Pretty much immediately when the Twins and Nationals made a swap featuring closer Matt Capps for Wilson Ramos, the Nats were declared winners and then some. Ramos had shown himself to be a strong catcher with great game calling ability along with a bat that was going to make him a franchise cornerstone. Yet being a prospect in Double A, the Twins clearly didn’t value his projection as high, and they ended up with a closer who blew up completely.
Fast forward five seasons into Ramos’ career: Ramos has solidified the notion of him being a good defensive catcher (he’s coming off a gold glove award nominee for the position) as well as flashing signs of being an offensive powerhouse, although only in short spurts. He has battled injuries (to be expected from his position) and inconsistency, something that has plagued his professional career and a major reason Minnesota shipped him out. But Ramos managed to stay mostly healthy last season and contributed 15 homers despite an overall poor performance. So we have to wonder, is he close to really showing his true underlying star?
Ramos offensively has been a very good hitter, with wRC+ marks ranging over 110 at his best, although in 2015 we saw him dip way down to just 63. The driving factor behind his poor performance is a reduced amount of contact, striking out a career high 20.0% (up from a 16.8% career average) and winding up with a measly .229 batting average. Because of poor contact he wasn’t even able to put up decent isolated slugging marks, showing problems with a power stroke.
Yet when we dig a little, 15 homers in 128 games is very good, especially when considering what position he plays. So we do know he shows the power potential to be among the better hitters and best catchers. The problem is his contact skills. Last year his 26% hard hit rate was a good amount below his career mark of 30%, showing something was bothering him.
At this point you are probably inclined to group Ramos in with the over the hill category, saying perhaps his career curve is forming here instead of an outlying bad season. But he’s just 28, and we also know catchers feature late development in their hit tools because of so much emphasis early in their careers on defense. While this type of argument may be anecdotal, if fits the situation. Ramos has just had his best defensive season ever, while being a good hitter throughout his career. With more time to now focus on his swing, we can thereby expect a boost.
And now, my favorite part, some numbers…
Projections have Ramos gaining 30 points in his isolated slugging, a jump to push him from below average to above average, but even these might be a little pessimistic. Current projections have Ramos’ 2015 BABIP staying true for 2016, but looking at his career marks and knowing what we know about BABIP regression, this seems ridiculous. He hit just .256 on balls in play in 2015, despite his batted ball profile staying the same. Some can be attributed to the lessened hard contact, but not all. His career .289 tells us he’s due for plenty more contact falling for hits.
His strikeout rate might be worrisome, but again, it’s not in line with his trends and his underlying numbers don’t suggest anything new about his swing or approach (swing rate in 2015 of 54.3%, from a career 53.8%, whiff rate of 12.1% from 11.3%).
And look deeper into his contact against lefties, something all righties do well; his career average of .290 fell to just .233, telling us something is definitely wrong with the numbers here. It doesn’t deviate from his average vs. the same handed pitchers by much (.228) which is something that almost never holds. To put this in perspective, Stan Musial is one of about five hitters to accomplish anywhere close to reverse platoon splits over a career.
So what we’re looking at is basically a lot of nothing. Ramos had an off-year, a bad one, and people are writing him off low in drafts and value. We can almost expect his offense to fall in line with his career norms, which we know have fallen in years where he’s actually focused more on the defensive side.
And a quote from Ramos himself, on how much harder he is working towards improving his offensive game:
“This offseason I am working three times more hard than last year,” he said. “I know offense for catchers is not that important. It’s more important for defense. But I like to help my team with my bat, too. This year, this offseason I am working hard for that. I am trying to get a better approach at the plate and try to concentrate on putting the ball in play. This year, I got a lot of strikeouts. That didn’t help me. I am concentrating right now on all of that. Hopefully next season will be better than this season.”
An outlying poor performance, a later age curve that fits his time frame, a conscious effort to be better on offense; it all adds up to not just a rebound for Ramos, but a career year in 2016.
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