J.T. Realmuto has been to two-straight All Star Games, kept a Silver Slugger trophy in his locker last season, and has been labeled by many as baseball’s best catcher. He could become baseball’s highest-paid catcher this winter, when the Phillies sign him to a contract extension that is nearly guaranteed to happen.
But there is still something Realmuto seeks: his first Gold Glove award.
Realmuto was one of three Phillies players to be named Thursday as finalists for the award, which is given to the best defender at each position in each league. Aaron Nola (pitcher) and Bryce Harper (right fielder) are also National League finalists. There are three finalists in both league at each position. And Realmuto can be considered the NL’s favorite to win at catcher when the awards are presented Nov. 3.
“I hope so,” Realmuto said at the end of the season. “I really hope.”
A Phillie has not won a Gold Glove since shortstop Jimmy Rollins took one home in 2012. FanGraphs ranked Realmuto this season as the most valuable defender in all of baseball, not just among catchers. Realmuto is competing with San Diego’s Austin Hedges and St. Louis’ Yadier Molina.
Realmuto threw out 37 of 86 would-be base stealers, which was 15 more than any catcher. His average pop-time (the amount of time it takes for a catcher to take the ball from his mitt and throw it to second base) was the fastest in baseball. Baseball Prospects ranked him as the third-best pitch framer.
“That’s something I’ve definitely always wanted in my career,” Realmuto said about the award. “Especially at the catching position, it’s really hard to get, so it would mean a lot to me. Cross my fingers on that one.”
Defense was one of the glaring marks against Harper when the Phillies signed him to a $330 million contract. Most defensive metrics graded him in 2018 as one of the worst outfielders in baseball. His final season in Washington was the worst defensive season of his career, but his first year in Philadelphia could end with him winning a Gold Glove.
In what would have been hard to believe in March, Harper is a finalist with Jayson Heyward of the Cubs and Cody Bellinger of the Dodgers. Harper had 13 outfield assists this season, matching the number he had in his final three seasons with the Nationals. His assists were tied for the most in the league, and his nine defensive-runs saved were third after finishing 2018 with a negative 26. Harper’s defense is no longer a concern. It might even be worthy of an award.
“Being able to work with Paco as much as I can and try to get better each day,” Harper said of coach Paco Figueroa. “Everybody made such a stink about my defense last year. This year, I took pride in it and really want to get better. My pitchers deserve that, and my team deserve, that. I’ll keep trying to get better every year.”
Nola had a perfect fielding percentage this season and was tied for second among National League pitchers in defensive runs saved. The other finalists are Jack Flaherty of St. Louis and Zack Grienke, who began the season with Arizona but was traded in July to the American League champion Astros.