By Mark Simon
There are currently five players with at least 10 Defensive Runs Saved this season. By far, the most surprising of that group is Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto, who has exactly 10. The only catcher with more is Austin Hedges, whose defensive reputation far surpasses Realmuto.
From 2016 to 2018, Realmuto cost the Marlins 25 runs with his catching. That 25 runs was actually attributable to our Adjusted Earned Runs Saved stat, which involves cross-comparing catcher ERA by starting pitcher with the other catchers on the team.
For example, in 2016, Marlins pitchers had a 4.23 ERA with Realmuto catching and a 3.28 ERA with Jeff Mathis catching and almost every comparison of pitchers with both catchers favored Mathis, so he got rewarded and Realmuto got penalized. This is part of our stat to account for the game-calling aspect of catching.
That’s been a non-issue for Realmuto in 2019. Phillies pitchers have a 4.22 ERA with him catching this season and a 4.27 ERA with Andrew Knapp behind the plate. This might not hold up all season, but for now, Realmuto is faring all right. He has 1 Adjusted Earned Run Saved.
If we look at areas beyond this stat, Realmuto the Marlin doesn’t look as bad. He comes up as someone who was good at deterring basestealers (4 DRS), thwarting bunts (3 DRS), and blocking pitches (3 DRS), but poor at pitch framing (-10 DRS) in that three-season span.
But now the question becomes – how did he go from this with the Marlins to great with the Phillies? Matt Gelb foreshadowed this with a look at Realmuto’s open-mindedness this spring. Realmuto seems to be following through.
Stolen Base Runs Saved
The first is a transformation into Yadier Molina-like status with throwing out baserunners. He’s caught 17-of-37 and has two pickoffs. The 17 caught stealing are three more than he had last season and only five shy of his career high of 22 in 2016.
By our measures, that equates to seven Stolen Bases Saved, which has been worth 6 Runs Saved. That makes sense given that catching a runner stealing takes a runner out of scoring position.
Good Fielding Play Runs Saved (Pitch Blocking)
Our Video Scouts track every pitch a catcher blocks and fails to block in situations which a batter or baserunner can advance. At the end of the season, MLB average is 91 to 92 percent. The top catchers last season were Mathis, then of the Diamondbacks, Tucker Barnhart of the Reds, and Austin Barnes of the Dodgers, all at around 96%.
Realmuto was at 90.5% — he had 380 successful blocks on 420 pitches. He was a little below average (after having previously rated well). The difference between Realmuto and the best catchers is that he blocked 380, they would have blocked a little more than 400. Twenty extra wild pitches and passed balls over a season costs runs.
But this season, Realmuto has flipped back to positive form. His block rate is 95.2%. He’s doing well and he’s playing a lot, so as a result, that’s worth 3 Runs Saved.
Though Realmuto has rated poorly at getting extra strikes, he has been inching up. His Strike Zone Runs Saved totals were -5, -3, and -2 the last three seasons.
This season, he’s a positive at 1 Run Saved. The difference comes from an improvement in a key area for a catcher – how often does he get a strike on a close pitch?
For Realmuto, two seasons ago, he had a 15.5% called strike rate on pitches we deemed within two inches of one of the edges of the strike zone. This is a world where 17% is average and the leaders are in the low 20s. Realmuto got to 17% last season. So far in 2019, he’s at 18.2%.
What’s the difference between his 18.2% now and his 15.5 of two seasons ago?
Over a full season, Realmuto probably catches 4,000 of these pitches. A 2.7% differential equates to 108 more strikes.
More strikes mean more favorable situations and more outs for his pitchers. Hence, positivity so far this season, negative numbers in the past.
Add it all together
To summarize, Realmuto’s 10 Defensive Runs Saved come from:
6 for Stolen Bases
3 for Pitch Blocking
1 For Pitch Framing
1 for Game Calling
-1 for Bunts (which we didn’t discuss, but it’s based on two hits allowed on balls he fielded)
That gives him 10, a huge improvement both over his past and what the Phillies have had of late. We’ll see if he can keep it up.
For further breakdowns on Realmuto and other players, check out the SIS Baseball Podcast at this link