J.T. Realmuto is the starting catcher for the Philadelphia Phillies, returning for a second season after being traded from the Miami Marlins after the 2018 season. He stands 6’1”, weighs 210 pounds, and is 29 years old. He made his MLB debut in 2014 and played his first full season in 2015. In his 5+ years of service he has been a 2x All-Star, 2x Silver Slugger, won a Golden Glove, and was named to the 2019 All-MLB 1st Team.
This offseason he lost his arbitration hearing and was given a 1 year, $10M contract for 2020. It is his final year of arbitration and the Phillies are actively looking to sign Realmuto to a multi-year extension. Overall, he is a well-rounded player who has improved his production each year and is now considered the best catcher in baseball. His historical statistics can be used to identify his strengths and weaknesses and, combined with three-year projections, an assessment of his value can be made headed into those contract negotiations.
In order to assess Realmuto’s historical performance, three years of historical data were collected from Fangraphs  and Baseball Savant  for all players, catchers, and Realmuto for comparison. Statistics were chosen for Power, Contact, Arm, Glove, Speed, and Overall Value. Defensive statistics were not included for non-catchers as the values and inputs vary significantly by position. Only qualified players were included based on plate appearances from 2017 to 2019 which produced 234 players, 19 of which were catchers. The summary statistics for is shown in Table 1 below.
J.T. Realmuto isn’t labeled the “best catcher in baseball” on accident and these statistics highlight some of his strengths and why he is so valuable to the Phillies. Looking through this table he is above league average in every statistic and above average for a catcher in all statistics except rSZ and DRS. Realmuto is known for his ability to control the run game and his Caught Stealing Percentage (CS%) and Stolen Base Runs Saved (rSB) are the best numbers among qualified catchers.
He also excels at the plate making hard and consistent contact shown by an Average Exit Velocity of 89.1 mph and 8.0 Barrel Rate. These above average raw skills produced a 0.199 ISO and 0.341 wOBA, both of which rank in the top 100 in that time span. Speed is a strength of Realmuto’s game that sometimes goes unnoticed. He has above average speed for the league, averaging 28.6 mph, an extremely rare skill for a catcher. This raw speed and high baseball IQ have led to Realmuto’s Base Running Runs Above Average (BsR) to be 11.8 which ranks 16th and makes his base running comparable to Ozzie Albies (13.1 BsR) and Kevin Pillar (11.5).
Realmuto’s WAR shows how his above average tools and performance have created value, but the number of games he has played is also significant. Very rarely does a catcher play so often and with so few injuries. Only Yasmani Grandal has played more games behind the plate since 2017 and the gap between Realmuto and the next catcher is 38 games. Although this heavy usage could catchup to Realmuto later in his career, it is a clear plus now as a backup catcher is barely needed and finding a good backup is so hard to do. The data presented highlights Realmuto’s value as a well-rounded star and builds a strong case for his agent as they negotiate a new deal.
Despite Realmuto’s exceptional skillset, his defensive statistics are below average compared to other catchers. His Strike Zone Runs Saved (rSZ), which is a measure of framing ability, is negative since 2017. That weakness is the main reason his Defensive Runs Saved is below average despite his rSB being so elite. Realmuto has taken notice of his shortcomings and focused on improving as a framer. His rSZ has improved each season, as shown in Figure 1, and was positive in 2019. Given his athletic ability and clear trend of improvement, expect his rSZ to continue to increase in the years to come.
Looking ahead in Realmuto’s career is of particular interest for the Phillies as they assess his value. Using a weighted average projection similar to a Marcel projection without regression or aging affects the statistics in Table 2 were projected for Realmuto’s 2020-2022 seasons. These projections are very simple compared to more advanced options and it should be noted that projections for 2021 and 2022 rely on projected statistics from previous years.
