Entering the 2016 fantasy baseball season, J.T. Realmuto was a target for me in my 15-team mixed leagues. In fact, both of my championship teams last season rostered Realmuto. I selected him 159th and 195th overall, respectively, last season. After hitting .303/.343/.428 with 11 home runs and 12 stolen bases, the love for Realmuto will only grow this season. According to early NFBC ADP, Realmuto is currently being selected 113th overall (as high as 85th overall).
Using the ESPN Player Rater for 2016, we can see that according to their system, Realmuto was the 147th best player in fantasy baseball. It’s not strange to see a player who performs very well in one year, move up the draft board the following season.
For those who are in on Realmuto this year, it’s primarily based on believing he can come close to repeating his 2016 season. There could even be some people out there who believe he could take another step forward I suppose. I’d wager for the most part it’s people banking on a repeat and a slightly varying opinion on the positional adjustment value they place on catchers.
Even with Realmuto helping to bring home some hardware last season, I’m not confident he can repeat his 2016 production. With multiple areas of weakness, batting average, power and even speed, the risk profile increases for me, while the cost is also reaching a boiling over point.
A .300 hitting catcher is extremely valuable these days or any days for that matter. The position is not typically thought of as an area where batting average can not only be protected, but thrive. Using the expected batting average (xBA) found over at BaseballHQ (behind a pay wall), Realmuto was much closer to a .260 hitter in 2016. This could also be shown by using his BABIP, which was a career high .357 in 2016.
Next there’s the potential power regression. Not only does Realmuto play in a difficult home park to hit home runs, but he also just doesn’t hit the ball that hard. Last season, Realmuto had a Hard% of 29.9%, which is less than even the league average rate of 31.4%. Using Statcast data we can see that Realmuto was quite mediocre in average exit velocity (89.71 MPH vs 89.57 MPH league average), Average Distance (204.27 feet vs 218.07 feet league average), Average Generated Velocity (1.32 MPH vs 1.45 MPH league average) and finally Average Launch Angle (6.46 degrees vs 9.97 degrees league average). Essentially, Realmuto is at or below league average for all of the factors that would allow for a power spike to continue. Again, this is before we then factor in his home ballpark, which is over 20% worse for right-handed home runs using Baseball HQ’s 3-year Ballpark Tendencies.
Finally, let’s chip away at another part of Realmuto’s game and turn our attention towards his speed. Last season Realmuto was the top rated catcher in terms of stolen bases produced. His 12 steals (next was Derek Norris with 9 & Francisco Cervelli with 6) definitely adds value to his overall game, especially if you take a wait and acquire some steals here, there and everywhere other than an elite speedster, approach. While I could write and say 10 stolen bases is out of the question for 2017 due largely to the fact that Realmuto is a below average runner, the statistic itself is quite dependent on outside forces (game situation and manager’s decisions). What I will say and reiterate is the fact that Realmuto has below average speed and is also a catcher. The odds of his legs feeling fresh and alive at any given point after the first game of the season can be quite slim. The Manny Machado sudden stolen base red light was strange. To see it happen to someone like Realmuto, or see his total cut in half, wouldn’t even make me raise an eyebrow.
Last season Realmuto finished as the 4th most valuable catcher according to the ESPN Player Rater. If the potential for a three category back slide exists, along with new full-time additions to the pool (such as Willson Contreras & Gary Sanchez), I could see Realmuto slipping into the 6th to 10th range in overall 2017 fantasy production. According to NFBC ADP, Realmuto is currently being selected as the 6th catcher off the board. My avoidance of Realmuto isn’t purely based on attempting to get him to return par (or above) value, but also one of roster construction. Will all three areas (batting average, power & speed) regress next year? Will just the speed dry up, leaving me with a shortage of planned stolen bases? What if he only hits 7 home runs with a .270 batting average? With other players being selected around his ADP, who better own at least one definable skill or statistic, Realmuto becomes an avoid this year on my draft sheet.
Thanks for helping bring home some titles in 2016.
Photo Credit: Roger DeWitt