The root of Wilson Ramos’ struggles and how to plan for 2020

I always liked Wilson Ramos. When rookies hit the ground running, I’m happy for them and Ramos did just that. He was called up when Joe Mauer got hurt and Ramos was impressive. A young catcher that could hit the ball a mile and had a strong arm makes for a great resume starter. Ramos had high assist totals in the minors and usually a caught stealing rate of over 30%. Mauer’s return from injury made Ramos expendable, and so the Twins sent him to the Nationals in 2010 for a reliever named Matt Capps. [The more I see the heists pulled by teams trading for relievers, the more I never want my team to fall for that again.]

Ramos’ first year as a full time MLB catcher with the Nationals returned a 4.4 fWAR and a 27.3 dWAR. By 2016 Ramos was an all-star for the Nationals and was primed for a huge deal at age 29 following that walk year, if not for a late season injury to his knee. Not only was 2016 his first all-star appearance, he won the silver slugger, and was 6th in the MVP voting for the National League. Following the 2016 season, he signed a two year deal with the Rays with a lower first year ($4 million) to rehab his knee, and a higher second year ($8.5 million). Ramos returned to being an all-star in 2018 and the Mets signed him in 2019 to what appeared to be a team friendly two year $19 million contract with incentives for another $500K each season that he starts 100 games.

This sounds like such a positive signing, so why is there such a disturbance concerning his abilities? First the bad news: You only get one chance to make a good first impression and Ramos missed his chance with Mets fans. For the first four months he was a disappointing .255/.329/.379/.709 with a .271 BABIP, and we all heard how Noah Syndergaard preferred Tomas Nido behind plate when he pitched. In fact, Jacob DeGrom also struggled initially with Ramos, but he settled in quite nicely later in the year. We will deal with Ramos’ shortcoming defensively later, but his strength was to be his offense and for four months he was usually in the middle of the lineup and struggling along with a certain second baseman. Now the good news, the last two months: .347/.392/.485/.877 with a .380 BABIP, including a 27 game hitting streak. Nice!

However, the sorry start left Ramos with a -2.1 oWAR in Fangraphs for 2019, 11th best for all catchers and a 15th best overall fWAR of 1.4. This was a major drop from 2018 when Ramos was 5th in oWAR with 4.7, 9th in overall fWAR with 2.2, and dWAR of 3.3. Some of the offensive drop is directly due to an increase in his ground ball rate, from his usual middle 40’s to 63%. In fact, in an interview in August during the hit streak, Ramos specifically pointed this out as something he knew he needed to address.

Now for the defensive grades. Ramos was never a catcher known for his defensive metrics but has usually caught the aces of his staff successfully, and was viewed as a good game-caller and leader. Still, we will gauge a few defensive categories and see how he compares to other catchers, but first let’s see how the Mets hurlers did with Ramos behind the plate as compared to Nido. We will use hitters’ tOPS+ (puts the OPS+ at 100 and grades the catcher relative to that pitcher’s 100 score) and K/BB:

Jacob DeGrom: Ramos 91 and 5.37; Nido 93 and 7.00; Travis D’Arnaud 428 and 3.00
Noah Syndergaard: Ramos 104 and 4.41; Nido 82 and 3.76
Steven Matz: Ramos 102 and 3.09; Nido 179 and 2.00
Zack Wheeler: Ramos 91 and 3.92; Nido 142 and 4.50
Jason Vargas: Ramos 84 and 2.00; Nido 73 and 2.80; J. T. Realmuto 108 and 2.11
Marcus Stroman: Ramos 130 and 2.22; Nido 87 and 4.00; Danny Jansen 87 and 2.71
Seth Lugo: Ramos 97 and 6.08; Nido 115 and 6.33
Edwin Diaz: Ramos 107 and 4.88; Nido 69 and 3.00
Jeurys Familia: Ramos 109 and 1.23; Nido 53 and no walks in 8.2 innings!
Robert Gsellman: Ramos 120 and 1.71; Nido 70 and 5.50

These were the top 10 pitchers for the Mets in innings pitched, and it seems like Nido brought about a better result in six of the ten. Aside from DeGrom and Vargas, every other pitcher had an exaggerated split depending on the catcher with Nido taking five of the eight exaggerated results. Not too great but not terrible for an “offensive” catcher when being compared to a catcher that offers about what a pitcher will in a lineup.

Now, let’s explore framing and pop-time results and I will compare Ramos to other catchers for the last two years. This is Baseball Savant’s definition of framing: “Catcher framing is the art of a catcher receiving a pitch in a way that makes it more likely for an umpire to call it a strike.” I’ll pick out some names of interest from the 50+ in each year’s list:

2019 (tied for 48th): Austin Hedges was first in baseball with +20 Runs Saved with Extra Strikes; Tyler Flowers and Yasmani Grandal were second with +13; Buster Posey was 6th at +10; Realmuto was tied for 7th with Brian McCann at +8 (that’s both Atlanta catchers in the top 7); Plawecki was 16th at +4; Nido was 17th at +3 (with a fraction of the pitches the others so far had received); Yadier Molina, Martin Maldonado, Yan Gomes and four others were tied for 31st with -1, Travis d’Arnaud was 38th with -2; Jeff Mathis, Jorge Alfaro, Francisco Mejia were tied with four others for 41st, Ramos was tied for 48th with -4 with Jonathan Lucroy, Gary Sanchez, Kurt Suzuki, John Hicks and Pedro Severino.

