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2018 Season Review: Catchers

You can’t know where you’re going without knowing where you’ve been.

MLB: Miami Marlins at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Today is October 18th, which means the Miami Marlins’ first season under new ownership has been in the books for a little over two weeks. With the exception of Asahd Khaled’s birthday party, Marlins Park has sat quiet. No baseball is being played, no lechon nachos are being made.

Goodnight, sweet prince.

So it’s officially time to look back on the season to see what the Marlins did right, and what they did wrong, who played well, and well, who didn’t. Let’s start with the catchers.

Looking Back

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Miami Marlins
Talk about a throwback
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The first player to don the tools for the Marlins this season was Chad Wallach. Son of bench coach Tim Wallach, Chad rejoined the Marlins at the beginning of the year after spending three seasons in the minors with the Cincinnati Reds. Because J.T. Realmuto was sidelined with a bone bruise in his back, Wallach was given the nod on Opening Day, along with a chance to earn a permanent major league role as the backup. In the meantime, he would split time with Bryan Holaday.

That chance would be short, however. Given the non-seriousness of Realmuto’s injury, Wallach would have to make an immediate impact in order to force the staff to keep him on the roster. Unfortunately, he failed to do so. In eight starts, Wallach mustered just four base hits and two walks to the tune of a .182 on-base percentage. That was enough for the Marlins; when Realmuto came back, Wallach was optioned back to the minors until September.

Bryan Holaday would get the other eight starts at the beginning of the season before the Return of Realmuto. Since 2013, Holaday had been a frequent backup/Triple-A starter in the Detroit Tigers organization. After electing for minor league free agency at the end of last season, the Marlins signed him to a minor league deal and invited him to Spring Training. Holaday didn’t fare well either in the first two weeks of the season, but he survived the front office decision and remained with the team as the second-string catcher.

MLB: Miami Marlins at Philadelphia Phillies Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Holaday panned out to be a superb defensive replacement in 2018. He threw out 44.7% of base stealers and saved 3 runs on stolen bases, according to Defensive Runs Saved. Said rSB was good enough to tie for third-most in the MLB, despite him having played 600 fewer innings than his counterparts Mike Zunino, Martin Maldonado, and James McCann.

He also pitched, although he allowed three runs in just his two innings on the bump. He did strike out a batter though.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t match his performance behind the plate to his performance at the plate. Holaday mustered an OBP of .261, an SLG of .259, and a wOBA of .228. I’m not going to pull up the leaderboard to see where those ranked. Having hit 57% worse than average on the year, 2018 marked Holaday’s second year in the 40’s in wRC+. Ultimately, his lackluster offense drove his fWAR into the red.

Luckily, our shining star J.T. Realmuto made his return on April 17th. Far and away the team’s best hitter, Realmuto led all qualified Marlins in home runs, slugging percentage, wOBA and wRC+. (Set the minimum plate appearances to 50, and Peter O’Brien takes the lead in slugging percentage, wOBA, and wRC+).

Realmuto not only paced the Marlins in most offensive categories; he was also the most valuable catcher in Major League Baseball. With an fWAR of 4.8, Realmuto led second-best catcher Yasmani Grandal by more than an entire win. Among catchers with at least four-hundred plate appearances, only Wilson Ramos and Francisco Cervelli out wOBA’d him.

2018 Catchers with at least 400 Plate Appearances

Name Team OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ HR ISO BABIP Off Def WAR
Name Team OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ HR ISO BABIP Off Def WAR
J.T. Realmuto Marlins .340 .484 .353 126 21 .208 .312 21.9 7.9 4.8
Yasmani Grandal Dodgers .349 .466 .352 125 24 .225 .278 9.5 9 3.6
Francisco Cervelli Pirates .378 .431 .355 125 12 .172 .308 10.5 9.3 3.3
Willson Contreras Cubs .339 .390 .321 100 10 .141 .313 -5 12.7 2.6
Wilson Ramos - - - .358 .487 .361 131 15 .181 .353 4.5 5.3 2.4
Yadier Molina Cardinals .314 .436 .323 103 20 .174 .264 -1.4 7.3 2.2
Yan Gomes Indians .313 .449 .326 101 16 .184 .336 -0.7 8 2.2
Buster Posey Giants .359 .382 .326 106 5 .098 .316 -0.4 5.3 2
Salvador Perez Royals .274 .439 .304 89 27 .204 .245 -12.3 10.7 1.7
Robinson Chirinos Rangers .338 .419 .333 103 18 .197 .304 -1.9 3.3 1.6
Mike Zunino Mariners .259 .410 .288 84 20 .209 .268 -10 10.8 1.5
Tucker Barnhart Reds .328 .372 .307 89 10 .124 .291 -11.1 5.5 1.1
Martin Maldonado - - - .276 .351 .275 74 9 .126 .280 -15.8 11.3 0.9
Jonathan Lucroy Athletics .291 .325 .271 70 4 .084 .273 -19.7 11 0.6
James McCann Tigers .267 .314 .256 58 8 .094 .282 -27.2 11.1 -0.1
Fangraphs.com

Oh by the way, all Realmuto did on defense was throw out base stealers at a clip of 38.2%. Overall, I’d say he had a pretty good season.

Finally, it can’t truly be a catcher article without mentioning Tomás Telis. Although he’s the second-most tenured catcher in this article, the Marlins have never really trusted Telis behind the plate; whenever he was called up, he often platooned at first base or strictly pinch hit. Like Wallach and Holaday, Telis also got his ten-or-so innings at catcher in April before Realmuto returned. Although he stuck around longer than Chad Wallach to pinch hit some more, he was eventually DFA’d and outrighted to the New Orleans Baby Cakes. That’s all I really have to say about Tomas Telis.

