Not a Miami Marlins fan? Quick! Name the starting catcher for the Miami Marlins…
Here’s a hint: he was the third best catcher in baseball in 2016, per fWAR.
J.T. Realmuto had an excellent season in 2016, following up a pretty good rookie year in 2015. His defense got a little better and his offense improved significantly. Realmuto finished 2016 with a .303/.343/.428 line, including 11 home runs, 48 RBIs, and 12 stolen bases. In terms of fWAR, he finished third with 3.5, behind household names Jonathan Lucroy (4.5) and Buster Posey (4.0). Of the top eight catchers ranked by fWAR, only Realmuto (1.2) and Steven Vogt (0.8) were positive contributors while running the bases.
For the old-fashioned baseball fan, Realmuto finished third among qualifying catchers in batting average, with his .303 only slightly behind co-leaders Wilson Ramos and Yadier Molina at .307. Realmuto did this well despite a tumultuous season in which he hit in every possible spot in the batting order. He spent 57 games batting seventh, his most common lineup spot, but he spent 25 games batting sixth and 23 games leading off as well. Realmuto saw his name listed fifth in the lineup 16 times, hit eighth six times, second five times, and ninth three times. He spent one game batting third and another batting fourth.
Of the spots where he was listed most often (with enough of a sample size to matter), Realmuto was remarkably consistent. He hit .330 when batting first, .306 when batting sixth, and .300 when batting seventh. He was also a very consistent hitter on a month-to-month basis, avoiding the peaks and valleys that plagued seemingly every other Marlins hitter. The catcher’s best month was July, when he hit .337. His worst was September, when he hit .274.
One thing Realmuto did struggle with was left-handed pitching. Against right-handers, he hit an impressive .322/.361/.445 with nine of his home runs. Against lefties, however, he hit only .215/.263/.355 with two home runs. He struck out in 17 percent of his at-bats against righties, but that number shoots up to 24.2 percent against lefties.
With the Marlins already looking at a platoon situation with Justin Bour at first base, Realmuto needs to improve his hitting against lefties if he expects to catch every day in 2017. Backup catcher Jeff Mathis is a free agent (and also a .197 career hitter) so the Marlins may choose to go after a backup who can crush lefties (like Nick Hundley).