It’s hard to call J.T. Realmuto under the radar when he appeared here on FanGraphs’ Top 200 preseason, Baseball America’s Top-100 and Keith Law’s Top-100 (Insider required), yet here we are. Realmuto finished as the ninth best catcher among according to our End of Season Rankings despite ranking a modest 21st in our Mid Season Update. His .259/.290/.406 line translates to an 86 wRC+, though he still managed to be fantasy relevant in a fair amount of leagues. Realmuto smacked 10 home runs and even stole eight bags in his 467 plate appearances, with the steals leading all catchers with at least 300 PAs.
Looking back at his minor league numbers, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see him flash his power and speed. Realmuto’s 2014 season in Double-A saw him tally 18 steals against being caught five times, and he hit eight homers. While I’m a believer in the power not just thanks to his numbers last season and before in the lower minors, I do worry about his power distribution. Nine of his 10 dingers were to the pull field, as ESPN’s Hit Tracker Online can show, with the outlier going to center field.
While we still don’t have a ton of data on him, what we’ve seen thus far in his batted balls indicate a distribution very close to the league average — excluding pitchers — as is his quality of contact. The first table below shows the distribution, with the second table displaying the Hard% to each of the three fields.
Somewhat surprisingly, Realmuto owns a below average BABIP to all fields. At first, something like “catcher speed” comes to mind, yet that doesn’t explain the steals or his 1.2 ultimate base running score — which does not factor in SB/CS rates — again tops among catchers with at least 300 PA, albeit barely. I could envision his triple slash jumping a few points next year thanks to a few more balls dropping in for hits as he posted a strong 86.3 percent contact rate this season.
Going along with a strong contact rate, he struck out a mere 15 percent of the time this season. Unsurprisingly, Realmuto also possessed a great 6.9 percent swinging strike rate. His SwStr% tied for 56th lowest among 268 hitters with at least 300 PAs last season, but being finicky at what he offered at didn’t help his walk rate at all. Realmuto’s 4.1 percent walk rate is one of the few things I’m disappointed in from the catcher. Again going back to the 2014 Double-A season, he posted a 9.7 percent walk rate, however his patience did slip upon being called up. I didn’t read much into his 3.3 percent walk rate in his cup of coffee, just 30 PAs, in the show in 2014, though I am concerned after nearly a full season of him not drawing many walks.
For standard 5×5 leagues, walks are largely ignored — though they can lead to steals and runs — however in on-base percentage or points leagues, Realmuto’s value takes a hit. Even after finishing with a high ranking, I don’t see many people reaching for Realmuto over guys who were either injured, such as Jonathan Lucroy and Travis d’Arnaud, or a bounce back candidate like Yan Gomes, come next year’s drafts. I’m not sure Realmuto will ever be a 20-home run guy as his home park doesn’t do right-handed hitters any favors, but I see him as a 12-15 home run guy with 15+ steal upside. To me, he is well worth it as the 10th or later catcher off the board. As I said earlier, it’s odd to call Realmuto a sleeper or under the radar, however I think the fantasy market will underrate him, and I’m buying his power and speed. His end of the season ownership rates were 15 percent in Yahoo! formats, 31 percent in ESPN leagues, and 37 percent in CBS settings. For a starting catcher who should contribute in more than one category, that’s more than enough for me.
As a side note, this will likely be my final piece here at RotoGraphs as I’ve accepted a position with STATS. Losing Kiley McDaniel is a much bigger deal than not seeing my ugly mug post here, but I didn’t want to leave without a semi-official goodbye. Since first being picked up to do the Friday edition of the Roto Riteup back in March of 2012 — we didn’t even have a Saturday or Sunday RR until later that season — til now, it has been a pleasure and an honor. You’ll still see me around the TechGraphs side of things, but for now, my legacy (if we’re being extremely generous) here at RG is complete. From attempting to answer every comment to being largely terrible at Bold Predictions, it’s a been a blast. Thanks again for sticking with me over the years.
You can catch David spouting off about baseball, soccer, esports and other things by following him on twitter, @davidwiers.