches that are outside the zone, dropped from 34.1 percent in 2015 to 32.4 percent so far in 2016. On top of that, his overall swing percentage is down from 50.1 percent to 47.3 percent, which shows that he is just taking more pitches overall, and more importantly is laying off the bad pitches.

Realmuto’s other big jump is in his two-strike hitting. In 2015, he batted .219 with two strikes, including .241 on 0-2 counts. So far in 2016, he is hitting .270 in two-strike counts with a .284 average on 0-2 counts. His ability to get hits in two-strike counts shows how he has been able to lay off bad pitches and avoid some strikeouts, and a big part of hitting with two strikes is being able to take the ball to the opposite field, which is what Realmuto has done all season.

The catcher’s ability to put the ball in play and take it to all fields has allowed his BABIP to increase from .285 in 2015 to .369 so far in 2016.

He is also one of the more valuable hitters on the team, shown by his 2.2 oWAR and his ability to hit in any spot in the lineup. He has hit .341 out of the leadoff spot, .305 out of the six hole and .321 out of the seven hole, which are his three most common spots in the lineup. With Dee Gordon now back from suspension, Realmuto’s .325 average from the six, seven and eight spots in the lineup will give great protection to guys like Yelich, Ozuna and Stanton.

Not to mention, although he is analytically a below-average defender behind the plate, Realmuto has thrown out 40 percent of attempted base-stealers this season, which is up from 27 percent in 2015.

J.T. Realmuto’s continued success will be vital if the Marlins want to continue playing well and and make the playoffs for the first time since the World Series victory in 2003.