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J.T. Realmuto is on path to be greatest catcher in Phillies history

J.T. Realmuto has spent four seasons with the Phillies. (Cheryl Pursell)

With a monster postseason run, Bryce Harper firmly put himself on track to be an inner-circle Philadelphia Phillie before his career concludes. And he’s perhaps not the only one.

While a fractured left thumb limited Harper to just 99 regular season games in 2022, J.T. Realmuto overcame a slow start to put up the finest season of an already excellent career. So far in awards season, Realmuto has won his second career Gold Glove and his third Silver Slugger. And when the final results of National League MVP voting come out on Thursday, there’s a good chance Realmuto finishes in the top 10, quite an accomplishment for a catcher.

Let’s call it like it is: Realmuto has unquestionably been the best catcher in baseball across his first four seasons with the Phillies. Set to turn 32 in March, Realmuto faces an uphill battle — especially after an insane workload in 2022 — to keep producing at an elite level long enough to draw Hall of Fame consideration after his career concludes. But could he go down as the greatest catcher in Phillies history? That feels doable, if not likely.

The Phillies have had lots of very good catchers, but there isn’t one player universally seen as the best backstop in franchise history the way that Mike Schmidt, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are at their positions.

Darren Daulton finished in the top seven in NL MVP voting in both 1992 and 1993. “Dutch” probably has the claim to best two-year stretch a Phillies catcher has ever put together.

Bob Boone and Carlos Ruiz were the primary catchers for the two World Series teams in franchise history, and both had tremendous longevity behind the plate. Boone finished third in NL Rookie of the Year voting in 1973, made three All-Star teams and won two Gold Glove Awards in 10 years with the Phillies. Ruiz spent parts of 11 seasons with the Phillies, making the NL All-Star team in 2012. “Chooch” had 12 defensive runs saved in 2009 and may very well have won multiple Gold Gloves if he wasn’t playing in the senior circuit as the same time as Yadier Molina was peaking.

Mike Lieberthal didn’t have the good fortune of playing for any Phillies teams that reached the postseason, but he was an All-Star in both 1999 and 2000, also capturing a Gold Glove in the latter year. Among catchers in team history, Lieberthal is the all-time leader in hits (1,137), doubles (255) and home runs (150).

And while we like to think of WAR as a new-school statistic, Jack Clements is the all-time leader among Phillies’ catchers in the metric, per FanGraphs. Clements played for the Phillies from 1884-1897, totaling 25.9 WAR.

Another name worth mentioning in this discussion is Andy Seminick, who played for the Phillies from 1943-1951, before returning to finish his career in red pinstripes from 1955-57. Seminick is fourth among catchers in franchise history in WAR (18.6).

Sandwiched in between Clements and Seminick on the catcher WAR leaderboard for the Phillies are Daulton (24.4) and Lieberthal (20.3).

Realmuto, though, is 10th among all position players in baseball with an 18.2 WAR since joining the Phillies, according to FanGraphs. And he’s climbing up the all-time list for the Phillies, having passed both Ruiz and Boone in 2022. Realmuto’s 18.2 WAR in four seasons with the Phillies, which is sixth among catchers in franchise history. He’s very likely to pass Stan Lopata (18.3), Seminick (18.6) and Lieberthal (20.3) in 2023. And even if 2022’s 6.5 WAR proves to be the high-water mark in Realmuto’s career, it would be shocking at this point if he doesn’t become the all-time leader in the category among Phillies’ catchers over the three remaining years of his current contract.

If you’re more inclined to give peace a chance rather than relying on WAR, there’s plenty of other offensive categories where Realmuto is already among the all-time leaders in:

  • Home Runs: Realmuto is fifth among all Phillies’ catchers with 75 home runs. As mentioned above, Lieberthal has the top mark at 150, but he did that in 13 years.
  • Stolen Bases: Realmuto is fifth among all Phillies’ catchers with 47 stolen bases, and will likely jump up to second in 2023. Red Dooin is the franchise leader among catchers in stolen bases at 132, which came over a 13-year stretch between 1902 and 1914.
  • Slugging Percentage: Realmuto is the all-time leader among qualified Phillies’ catchers in slugging percentage at .473. Lopata — who played for the Phillies from 1948-1958 — is second at .459.
  • OPS: Realmuto has an .811 OPS in four seasons with the Phillies. The only catchers in franchise history who top that mark are Smoky Burgess (.844), Spud Davis (.823) and Lopata (.814).

Trying to quantify defense is still an inexact science in today’s game, let alone when you’re trying to compare catchers over the entire history of a franchise that began play in 1883.

What we do know is that defensive runs saved is one of the more trusted metrics today. The statistic was first tracked in 2003, so we can’t compare Realmuto to Daulton or Lieberthal at their peaks, let alone Boone, Clements and Seminick.

But during his career, Ruiz was one of the most respected catchers for his work behind the plate. In 8,520 innings with the Phillies, Ruiz had 10 defensive runs saved. Realmuto has 3,535 innings behind the dish as a catcher with the Phillies, and has 22 defensive runs saved, the top mark of any backstop the franchise has had over the 20 years that the stat has been tracked. As he ages, perhaps that number will dip. But he has a pretty comfortable lead over Ruiz right now.

In four seasons with the Phillies, Realmuto has thrown out 88 would-be basestealers. According to Baseball Reference, Realmuto was the league-leader among catchers in caught stealing percentage in both 2019 and 2022, the two years that he ultimately captured the Gold Glove Award.

Where Realmuto really distances himself among catchers is his baserunning ability. Beyond just stolen bases, Realmuto has a 19.5 BsR, which is “FanGraphs‘ all encompassing base running statistic that turns stolen bases, caught stealings, and other base running plays (taking extra bases, being thrown out on the bases, etc) into runs above and below average.”

That’s the all-time best mark among all Phillies’ catchers, with Jimmie Wilson No. 2 at 6.1. Realmuto is already 10th among all players in Phillies history in BsR, a category where Jimmy Rollins is the all-time leader for the franchise. If you need an idea of where Realmuto stands among his peers, only Tommy Edman, José Ramírez and Trea Turner have graded out better in the baserunning statistic since the start of the 2019 season.

Realmuto has three years left on the five-year/$115.5 million free-agent deal that he signed to remain with the Phillies after the 2020 season. During the World Series, Realmuto admitted he wasn’t exactly sure how his body would respond to catching every game in what essentially turned into an extra month of the season.

But Realmuto has played at such a high level in his first four seasons that it would be pretty shocking at this point if he doesn’t cement himself as the greatest catcher that the franchise has ever had over the next three years.


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