2018 (tied for 36th): Mathis was #1 with +11; Grandal was tied for second with +10; Flowers and Alfaro were tied for 4th with +9; Gomes was tied for 8th with +8; Hedges was 10th this year +7; Realmuto was 14th with +5; Sanchez and Posey with tied for 21st and two others with +3; Brian McCann on the Astros this year was tied for 36th with Suzuki, Ramos and two others at -3; Molina, Lucroy, Plawecki and two others were tied for 41st with -4.

In fact, Ramos scores for the last five years going backwards were: -4 (48th), -3 (36th), -1 (31st), +1 (27th), -4 (38th). Certainly, these numbers are not numbers to flaunt, but until last year, Ramos was usually around the back of the middle of the pack.

Pop Time according to Baseball Savant: “Pop Time measures the time for the moment the pitch hits the catcher’s mitt to the moment the ball reaches the fielder’s projected receiving point at the center of the base. Pop Time is a combination of exchange time(how quickly the catcher releases the ball, measured in seconds) and arm strength (velocity of throw in MPH). The Major League Pop Time on steal attempts or second base is 2.01 seconds.” Let’s see how our guy compares.

2019: Realmuto is #1 at 1.88 seconds; Willson Contreras and Hedges tied for 3rd with 1.92; Nido is #5 at 1.93; Alfaro was tied for 7th at 1.94; Molina was tied for 21st at 1.98; d’Arnaud was tied for 26th with eight others at 1.99; Ramos, Posey and two others were tied for 35th at 2.00. In arm strength our hero comes in 35th with an average of 81.5 mph per throw. Nido was tied for 48th at 80.1 mph and D’Arnaud came in 17th at 83.5.

2018: Realmuto is #1 at 1.90 seconds; Gomes is 3rd at 1.93; Nido, Alfaro, Hedges, Sanchez and two others are tied for 4th with 1.94; Ramos is tied for 24th with 1.99. In arm strength, Alfaro leads by a pretty wide 3 mph at 90.8; Realmuto is second at 87.8; Maldonado is third at 87.5; Sanchez is 4th at 86.8; Ramos was 30th at 82.3; Nido was tied for 31st at 82.2.
So, what do we need in 2020 from Mr. Ramos? If the Metsblog articles talking up Ramos’ commitment to improvement next year come to fruition, we may just have a borderline all-star catcher based on his offense. If his offense is not working, it’s hard to expect the Mets to give Nido a shot because while his defensive metrics are excellent his bat is absolutely terrible and the Mets would need seven savages in their lineup to make up for Nido and the pitcher. Either way, the Mets need a back-up strategy going into 2020 regarding Ramos’ catching position:
i. They can go all offense at the other seven positions and let Nido play everyday;
ii. Upgrade Nido now so if you need a better catcher in case of injury or non-performance you have one in your system;
iii. Wait for July 31 and try to land a serviceable catcher in his walk year like Roberto Perez, who may not command a big trade chip and may be available.

Takeaways
1. Ramos has usually been borderline average defensively and needs his offense to be his calling card. His framing is below average, but his arm and caught stealing are usually at least average.
2. If Ramos can be closer to his August/September self rather than his April-July self, the Mets will not worry too much about his below average framing grades. His GB% will be key to the results.
3. There isn’t much available in free agency in the catching position and with Travis d’Arnaud signing for $8 million a year, it speaks volumes to the wasteland for underachieving hitters that the MLB catching position has become. In total, only ten catchers had a positive offensive WAR last year. If you want to compare Ramos to the average catcher, he’s better. But if you want to win a championship, Ramos needs to come back with a vengeance.
4. Utilizing the exaggerated results of most of the Mets pitchers between the two catchers makes it a strong possibility to have the 26th man be a catcher and have Nido take over late in games to help the bullpen’s results, and let Nido catch Syndergaard.

5 comments for “The root of Wilson Ramos’ struggles and how to plan for 2020

  1. January 3, 2020 at 4:26 pm

    I apologize that this was not up earlier – completely my fault. Gus sent it in with plenty of time but I’ve been knocked out with flu-like symptoms. First time today I’ve been upright.

    • Chris F
      January 3, 2020 at 5:08 pm

      I feel ya, Im on day 9.

    • TexasGusCC
      January 3, 2020 at 6:11 pm

      I neglected to add that the pitch framing grades are in comparison to about 55-57 catchers from each year.

      You guys too? I had 103.1 fever yesterday. I’ve no fever today, but the headaches and strep throat are still there.

  2. Chris F
    January 3, 2020 at 5:20 pm

    nice article Gus. I hope there is coming around from pitchers to Ramos as receiver.

    I have a growing fear that the Mets see “late inning defense” as a means to somehow survive games, but adding in balsa wood bats seems pretty tough to face 8th and 9th.

    I think Ramos is mostly just going to do his thing – set it and forget it style. I expect a lot of extra bases between our staff and him behind the plate. In fact Id like to see the opponent OPS adjusted to incorporate all free “doubles” the different batteries the Mets toss out there.

    He just needs to keep hitting.

  3. MattyMets
    January 5, 2020 at 12:59 pm

    My biggest concern with Ramos is durability. Last year he set career highs in games and ABs. In his nine full seasons, he’s only appeared in 100+ games five times. In four of his seasons his year was cut short by injury and he’s had two major knee surgeries. The Mets need more than just Nido in reserve.

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