Because Realmuto has been consistent offensively over the last three years there isn’t a lot of dramatic change in his projected statistics. His ISO is projected to be safely above 0.200 and wOBA around 0.340. For reference, the more complex 3-year ZiPS projections  puts his ISO around 0.220 and wOBA around 0.340. Statistics that are measures of raw skill like Avg EV, Brl%, and Sprint Speed remain flat although adding an aging effect would eventually decrease these values and cause his performance statistics to decline with them. Realmuto is coming out of his peak age range now so there could be some decay that isn’t captured by these projections, especially with all of the innings he has logged behind the plate. Other elite catchers, like Buster Posey and Joe Mauer, have tried moving to 1B or DH to preserve their offensive skills and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Philadelphia try some of those things moving forward. Adding the DH to the NL would be a huge win for the Phillies later in Realmuto’s career and could extend his window of productivity by a few years at least.
Realmuto’s defensive statistics have varied more over the past three years and the projections reflect that with less consistency. As noted above, Relamuto’s framing has increased yearly and shouldn’t be affected much by age so using the projection may be less useful for rSZ. Even the other defensive statistics should be interpreted with less confidence than his offensive statistics and more skill-based measures like Arm Strength or Exchange Time from Baseball Savant might better capture his defensive value and how his body will hold up in the years ahead.
The final point to notice in these projections is Realmuto’s projected WAR which is above 5 for the next three seasons and would make him a top 20 player in the league. Again, this is likely overestimated due to a lack of aging effects in the projections but gives a rough estimate of his value moving forward.
Using contract information from Spotrac  comparable players will allow an estimate of how much Realmuto and his agent, Jeff Berry, might ask for when starting negotiations. Comparable was defined as position players who met the following conditions:
1. Signed contract when they were between 28 and 32 years old
2. Had a WAR between 4.5 and 6.5 in the year before signing their new contract
3. Signed a free agent deal in 2019 or 2020
4. Contract’s Annual Average Value (AAV) greater than Realmuto’s current $10M salary
This left five players and balanced the need for a manageable number of players to compare while ensuring that they are similar enough to Realmuto to add insight. The list of comparable players and their contract information are shown in Table 3.
The players on this list are some of the best in the game and match well enough to Realmuto to make some comparisons. The average contract length is 3.8 years with an AAV of $21.9M. Another way to looks at Realmuto’s value is to compare him to other catcher contracts. Some notable catcher contracts are Joe Mauer 8 years/$184M, Buster Posey 8 years/$159M, Yadier Molina 5 years/$75M, and Yasmani Grandal 4 years/$73M. Those four contracts average 6.25 years with an AAV of $19M.
Realmuto’s high usage and the fact that he plays catcher in the NL means his contract length is probably 4-5 years, 6 at the absolute maximum. He is signing alongside a wave of higher value contracts and will use those as leverage to get an AAV between $23M and $25M. Things like no-trade clauses, player/team options, and incentives could factor in some but tend to be highly player and team specific so estimating those is more difficult. Realmuto has been an elite performer through his arbitration years and will finally reap the financial benefits that come with being a free agent. The Phillies will need to get out their checkbooks and make a deal before other teams get an opportunity and drive up the price.
J.T. Realmuto has established himself as the best catcher in baseball and is coming up on a contract negotiation the Phillies would like to finalize before the end of the 2020 season. His historical data shows a consistent, high performing offensive player with the ability to shut down the run game on defense. His one weakness is as a pitcher framer and even there he has shown consistent growth since being called up full time in 2015. Projections for Realmuto indicate his performance should be expected to continue for at least the next three seasons although the trade-off between his extreme durability and the toll of catching so many games could be a concern. A move to first base or the NL adding a DH would significantly add to his value long term and is something the Phillies should consider strongly. Using comparable players’ contracts Realmuto’s contract should be somewhere in the ballpark of 5 years and $120M. In a deal like this Realmuto would get paid appropriately for his performance, the Phillies would lock down another perennial All-Star, and the fans would be happy to see the front office building for continued success. Sounds like a win for everyone and it is reasonable to expect a deal to be made as quickly as possible once baseball resumes.
 Fangraphs Leaderboard -https://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=bat&lg=all&qual=y&type=8&season=2019&month=0&season1=2019&ind=0
 Baseball Savant Leaderboard –
 J.T. Realmuto Fangraphs Page –
 Contract Information –