One might think, given the value of 20 home runs in fantasy — from a catcher, no less — that Wilson Ramos would be a man in demand. After all, he put up 16 dingers last year, good for 10th among catchers, and did so in just 303 plate appearances. So it’s a bit surprising that as drafts come to a close this month, the Venezuelan has been going 11th in mixed leagues despite his potential to finish inside the top five at his position. What gives?
Well, there’s his ability — inability, more accurately — to stay on the field, of course. Over the past three seasons, Ramos has averaged just 72 games, or 278 plate appearances. A torn ACL suffered in early 2012 led to two knee surgeries, and hamstring problems — perhaps not unrelated to the ACL tear — ruined his first half last year. But he played full-time upon returning for good in early July, and ended up catching 23 straight games toward the end of the season, the majors’ longest such streak last year. Over the winter, Ramos played winter ball in Venezuela, and now says he’s fully healthy. Yes, that reeks of Best Shape of His Life, but then again, it’s better to hear that than the alternative, right?
Still just 26 years old, I’m not sure it’s time to write this guy off as a chronic injury magnet. Besides, the Nationals are vowing to go easy on the backstop and give him ample time off, and the new home plate collision restrictions going into place this year will serve to limit his injury risk even further.
Injuries aside, the other concern among fantasy owners, I assume, is that they don’t believe the power. That’s understandable when you glance at an eye-popping 27.6 percent HR/FB rate that will surely return back to Earth. But as Mike Podhorzer pointed out back in October, Ramos’ excellent batted ball distance suggests that even with some regression, he should be able to maintain a HR/FB rate somewhere in the late teens, or just above the neighborhood of his career 16.5 percent rate. Beyond that, we’re also talking about a guy who put up 15 bombs in 435 plate appearances back in 2011, his only other full season, and, coupled with a career .175 ISO, it’s safe to say that last year’s power binge didn’t come out of nowhere.
What about the other aspects of Ramos’ game? He doesn’t walk all that often, so you can finger that for an abysmal .307 OBP. But as far as his average was concerned, a .272 mark was due largely to a soft .270 BABIP, despite a roughly average line drive rate, so it’s not impossible to see him picking up a few points going forward. Meanwhile, last year’s sub-14 percent strikeout rate is very encouraging given his pop, especially when coupled with the best contact rate of his career. I’m also a fan of the Nationals lineup, in that it should offer Ramos enough protection where he won’t be too exposed, but it’s not so stacked as to prevent him from securing a prime slot.
Projections-wise, the question isn’t whether Ramos will deliver – it’s whether he’ll hang around long enough to make good on his capability. Oliver is over the moon for this guy, predicting 600 plate appearances with 24 homers and 86 RBIs, while Steamer, expecting him to appear in just 90 games, forecasts just 13 long balls. Twenty fan predictions fall basically in between the two projection systems.
But the main point is this: when playing, Ramos performs. And in terms of predicting whether he’ll stay on the field, well, show me a catcher who’s been injury-proof in his career. Catcher is deep enough this year that a serviceable handcuff will probably still be on the waiver wire in case of emergency, and as bets go, gambling on Ramos’ power potential — no, his demonstrated power ability — is a no-regret move.
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