Did you know this? Here is the list pulled from Yahoo!:

  1. Buster Posey
  2. Wilson Ramos
  3. Jonathan Lucroy
  4. Salvador Perez
  5. J.T. Realmuto

There he is at #5. Leading all catchers with nine SB and his .317 BA trailing only Wilson Ramos.

After a quietly solid 2015 campaign, the sophomore catcher entered 2016 ranked as the #14 fantasy catcher according to a consensus of 55 expert rankings. Season-ending injuries to Kyle Schwarber and Devin Mesoraco have helped, but Realmuto is out-earning guys like Russell Martin, Travis d’Arnaud, Matt Wieters, Stephen Vogt, Brian McCann, Wellington Castillo, and Yadier Molina. You could argue that Ramos has provided better value based on where he was being drafted, but no backstop has been a bigger surprise than Realmuto – affectionately known as ‘Muto.

This post began as a “What if?” exploration of one of the dumbest moments of the 2016 season. If you own J.T. Realmuto, you already know what I’m talking about.

Catcher home runs are arguably the most precious commodity in baseball. Maybe a David Ortiz stolen base is more precious. Point is, you savour every drop of power your catcher gives you, and nothing is more frustrating than having a two-run homer turning into an RBI single because of Marcell Ozuna being stupid.

So I thought it would be a fun and pointless exercise to see “what if” that homer had been ruled a homer. What would Realmuto’s first half stats look like? Would it make a difference?

WhatIfStatline

That bump may not seem like a lot, but in a year of especially atrocious fantasy catchers, any extra production is crucial. And looking at that stat line, an even bigger “what if” pops up: What if Realmuto developed 15-20 homer power? He already checks all the other boxes – great average, plus speed, good OBP, a 60-grade arm that will keep him behind the dish. The low RBI total is largely a factor of Don Mattingly batting him 7th for most of his at-bats, and if he ever found his power stroke he would likely get a bump in the order and become a monster five-category contributor. The .37o BABIP indicates that the average will come down to around .280 even with his footspeed, but a catcher who can put up double digits in HR/SB with a .280/.330/.440 triple slash is incredible valuable in fantasy.

According to Fangraphs, his raw power score of 45 (how far he can hit the ball) outstrips his his game power score of 20 (how that power translates into slugging percentage in a major league context), so there’s definitely room to grow. Looking at his heatmaps, his power is almost exclusively to the pull side, and going by ISO his power wheelhouse is low and inside.

trumedia_baseball_heatmap

Focusing on pulling the ball is a well-trodden path taken by many sluggers. Often times it leads to increased strikeout totals and eats into batting average, but adding that power to your game can also change the way pitchers approach you in the long run and lead to more walks and a higher OPS.

Realmuto has a good thing going right now, and the Marlins might not have any plans to encourage him to shift his approach to hit for more power given the ample dongs being mashed by Stanton, Ozuna and Bour in the middle of the lineup, but it appears that he’s already started to make the pull adjustment himself this season.

BattedBallData

The Pull% has risen by 3%, but Realmuto’s issue has been launch angle. His ground balls and infield flies have skyrocketed while his FB% has dipped. The ground balls are a big reason why his average is above .300, but judging by the 11% spike in his IFFB%, Realmuto is actually trying to get under the ball more.

In this excellent piece by Eno Sarris (seriously, go read it now), teammate and first-time All-Star Marcell Ozuna cites Miami hitting coach Barry Bonds working with him to pull the ball more as one of the biggest adjustments keying his breakout this season. If Bonds can get Realmuto to buy into that approach and help him eliminate his pop up problem, the Marlins could have a star on their hands and Realmuto could make the leap into the first tier of fantasy catchers along with Posey and Ramos.

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