Rutschman already looking like an all-around star

August 5th, 2022

A great catcher is hard to find. Adley Rutschman is really starting to play like one.

Can the Orioles rookie go from No. 1 Draft pick to No. 1 prospect to the No. 1 Major League catcher? Absolutely. And judging from what he's doing right now, you might not have to wait a long time to see it.

Rutschman already looks like one of the best all-around catchers in baseball. Let's break down how he's excelling at three key components of the position: his arm, his framing and his bat.

He has a top-5 arm

Rutschman has caught six of 22 attempted basestealers this season, a 27% clip which is only slightly above the 25% league average. But those numbers should pick up, because Rutschman is already one of the quickest catchers to second base. The big plays to control the run game are coming.

Rutschman's average pop time to second base on steal attempts is 1.91 seconds. That's how long it takes from when he receives the pitch to when his throw gets to the second-base bag. Major League average pop time is 2.00 seconds -- Rutschman is tied for the fourth-fastest catcher. The ones in front of him are all well known for their great arms.

Fastest avg. pop time to 2B, 2022
1. J.T. Realmuto: 1.83 seconds
2. Jorge Alfaro: 1.88 seconds
3. Sean Murphy: 1.90 seconds
4. (tie) Adley Rutschman: 1.91 seconds
4. (tie) Gabriel Moreno: 1.91 seconds
MLB avg. pop time: 2.00 seconds

Rutschman has a great arm, too. His average "max-effort" arm strength is 87.1 mph, also fourth best among catchers, behind the Rays' Christian Bethancourt, Realmuto and Alfaro.

He's a top-5 framer

The next key defensive area for a catcher is pitch framing, and Rutschman is excelling at it.

Rutschman has gotten called strikes on 49.7% of the borderline pitches he's received -- those are pitches taken by the batter that are within one baseball's width of the edge of the strike zone. His called strike rate on those pitches, where the call can go either way, is fourth best among regular catchers.

Highest called strike % on borderline pitches, 2022
Min. 1,000 borderline pitches received
1. Jose Trevino: 54.1%
2. Jonah Heim: 52.2%
3. Alejandro Kirk: 50.0%
4. Adley Rutschman: 49.7%
5. Sean Murphy: 49.6%
MLB avg.: 46.8%

Rutschman is establishing himself as one of the most well-rounded framing catchers. He's been an above-average framer on all four edges of the strike zone. Just look at a few of the strikeouts he's stolen for Orioles pitchers, including against some top hitters.

That's Rutscham getting José Abreu, Julio Rodríguez and Josh Donaldson punched out on borderline fastballs, Bobby Dalbec on a slider, Jose Trevino on a curveball and Hunter Dozier on a changeup -- all tracked by Statcast as just out of the strike zone, but all called third strikes.

He's a top-5 hitting catcher

Offense from the catcher position is extra valuable these days, and after a slow start at the plate, Rutschman has quickly started raking on a level with the best at the position. 

Highest OPS+ among catchers, 2022
Min. 200 PA
1. Alejandro Kirk: 142 
2. William Contreras: 136
3. Willson Contreras: 132
4. Adley Rutschman: 127
5. Will Smith: 125
League avg.: 100

The only catchers having better overall offensive seasons than Rutschman are three 2022 All-Stars.

The breakout happened fast. Rutschman was batting .143 through his first 15 big league games … and then he took off. Over his last 43 games since June 10, he's slashing .295/.399/.541 -- a .940 OPS -- with five homers, 21 doubles, and nearly as many walks (24) as strikeouts (27). The whole range of hitting skills that made Rutschman a No. 1 overall Draft pick is showing up at once.

Here's a quick rundown of Rutschman's skills underlying the different parts of that stat line. 

  • The .295 BA: Rutschman's bat-to-ball skills are driving his average. His swing-and-miss rate since June 10 is under 16%, ranking in the top 10% of the league over that time. When Rutschman swings at strikes, he connects 89% of the time, putting him among the top 15% of hitters in in-zone contact rate.
  • The .399 OBP and 24 BB's to 27 K's: Rutschman walked more than he struck out at Oregon State. He walked almost as much as he struck out in the Minors. Now he's doing it in the Majors, where it's even harder to stay disciplined, especially as a 24-year-old rookie. Rutschman is chasing only 21% of pitches outside the zone since June 10; again, he's among the top 15% of hitters.
  • The .541 SLG and 26 extra-base hits: Rutschman's quality of contact with the O's matches up with the gap-to-gap ability that was in all the scouting reports. He has a 45% hard-hit rate since June 10 (Statcast defines hard contact as at least 95 mph off the bat), ranking among the top quarter of the league. He's barreling 11% of his contact, which means hitting the ball with at the optimal level of exit velocity and launch angle that's likely to produce an extra-base hit or home run. He's also right at the top quarter of the league in barrel rate over his hot streak.

It's already valuable to have a catcher who can do just one or two of the things that Rutschman is doing. But all of them? That tells you: Rutschman can be a true star catcher, and he can be one soon.