Defense wins championships.
The best defense is a good offense.
We have heard them all a million times before. It is a debate that has lasted through the annals of sports history and still unsettled to this day.
That debate is currently ongoing for first-year Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto, who has been more than advertised behind the plate, but has struggled at it with a bat in his hands.
The only Phillies representative at the 2019 MLB All-Star Game, Realmuto, has been an above-average player for his position, but does that mean he has played to the potential he showed with the Miami Marlins?
He was touted as the game’s best catcher, both offensively and defensively. He won the Silver Slugger Award in 2018 after crushing 21 home runs and 74 RBI… in Miami. The Marlins were one of baseball’s worst offenses last season and play in one of the top five pitcher-friendly ballparks.
After the Phillies traded their No. 1 overall prospect, right-hander Sixto Sanchez, along with incumbent catcher Jorge Alfaro and LHP Will Stewart, Realmuto was expected to see a large rise to his offensive numbers in hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park as a part of one of the deepest lineups in the National League.
In 344 at-bats, mostly hitting fifth in the batting order, Realmuto has slashed .267/.319/.427 with 11 homers and 45 RBI. The key part of that sentence is his place in the batting order. Catchers typically bat lower in the lineup, somewhere between seventh and ninth, while Realmuto has hit in the heart of the Phillies order, behind Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins, both of whom are on-base machines. All of those marks are below his career averages.
The bright spot in Realmuto’s offensive game is his BAbip, which currently stands at .325; when Realmuto makes contact, it falls in for a hit.
He is currently pacing for roughly 17 homers and 71 RBI, but most importantly, 150 strikeouts. His career-high is 106 back in 2017. His strikeouts seem to come in big spots; there have been multiple instances recently where there was a runner on third base with less than two outs and Realmuto was punched out. He has 10 in his last five games, all against the Pittsburgh Pirates and Detroit Tigers.
Citizens Bank Park is ranked seventh in the MLB in Park Factor for home runs this season (a lot of that is due to the Phillies pitching staff), but Realmuto has had virtually no variance in his home/road splits. He has six home runs and 22 RBI at home and five homers with 23 RBI away from the Bank. Even more alarming is the fact that he has not hit a single long ball with a runner in scoring position all season.
His defense has been keeping the Phillies fans faithful that Realmuto is the complete package. He has thrown out an incredible 45 percent of base stealers (27 of 60), compared to the league average of just 27 percent. His .992 fielding percentage is in line with the league average (.995), but his seven passed balls are only one behind his average of eight the past three seasons. Still, Realmuto has been one of the best defensive players, not just catchers, in the Majors this year.
Defensive stats can only carry a player so far with the prominent position in the lineup Realmuto is usually placed in. However, it is his first season outside of the very-relaxed fan base in Miami and the Phillies’ expectations coming into the 2019 season were sky high, so Realmuto may just be taking a little longer to adjust. He is signed through next season, with the entire core of the lineup still intact, and still has plenty of time to turn it around, offensively at least.
Do you value offense over defense? It is a tale as old as time.