CLEARWATER, Fla. -- J.T. Realmuto can still feel the disappointment of belting a fly ball to center field at Marlins Park, watching it carry for what he thought would be a double, and see in drop for an out into an outfielder’s glove.
The Miami ballpark, with its large dimensions and lack of wind, presents one of the league’s stiffest hitting challenges. And it did Realmuto no favors. He hit just eight of his 21 homers last season at home. His OPS — which was the highest among all catchers — was 97 points greater on the road than at home.
The Phillies believe they traded last week for baseball’s best catcher. But how much better could Realmuto be when he is playing 81 games at hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park?
“I think it will help,” Realmuto said on Tuesday after being given his No. 10 Phillies jersey at Spectrum Field. “I felt like some of my issues in Marlins Park were that I knew it was so big and sometimes maybe I tried to do a little too much and got out of my strengths, muscle up and try to hit the ball too far which over time can really create problems. I think just being able to play in a park that is more hitter-friendly will give me more confidence, and I’ll try not to do too much and just take things as they come and that will help me out tremendously.”
The home run rate remained steady across the league last season as it marked the first time in baseball history that more than 1.15 homers were hit per game for three straight years. Home runs have seemed to fly over the last three years out of every ballpark except Marlins Park, which ranked second-to-last in homers twice in the last three years.
Citizens Bank Park — Realmuto’s new home in South Philly — featured the 12th-most homers. Realmuto, according to MLB’s Statcast, would have hit seven more homers last season if his home games were in Philly instead of Miami. ESPN, using its Park Factor algorithm, ranked Citizens Bank Park last season as the fourth-most friendly ballpark to home runs. Marlins Park was last.
“I can count too many times that I felt like I crushed a ball in Marlins Park only to watch Odubel Herrera dive in center field and catch it at the wall. So it will be nice to get out of there,” Realmuto said. “Not that Citizens Bank Park is any slouch, you still have to hit the ball well, but it will be nice knowing if you get a ball you have a chance of getting it out.”
It wasn’t just the deeper walls that made Marlins Park a challenge, but the sometimes eerily silence resulting from crowds that averaged just more than 10,000 per game. The Phillies, despite falling well short of the crowds they drew a decade ago, still saw nearly three times more fans last season than the Marlins. That atmosphere — the one that was so familiar during the team’s last great era — would easily return if the team finishes the offseason by corralling Bryce Harper or Manny Machado.
Realmuto spent his winter scrolling social media, hoping to find a tip about were he would be headed to this season. It was almost guaranteed that he would be traded before the season. He packed his bags last week in Oklahoma, but still didn’t know if he was headed to spring training in Florida or Arizona. The call came Wednesday afternoon, he and his wife packed up their truck, and arrived the next day in Clearwater.
Realmuto worked out a day later with his teammates at the team’s Carpenter Complex. And in six weeks, he’ll arrive at the ballpark which could make baseball’s best catcher even better.
“It’s tough,” Realmuto said of playing for the Marlins as they unloaded their roster. “The baseball season is extremely long and tough. It makes it quite a bit tougher when you’re not playing for an end result. Starting in May, June, and July, you’re already thinking about your vacation on October 5. That’s no fun because you want to be playing in August and September be playing for something. I don’t want to call them meaningless games but you’re not necessarily playing for a playoff spot in those late months and that’s what I’m most excited about being with the Phillies — that chance to contend and that chance to play those meaningful games.”