FOX Sports MLB Analyst
No one in MLB is better at throwing out would-be base stealers than Phillies catcher JT Realmuto.
Since 2016, the backstop around the world has sent 118 runners back to the dugout as sadder and more enriching versions of themselves. That’s 37 more steals than second-place Martin Maldonado. While Realmuto’s steal rate is 38%. not more third-best in that span, Statcast’s new catcher pitching metrics rate the 32-year-old veteran as far and away. the best in baseball to cut the runners.
The base stealing metagame is essentially a mathematical equation:
The time between a pitcher’s first movement to his delivery of the ball hitting the catcher’s glove plus the catcher’s transfer of the ball to his pitching hand and release plus the ball’s path to the catcher’s glove a fielder and the back tag beats out a runner going from one base to the next?
As a catcher, Realmuto can only control three of those factors: his trade time, his throwing power and his accuracy. The sum of the first two is commonly called “pop time,” from the catcher’s glove pop to the fielder’s pop. It should come as no surprise that Realmuto has the fastest average pop time in baseball.
And now that new MLB rules have led to a huge increase in stolen bases, keeping runners honest is more important than ever. So before a recent Phillies home game, FOX Sports sat down with the two-time Gold Glove winner to chat about his three mainstays of clearing baserunners.
1. Increase arm strength through the long throw
Over the past half century, the long throw has become a fundamental part of the sport. Most MLB players, regardless of defensive position, have some sort of long throw routine. (For the uninitiated, the long throw is the practice of throwing baseballs very far, beyond what you’ll likely need in a game, for the purpose of building arm strength). Your favorite player probably throws long, as does your least favorite.
But Realmuto’s long-pitch strategy differs slightly from the big-league average.
“I have a long throw, but it’s usually never, like a long long throw,” he explained. “I try to match the height of the pitch I would be throwing to second base.”
Typically, the long throw has two distinct phases: work and pull down. During the first, throwing partners gradually separate from each other as they focus on gaining height and distance in their throws. After reaching maximum distance, both players work closer together and focus on making their throws as low as possible.
For Realmuto, who as a catcher rarely has to throw a baseball more than 130 feet, it makes sense to focus solely on pulling downfield. He says he releases as fast as possible, but always online. For him, it doesn’t really matter if it bounces once or twice before reaching the target. That is, as long as the pitch stays low.
The approach is clearly working: Since the start of 2021, Realmuto is averaging 87.8 mph on his pitches at second, the second-best mark in baseball.
2. Athletic footwork
This is where Realmuto’s naturally sporty athleticism comes into play.
Notice that little jump Realmuto does right after the pitcher starts his move? This is the result of the base runner breaking down at second, which Realmuto can see from his peripheral vision.
Three important things happen because of this little jump: 1) the angle of his chest opens up, which makes his throw faster; 2) his right foot turns 90 degrees so that his toes are no longer facing second base, allowing him to clear his feet more easily; and 3) he loads both legs like a spring, ready to jump back out of his crouch a moment later.
Here’s another example: Again, look at his chest, his right foot, and the slight load again in his squat.
Other less physically outlandish catchers simply can’t match Realmuto’s consistency and explosiveness. And while athleticism comes naturally, actually learning and maintaining footwork quickness takes time, repetition and focus. Realmuto explained that he is incredibly intentional about everything and practices it all the time.
3. Practice variability in the exchange
Yes, Realmuto has a cannon of an arm, but his change (the process of the ball going from glove to hand) is just as elite. The Phillies catcher explained that he is incredibly intentional about keeping a “clean pocket” during the trade. As for non-infield baseball, that’s where specifically in the glove Realmuto catches the ball: he always prefers the pocket, not the palm or fingers. This allows for a much easier transition from the ball to the throwing hand.
For Realmuto, making sure he maintains a clean pocket starts with drill work, more specifically, drill work that forces him to be uncomfortable.
“I make sure I practice transfers from realistic positions.” He said, “Off-balance transfers with my knees on the ground or low breaking balls or high fastball transfers. You only get that perfect pitch to throw one out of 10 times, so it’s key to practice everything else “.
Realmuto said he hasn’t made any significant changes to his position or trade or approach to throwing out runners in response to MLB’s new runner-happy rules. And while he admits there are some downsides to the new normal: “Honestly, I don’t like runners being safe that often.” — He’s generally in favor of the rule changes, even if his raw steal numbers are down a bit.
“The action is great, a lot more guys running, more opportunities to throw,” he said. “You want to throw guys out. That’s the fun thing about being a receiver. How to block, even if you’re good at blocking, it’s kind of shitty.”
Jake Mintzstronger half of @CespedesBBQ is a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He played college baseball, poorly at first, then very well, very briefly. Jake lives in New York City where he coaches Little League and rides his bike, sometimes at the same time. Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Mintz.
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