Phillies back rare effort by J.T. Realmuto in tense win

Gunning down base thieves, Realmuto also protects Hoskins in the batting order and is a hitting threat. Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images.
Gunning down base thieves, Realmuto also protects Hoskins in the batting order and is a hitting threat. Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images. /

The season-long defensive effort by the Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto may be partly obscured by his team’s struggle to make the playoffs.

It is a given, after an MLB win, that someone will write that some player (or players) backed some pitcher’s effort. On Aug. 26 – late – a more appropriate headline would have involved the Philadelphia Phillies backing their All-Star catcher, J.T. Realmuto.

The Phillies, struggling for a playoff spot on that night, came back to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-5 in the 11th inning, leaning largely on a journeyman and the guy who followed the closer, who blew a save. Sean Rodriguez and Mike Morin backed but probably obscured Realmuto’s extraordinary effort that evening, a reflection of his effort for the whole season.

The Philadelphia catcher’s contribution was also hidden somewhat by Bryce Harper’s home run and the discussion of his new fatherhood.

More from Call to the Pen

On the Phillies website Aug. 27, the headline of the first story pointed to Rodriguez’ decisive home run in the second extra-inning, and the NBC Sports Philly story on the game focused on Rodriguez’ remarks about “entitled” fans unfairly riding slugger Rhys Hoskins. (Hoskins did not have a good game.)

So, few seemed to notice that Realmuto had thrown out three would-be base stealers in the game, anyone of whom might have altered the outcome of the contest. Those throws brought Realmuto’s caught stealing total for the season to 39, or almost exactly double the totals accumulated by the next two catchers on that list.

Philly’s backstop is also tied for the MLB lead in catcher pickoffs at three.

Realmuto’s rare combination of lightning-quick reflexes and athleticism have taken him to a very weird place for catchers, the threshold of 50 percent of base stealers gunned down. Before play Aug. 27, his figure was 48.1. The last catcher to exceed 50 percent was Seattle’s Kenji Johjima in 2009 (53.7); Yadier Molina threw out 54 percent in the NL in 2008.

Realmuto’s pop time to second base is 1.88 seconds, and to third 1.34, both firsts in MLB.

Or, as’s Scott Lauber noted a few days before the win over Pittsburgh, it is all about how quickly Realmuto transfers the ball from his mitt to his throwing hand: “It happens in the blink of an eye, with a fluid motion that resembles a middle infielder turning a double play.” Those of a certain age might recall Bill Mazeroski, but also imagine Maz turning the ball around by 180 degrees instead of 90 degrees or fewer.

Jonathan Villar: Long-ball master. dark. Next

If the Phillies actually make the playoffs this season, J.T. Realmuto will be one of the very real reasons for that. He may also become the only catcher in this decade to throw out half the runners trying to steal on his team in a given year.