The Phillies have been riding a rollercoaster lately, and Sunday’s action was no different. They looked completely dead through the first eight innings, and then all of a sudden found a way to win. Given all the heartache we’ve experienced lately, today was a much needed breath of fresh air. Despite this afternoon’s victory, they still sit 7.5 games out of first place, and will need a lot more heroics to get back into the race. However, we learned one important thing today: Garrett Stubbs is the best backup catcher in baseball.
It may not be the most glamorous of roles, but the backup catcher is a vital part of any MLB roster. With the beating that backstops take on a daily basis, they need to be rested every four or five games. Because of this, backup catchers get more playing time than most bench players. The Phillies have the luxury of having the best catcher in the league, J.T. Realmuto, who does everything well and is an absolute workhorse. However, even Realmuto needs semi-regular rest. Enter Garrett Stubbs.
A 28-year-old San Diego native, Garrett Stubbs made his big league debut in 2019 with the Houston Astros. He didn’t get much run in Space City, as he only appeared in 51 games over three seasons, collecting 87 plate appearances. He didn’t do much with the limited playing time he received, posting an anemic .485 OPS.
Stubbs got a fresh start this past winter, as he was dealt to the Phillies in late November for minor league outfielder Logan Cerny. It was an under the radar move, as neither player had much name value, and Stubbs was seen merely as catching depth. However, after previous backup Andrew Knapp’s departure in free agency, Stubbs earned a spot on the opening day roster. He had a terrific nine games coming into today’s action, logging a .348/.400/.522 slash line across 25 plate appearances. That’s an incredibly small sample size, but backup catchers deal exclusively in small sample sizes.
After impressing Manager Joe Girardi over the first six weeks of the season, Stubbs was given the start behind the plate in Sunday’s season finale against the Dodgers. And man, oh man did he perform. Stubbs was the only bright spot offensively for the Phillies through the first eight innings, as he tallied a single in his first plate appearance before launching a sixth inning moonshot into the right field stands for his first career home run.
He would go on to show some sound fundamentals in the bottom of the eighth when he laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to move Realmuto up to second. When the game went to extra innings Stubbs was at the center of the action, as he led off the tenth with Realmuto on second once again. With the Dodgers’ infield shifted to the right side, Stubbs hit a soft liner to where the shortstop would normally be, and beat it out for an infield single. Realmuto was out on a baserunning miscue at third base, making Stubbs the tying run. With two outs, Roman Quinn lined a single into right field, and Stubbs exhibited his excellent baserunning skills. He took off on contact and used his well-above-average speed to streak into third base just ahead of a terrific throw from Mookie Betts. Stubbs’ heads-up baserunning allowed the lightning-quick Quinn to move up to second, putting the tying and winning runs in scoring position. We all know what happened next, as Max Muncy botched an easy grounder off the bat of Alec Bohm, allowing both Stubbs and Quinn to score for a 4-3 Phillies victory.
It was one of the most exhilarating, up-and-down games of the year for the Phillies, and they couldn’t have won without Garrett Stubbs. His sixth inning dinger cut the lead in half, keeping the Phils within striking distance. Then, his contact-oriented approach and outstanding baserunning led directly to the Phillies winning the game in extra innings. Obviously, others played key parts as well. Roman Quinn came up clutch when the Phillies needed it most. Zach Eflin pitched the best game of his career and kept them in it for seven strong innings. And of course, Max Muncy sealed the deal. However, there wouldn’t have been any extra innings heroics if it weren’t for Garrett Stubbs.
Stubbs won’t play more than one or two times per week if Realmuto stays healthy. And in all honesty, he shouldn’t. Is Garrett Stubbs the 1.144 OPS hitter that we’ve seen over his first ten games with the Phillies? No way. Can Garrett Stubbs even be an .800 OPS hitter over the course of a full season? Probably not. However, he’s looked like a much better hitter than anyone has given him credit for thus far. And there’s no doubt that he does everything else well. He’s a terrific defender behind the plate, using top-notch athleticism and flexibility to save many would-be wild pitches. He has blazing speed for a catcher, as he is one of, if not the fastest catcher in the league behind Realmuto. He also plays outstanding fundamental baseball.
After the game Joe Girardi had high praise when asked about Stubbs, saying, “He understands his role, and what he needs to do, and has done a really good job of staying ready. There’s times where he needs to bunt; he’s able to do that. There’s times where he needs to swing the bat. He’s able to do that. He does a good job with our pitchers. He has played extremely well.”
Garrett Stubbs had the best game of his career this afternoon, and Joe Girardi won’t forget it. Don’t be surprised if you see him penciled into the lineup card a few more times than you expected. Whether or not he keeps up his red-hot start, one thing is for sure: Garrett Stubbs is the best backup catcher in baseball.