By: Noah Wright
I’m sure not too many people were saying that Christian Yelich is going to be a frontrunner for the NL MVP in early April of 2018. Most were probably saying that the MVP will go to Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, or maybe Freddie Freeman. Sure Yelich had tons of potential to be a great player, but I highly doubt many were pinning him to be the 2018 MVP. Even if they were, he was their dark horse prediction for the award.
I for one, am making a dark horse prediction for this year’s NL MVP award, like many others are before the season starts. I really think this player has a very good chance to win MVP. He’s moving to a hitter friendly park, and he’s going to bat behind some of the biggest sluggers in the MLB. That player is J.T. Realmuto.
Realmuto was one of the best catchers in baseball last year. He led the position in wRC+ with 126. Overall, the right handed batter batted a good .277/.340/.484 in 531 plate appearances. That’s very very good production from your catcher spot. Even though JTR was worth -7 DRS, he was great at catching runners trying to steal. He caught 38% of runners trying to take an extra base off of him. League average was 28% in 2018. J.T. also has one of the best reaction times in the MLB, so that’s a huge plus for catchers to be able to jump out of their crouch, get the ball in the other hand, and throw it to second or third. Sure, he might not have been the best pitch framer, but he wasn’t costing the Marlins tons of strikes with it. Baseball Prospectus has him at just -.3 framing runs. What is surprising is that he’s a great base runner. Aside from having a higher average sprint speed than Francisco Lindor, Mookie Betts, or Jose Altuve, he was worth 4.8 base running runs above average. That ranks within the top 20 of all qualifying players.
What gives me confidence that J.T. Realmuto can be an MVP player next year is some of his splits. J.T. got off to a blistering start to the season. He entered the All-Star break with a .310/.367/.536 line, and 147 wRC+. The second half of the ‘18 season wasn’t as kind to Realmuto. He slumped to a .204/.271/.380 line and a weak 99 wRC+ through his final 118 plate appearances.
Though I do feel Realmuto can keep up production similar to the first half of 2018. First of all, he’s moving to a very good line-up. He’ll have to be pitched to if he’s batting behind guys like Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, and Rhys Hoskins. Then there’s also the fact that he’s playing in a hitter friendly environment. Marlins park is a top 5 pitchers park, and it shows in Realmuto stats. Last season, the all-star catcher had a .269/.329/.444 line at home, but a .283/.350/.520 away. In comparison, Citizens Bank Park is a much more hitter friendly environment. JT seeing less time at Miami is better for him, and increases his chances to keep up good performance all year.
Realmuto is in a good position to sustain good production with the bat. Then, combined with his baserunning ability, and his defense behind the plate, I think J.T. Realmuto has a good chance of finishing in the top 5 of MVP voting, and potentially win the award.