Looking Forward

The biggest question going forward is undoubtedly: Will J.T. Realmuto be a Marlin in 2019? The past couple of years have been witness to one of the largest tearing downs in Marlins history, all in the interest of unloading payroll and building up the farm system. Although Realmuto’s name has perpetually been involved in trade talks—at the Winter Meetings, at the Trade Deadline, and even now—nothing has ever materialized. Outlets for other teams in the mix for a catcher have nonchalantly thrown out Realmuto’s name whenever trade talks have warmed up; people seem to have the idea that the rebuilding Marlins will throw him out there for whatever prospects get floated downstream.

But so far, the Marlins haven’t taken the bait. (Fish puns, you guys). The Marlins have held onto the now Arb-2 catcher, regarding him as a young, controllable asset with surplus value in spades. Now, however, it seems like the Marlins are at a crossroads: extend or die. Although hypothetically, Realmuto’s contract can just get renewed on an arbitration deal, it’s been said that if he does return, it will be on an extension.

In the meantime, it’s a seller’s market for catchers. This season in particular, a number of contending teams took mediocre catchers with them on their playoff journeys.

2018 Playoff Catchers

Name Team PA HR OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ BB% K% ISO BABIP Off Def WAR
Name Team PA HR OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ BB% K% ISO BABIP Off Def WAR
Max Stassi Astros 250 8 .316 .394 .313 100 9.2% 29.6% .167 .302 -1.7 4.9 1.2
Martin Maldonado Astros 404 9 .276 .351 .275 74 4.0% 24.3% .126 .280 -15.8 11.3 0.9
Brian McCann Astros 216 7 .301 .339 .286 82 8.8% 18.5% .127 .229 -6.8 4.1 0.5
Jonathan Lucroy Athletics 454 4 .291 .325 .271 70 6.4% 14.3% .084 .273 -19.7 11 0.6
Kurt Suzuki Braves 388 12 .332 .444 .335 108 5.7% 11.1% .173 .275 3 4 2
Tyler Flowers Braves 296 8 .341 .359 .315 95 11.8% 25.7% .131 .292 -2.5 5.2 1.2
Manny Pina Brewers 337 9 .307 .395 .301 85 6.2% 18.4% .144 .285 -9.5 8.4 1
Erik Kratz Brewers 219 6 .280 .355 .278 70 2.7% 18.3% .118 .264 -9.3 4.2 0.2
Austin Barnes Dodgers 238 4 .329 .290 .281 77 13.0% 28.2% .085 .287 -7.1 2.8 0.3
Yan Gomes Indians 435 16 .313 .449 .326 101 4.8% 27.4% .184 .336 -0.7 8 2.2
Blake Swihart Red Sox 207 3 .285 .328 .271 64 7.2% 27.5% .099 .311 -8 -1.9 -0.3
Christian Vazquez Red Sox 269 3 .257 .283 .240 42 4.8% 15.2% .076 .237 -20.8 4.1 -0.8
Sandy Leon Red Sox 288 5 .232 .279 .227 33 5.2% 26.0% .102 .226 -24.5 5.9 -0.9
Chris Iannetta Rockies 360 11 .345 .385 .320 84 13.9% 24.2% .161 .275 -10.5 3.4 0.4
Tony Wolters Rockies 216 3 .292 .286 .261 45 12.0% 15.3% .115 .189 -13.6 5.1 -0.2

Here, the Marlins are in the driver seat. It’s a win-win for them. If any of these teams want their hands on the new Crown Prince of Catching, they’re going to have to make the Marlins an offer they can’t refuse. That’s mainly why Realmuto hasn’t been dealt in the first place; the Marlins know Realmuto’s worth, and they won’t compromise on a less-than-satisfactory deal because at the end of the day, Realmuto is also the perfect building block to build the franchise on.

As far as numbers go, I touched on what I think Realmuto would get in our inaugural Fish Stripes Roundtable:

If he takes a one-year renewal, he should get $5.6 million. The only decent comp I could find through a pretty cursory search was Yasmani Grandal. Yaz got $5.5 in an almost identical Arb 2 platform year. With an average fWAR of 3.575, using a conservative $/WAR estimate of $8 million per 1.0 fWAR, a long-term contract with an AAV of $28.6 million is theoretically a fair offer for J.T. However, no catcher has ever even gotten close to that—Yadier Molina holds the highest current AAV among catchers with $20 million, followed by Buster Posey just shy of that. If the Marlins want to convey to J.T. that he truly is the cornerstone of this franchise, I think they offer him $72 million over four years ($18M AAV).

After Realmuto, barring a move for a more adequate backup, Wallach and Holaday are likely to return. Wallach is under total team control and could be had at the league minimum. Bryan Holaday is somehow still arbitration-eligible, but given his status as a backup, it’s likely he’ll take whatever the Marlins will offer.

And then we wait for Will Banfield. Converted shortstop Austin Nola is still lurking in Triple-A. Although he consistently got on base last season, he lacks power. There may also be questions about his catching abilities; given that he only converted two years ago, the Marlins will want to be completely sure that he can handle major league pitching before giving him the call. Jarett Rindfleisch is one more interesting name—literally and figuratively—to keep in mind. A consistent on-base machine, Rindfleisch butchered his way to the Florida State League All Star Game with a .540 OBP in 13 games last year at High-A Jupiter before going to the 60-day DL in June. He won’t make an impact for another couple of years, but he may be a guy to keep your eye on.

Poll

What should the Marlins do with J.T. Realmuto?

This poll is closed

  • 39%
    Trade him for all of the prospects
    (17 votes)
  • 60%
    Give him a nice extension
    (26 votes)
43 votes total Vote Now

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs.com, MLB.com, MiLB.com, RosterResource.com, and Spotrac.com