Entering the 2011 season, Wilson Ramos had three main obstacles standing between him and the Washington Nationals’ starting catcher job.
One was Ivan Rodriguez. Though Pudge hasn’t possessed offensive punch in years, Nationals manager Jim Riggleman dubbed the 39-year-old the main man behind the plate. Ramos’ other two obstacles were health and his tendency to hack at nearly everything thrown his way.
The 23-year-old broke the tip of his left middle finger and injured his hamstring in 2009, and he dealt with an oblique injury in 2010. Though he held his own in a short 82 plate appearance stint in the majors last year (.278/.305/.405), Ramos walked just 2.4% of the time while swinging at 38.2% of pitches thrown outside of the strike zone (the MLB average is around 29 percent). Swinging early and often was nothing new for the backstop whom the Nats picked up from the Twins last July in exchange for Matt Capps — Ramos’ career walk rate in the minors sits at 5.5 percent.
Ramos has since leapfrogged Pudge on the depth chart, drawing the majority of starts. He has also stayed out of the trainer’s room and is showing a more refined approach at the plate. If you’re in need of catching help, it’s time to start taking this guy seriously.
In 122 trips to the plate this season, Ramos has a .262/.336/.430 triple slash. His .327 Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) places him squarely in the middle of the pack among catchers with at least 100 PA. Ramos’ pop — he’s got a .168 Isolated Power that is comfortably above the .137 major league average — isn’t shocking, given that Baseball America said before the season that he “has good loft and leverage in his swing, giving him a chance to hit for solid-average or slightly better power in time.” Ramos’ patience, on the other hand, has been a pleasant surprise.
Batting mostly out of the fifth slot in Washington’s lineup, Ramos has jumped after pitches thrown out of the zone just 26.8% of the time. That, in turn, has allowed him to draw a walk in 9.8% of his plate appearances, above the 8.6% MLB average. Laying off those junk pitches means more hitter’s counts and chances for Ramos to utilize his power.
While changes in a hitter’s power production take a large sample size to become meaningful, that’s typically not the case with changes in plate discipline. Swing rates for batters become reliable after about 50 plate appearances, a mark that Ramos is well past at this point. Chances are Ramos’ increased patience in 2011 is more than a mere blip on the radar.
Despite the positive chances in Ramos’ plate discipline, he’s still on the waiver wire in 97-98 percent of ESPN leagues. This is a great time to add him to your roster on the cheap, before more people start taking notice of his quality bat. Ramos isn’t a top-tier catcher. But it’s a far better idea to take a chance on a maturing 23-year-old with a prospect pedigree than it is to settle for the A.J. Pierzynskis of the world.
Injury information courtesy of Baseball Prospectus’ Corey Dawkins.