A controversy that has been brewing much of the season involves Noah Syndergaard and his preference for any catcher other than Wilson Ramos. A New York Post article on 9/9/19 written by Joel Sherman and Kevin Kernan reported that Syndergaard had a meeting with GM Brodie Van Wagenen in which Syndergaard’s request was rejected. The Post reported that the “front office believes the pitcher-catcher dynamic was overrated,” and that concerning catchers, the FO “favors the best offensive matchup.”
Is Syndergaard off-base in requesting input in to who catches him? Can we use baseball metrics to help figure this out? We will try to answer these questions as we sort out the Syndergaard-Ramos-Tomas Nido and Rene Rivera quadrangle.
Since Syndergaard is not asking for a specific catcher all the time, just to have either Rivera or Nido catch him as much as possible. As such it is not a true personal catcher situation but it is closely related to the personal catcher dynamic which has been around baseball for decades. In the mid to late 70s future Hall of Famer Steve Carlton of the Phils was granted his request to have an aging Tim McCarrver as his personal catcher, and that seemed to work out well. In the 90s, another future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux had several years of backup catcher Eddie Perez as his personal backstop with the Braves. More recently the 2016 world champion Cubs paired Jon Lester with veteran backup catcher David Ross, at Lester’s request. There are many other examples, and the point is that established pitchers are often accommodated with the catcher of their choice.
Some of the reasons for Syndergaard’s preference for Nido/Rivera over Ramos include the fact that Ramos is a poor pitch framer. He also is not very good at blocking low pitches, while the other two are. Anecdotally, it seems like all the Mets pitchers shake off Ramos’ signs frequently. All in all, there is a comfort level between Syndergaard and Nido/Rivera that is not present when Ramos is behind the plate.
As to the numbers, Sydergaard has pitched 97 innings to Ramos, hitters have batted .258 against him, with a SLG of .427. For Nido, in 66 innings batters have hit .217 with a .338 SLG. But the most important number is the ERA, with Syndergaard recording a 5.20 reading with Ramos and a much better 2.45 ERA with Nido. Note Rivera has not been mentioned because Syndergaard has had just one start with him this year and gave up zero runs.
There is another set of numbers that need to be looked at, and that is how much offensively does Ramos contribute. Looking at runs created (runs + RBI – HR) we see that Ramos has a figure of 88 so far this year. Dividing that by the number of games started at catcher by Ramos, 119, we see that he contributes .739 runs per game, which hardly offsets the additional runs per game (2.75) given up, calculated by the difference in ERA figures for Syndergaard with Ramos and Nido.
With very little effort, the Mets could have thrown a bone to Syndergaard. In his last two starts, Ramos caught Syndergaard, with poor outings both times. But the pitcher just behind Syndergaard in the rotation, Marcus Stroman, got Nido as his catcher. It seems like the Mets are giving preference to their number five starter over their number two starter. Syndergaard can be a little high maintenance at times, but it seems like management is hurting the team by being so stubborn in forcing Ramos on him.