Phillies

A closer look at what makes J.T. Realmuto the best catcher in baseball

A closer look at what makes J.T. Realmuto the best catcher in baseball

J.T. Realmuto has been a Phillie for one day and you've probably already heard a few dozen times that he's the best catcher in baseball.

In a column in support of the trade Thursday, I referred to Realmuto as the only catcher in baseball you could argue possesses all five tools.

Let's elaborate ...

Receiving and blocking the ball

This feels like the right place to start, given Jorge Alfaro's glaring deficiencies catching the baseball in 2018. 

Realmuto blocked 90.5 percent of potential wild pitches last season, according to Sports Info Solutions.

Alfaro blocked 86.5 percent. 

May sound like an insignificant difference, but Alfaro's rate was the worst among all major-league catchers. And truthfully, the percentage could've been even lower considering some of the balls Alfaro missed weren't even potential wild pitches.

In terms of runs saved by blocking balls, Realmuto ranked ninth among all big-league catchers with at least 3,000 chances last season.

Alfaro ranked 112th out of 115 catchers.

Arm strength

Alfaro's arm was the strongest among all MLB catchers last season, per Statcast, at 90.8 mph. 

Realmuto ranked second at 87.8 mph.

In 2016 and 2017, Realmuto ranked third. In 2015, he ranked first. There is a large sample size of Realmuto's arm strength being among the best in baseball, if not the best.

Throwing out runners

"Pop time" is a crucial stat for catchers. It measures, in seconds, how quickly the catcher releases the ball on a stolen base attempt. 

The MLB average pop time is 2.01 seconds.

In 2018, Realmuto had the best pop time in baseball: 1.90 seconds.

Alfaro ranked third at 1.94. 

In 2016 and 2017, Realmuto ranked second-best in pop time with the same mark of 1.90 seconds.

Realmuto's exchange — how quickly the ball transfers from his mitt to his throwing arm on a stolen base attempt — is also among the best in baseball. The MLB average time hovers around 0.85 seconds. Realmuto ranked fourth at 0.68 seconds; Alfaro was 17th at 0.73 seconds.

Speed

Realmuto has graded out as MLB's fastest catcher four years in a row. 

The MLB average sprint speed on a competitive play is 27 feet per second. Among catchers, who are obviously slower, it's 25 feet per second.

Realmuto has been between 28.6 and 28.8 feet per second every year since 2015.

Offense

Offensively, you don't need to dig too deep to see why Realmuto is an elite option. 

Over the last three seasons, despite playing in a gigantic, pitcher-friendly ballpark and with little lineup protection around him, Realmuto hit .286/.338/.454. 

He had a .792 OPS. The MLB average OPS for catchers during the same time frame was .699.

Realmuto's batting average was 57 points higher than the average catcher.

His OBP was 30 points higher.

His slugging percentage was 63 points higher.

Where Alfaro had the edge

The only category in which Alfaro was superior to Realmuto in 2018 was with pitch-framing. Alfaro graded out as a top-five pitch-framer. However, Alfaro's focus on catching the ball perfectly prevented him from catching it cleanly many times. That was the trade-off.

The Phillies worked tirelessly to develop Alfaro into an upper echelon pitch-framer. They should be able to do something similar with Realmuto, who doesn't lack any of Alfaro's tools.

If Realmuto's pitch-framing improves in 2019, the gap between he and Alfaro could grow from about a 2.5-win difference to closer to 4.0 wins. 

For a team in the Phillies' position, a team on the precipice of contention, every additional win carries great importance.

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NL East departures of Josh Donaldson, Anthony Rendon are like a free-agent signing for Phillies

NL East departures of Josh Donaldson, Anthony Rendon are like a free-agent signing for Phillies

A lot happened across baseball last week, so much in fact that a $92 million contract was kind of overlooked.

Josh Donaldson signed early in the week with the Minnesota Twins. Four years, $92 million for the 34-year-old third baseman who returned to an All-Star-level in 2019 with the Braves. Donaldson went to Atlanta last offseason on a one-year, $23 million deal and proved his health, hitting .259 with a .900 OPS, 37 homers, 94 RBI and 100 walks. He's always been a plus defender and last season was no exception.

This is a big loss for the Braves, and you have to say their offseason looks worse in light of losing Donaldson. They were active early, signing Cole Hamels, lefty reliever Will Smith, righty reliever Chris Martin and catcher Travis d'Arnaud.

But the loss of Donaldson negates most, if not all of that. 

The Braves are still probably a playoff team — 88 or so wins feels right for this team. 

Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna Jr. are still MVP-caliber players. Ozzie Albies, Mike Soroka and Max Fried are good, young players. At third base, the Braves can use 23-year old Austin Riley or 26-year-old Johan Camargo. 

Riley's first 30 games as a rookie last season were so impressive — he hit .298, slugged .628, went deep 11 times and drove in 32 runs. It was a nightmarish, swing-and-miss-filled season for him after that. 

