MLB teams know how important it is to have a capable catcher.
The problem is that, right now, there aren’t many star-level backstops in the game, and that’s why only a few of them are considered for the unofficial title of “best catcher in baseball”.
While hitting ability is definitely a plus, a starting catcher is usually asked to be a good defender and be decent at the plate.
When catching, the definition of defense takes a whole new level.
A good defensive catcher is basically a great game-caller, blocks bad pitches well, has a strong throwing arm, and can steal lots of balls and convert them into strikes by “framing”.
JT Realmuto – Best Catcher in Baseball – attacking this Sinker to his arm side from below the zone, gets the pocket outside of the ball & works it back to his frame on a straight path to the umpire’s line of sight. Be patient below the ball & move it fast. pic.twitter.com/H6mduW6gIZ
— Collin Wilber (@collin_wilber) April 7, 2021
Considering all these things, there are several legitimate candidates for the “best catcher in baseball” distinction.
There Are Lots Of Legitimate Candidates, But None Like J.T. Realmuto
Kansas City Royals’ Salvador Perez led MLB in home runs last year with 48, while San Francisco Giants’ Buster Posey led all catchers with 4.9 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) before retiring after the season.
However, because of current level and past performance, the best catcher in baseball plays for the Philadelphia Phillies and his name is J.T. Realmuto.
Realmuto was part of a first tier of catchers who finished with a similar WAR output.
Posey led all catchers with 4.9 WAR, closely followed by Smith’s 4.6, Mike Zunino’s 4.5, and Realmuto’s 4.4.
The 2021 campaign wasn’t the best for Realmuto at the plate, but he was good nonetheless: he slashed .263/.343/.439 with 17 home runs and a 108 wRC+.
The wRC+ stat, which means weighted Runs Created Plus, is a fine tool that evaluates offensive performance while considering external factors such as ballpark and era: after all it isn’t the same to hit .263/.343/.439 in 1918 than in 2021 because baseball was different back then.
The wRC+ stat has 100 as the average value, so Realmuto was still above-average even if he wasn’t at his best performance.
However, he remained a good defensive catcher and, most importantly, is a leader in the Phillies’ clubhouse: players respect him and look up to him.
JT Realmuto is the best catcher in baseball. pic.twitter.com/WFbQaHNtOq
— John Foley (@2008Philz) January 26, 2021
The Most Consistent Catcher Of The Last Three Seasons
Realmuto is, over the last three seasons, the unquestioned best catcher in MLB by WAR.
Considering 2019, 2020, and 2021, the 30-year-old accumulated 11.8 WAR, the highest among all catchers, besting Grandal’s 10.6 and Smith’s 7.5.
There is a huge difference between Realmuto and Smith, and an even bigger one between the Phillies’ star and the fourth-ranked player, Posey (6.7).
To determine the best catcher of the league, we have to look a bit deeper than just 2021 performance, which is why the three-year WAR output is a useful resource.
In any case, Grandal and Smith are also respected players around the league, and Posey retired as a Giants hero.
But most of the league’s executives would probably tell you that, if they were starting a team from scratch, Realmuto would be the catcher they would pick.
Not only does he remain a star on the field, but he also offers many of the intangibles that executives and fans like to see in a catcher.