Camargo, you'll recall, was productive in 2018. It was his first full season and he hit .272/.349/.457 with 19 homers and 76 RBI. Most teams would take that at third base. The Donaldson signing by Atlanta last offseason was a surprise because of what the Braves had at the hot corner. There are worse third base situations than Riley/Camargo.

Still, Donaldson is such a difference-maker. Another difference-maker who has left the division. The exits of Donaldson and Anthony Rendon are huge plusses for the Phillies and Mets. It's tough to conceptualize it, but not having to face Donaldson and Rendon is almost as beneficial as a one more solid free-agent signing for the Phillies. The drop-off from those two third basemen to Riley/Camargo in Atlanta and Starlin Castro/Asdrubal Cabrera in Washington is massive. Like, maybe 50 fewer extra-base hits.

Donaldson and Rendon had 145 combined plate appearances last season against the Phillies. Rendon hit .353 with a 1.102 OPS in his. Donaldson hit six homers, four doubles and drove in 16 runs in his 18 games.

All told, the NL East (aside from the Phillies) lost more than it gained this offseason. Out are Donaldson, Rendon and Dallas Keuchel. In are Hamels and Smith in Atlanta; Dellin Betances, Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha in New York; Will Harris, Castro and Eric Thames in Washington; Corey Dickerson in Miami.

Aaron Nola will not miss facing Donaldson and Rendon. Those two hit a combined .345/.456/.545 with four homers and three doubles in 68 plate appearances against the Phillies' top starter. 

Donaldson is also 9 for 16 lifetime against Zack Wheeler, 6 for 14 with five extra-base hits off Zach Eflin and 4 for 12 with three homers vs. Nick Pivetta.

Rendon is 11 for 21 with four homers and 10 RBI off Pivetta.

Phillies fans may be frustrated by the post-Wheeler/Didi Gregorius period of the offseason, but Phillies pitchers are cool with how it's played out.

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Phillies pitching prospect Zach Warren has a dirty car but a bright future

Phillies pitching prospect Zach Warren has a dirty car but a bright future

Every one of the 15 minor-league prospects that the Phillies have invited to big-league spring training camp has a story.

Zach Warren’s is unique because (in his heart) he was a Phillie before he was technically a Phillie.

Warren grew up in Vineland, New Jersey, in the “glory era,” as he correctly called it, when the Phillies were racking up National League East titles, going to two World Series and winning one of them. Young Zach rooted for Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, but his eye always drifted toward the work being done by Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, not surprising because Warren was a left-handed pitcher on the rise in those days.

After successful runs at St. Augustine Prep in South Jersey and the University of Tennessee, Warren is still a pitcher on the rise. Three strong seasons in the Phillies’ minor-league system earned him an invite to major-league spring training camp next month in Clearwater.

At the Phillies’ prospect-education seminar last week at Citizens Bank Park, Warren recalled the pinch-me moment when he got the phone call from Josh Bonifay, the Phillies director of player development, telling him he’d been invited to big-league camp, and following up that thrilling news with a phone call to his dad, Geoff.

“I had dropped off my car to be worked on in Vineland the day before,” Zach recalled with a laugh, “and my dad was a little unhappy because it was dirty and had no gas. I told him the news and that cheered him up.”

Warren, 23, is one of a handful of left-handed relievers coming to big-league camp on non-roster invites. Most, if not all, will open the season in the minor leagues, but team officials, including new manager Joe Girardi and new pitching coach Bryan Price, clearly want to get a look at what they have for future reference. The Phillies, under general manager Matt Klentak, have been aggressive running relievers in and out from the minors so it’s likely several of these relievers will get a shot in the majors this season. And if they throw strikes and get outs – well, they’ll stick around.

Warren, 6-5 and 200 pounds, was selected in the 14th round of the 2017 draft. He features a mid-90s fastball, a slider and a changeup. He has racked up double-digit strikeouts-per-nine innings in each of his three pro seasons. He spent the last two seasons working late in the game, including closer, at Lakewood and Clearwater. In 116 2/3 innings the last two seasons, he allowed just 76 hits and 34 earned runs (2.62 ERA) while striking out 180 and walking 66.

The 2020 season will be a prove-it one for Warren. He projects to make the jump to Double A Reading and be an important part of that club’s bullpen. Double A is the level where they separate the men from the boys. Have success at the level and you can rise quickly to the majors.

“I’m not thinking too far in advance, where I’m going to be and things like that,” said Warren, showing a healthy perspective. “All I can control is working on what I need to work on to get better and becoming the best player I can be. My ideal blueprint for this season is to make strides and get better and help my team win games and get to the playoffs.”

First-timers in big-league camp are like sponges. They soak up the experience and try to learn from the players who’ve walked the miles they hope to one day walk. Warren has a healthy respect for Adam Morgan, another lefty reliever and SEC product from the University of Alabama, and is eager to speak with him.

“I want to learn from Adam Morgan,” Warren said. “He was up as a starter and had to go to the minors to learn, adapt and change, and he developed and got back. I think there’s a ton I could learn from someone like that.

“I’m just looking forward to learning from everybody. I think it’s going to be a great experience and I can’t wait to get down there and get going.”

With a clean car and a full tank of gas, of course.

 

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