Wilson Ramos did enough in 2014 to tease fantasy baseball players again. He batted .267/.299/.399, with 11 home runs, in 361 plate appearances (88 games). He missed time, of course, wasting little of it to achieve his first injury: a hamate bone fracture in his left wrist on opening day that required surgery. He didn’t do anything to inspire in his five weeks or so back from that absence before a mild hamstring strain sidelined him again. At least he sat out for only the minimum 15 days.
Not too long afterward, Ramos began to matter in rotisserie and head-to-head leagues again. He hit six of his round-trippers in August and totaled eight in 200 at-bats after the All-Star break. The Washington Nationals’ catcher wasn’t a money earner this season, according to Zach Sanders’ end-of-season catcher rankings, but he again gave rise to hope that next year will be the one in which he plays 130 games and thus delivers the kind of production his loyal buyers desire.
There is, of course, a potential problem with that conjecture. Besides health, that is. Ramos, 27, hasn’t accrued 400-plus PAs since his first season in the nation’s capital, in 2011, when he hit .267 with 15 bombs. The torn ACL he suffered in 2012 wiped out three-quarters of that campaign, naturally. He bounced back surprisingly well, really, with the .272 average and 16 home runs in just 303 PAs. This season, fantasy owners had to know that the wrist injury was going to affect his power for a bit, but the second-half output was encouraging.
No, it’s not the injuries – OK, it’s not just the injuries – that are concerning. It might not even be the lowly fly-ball rates he’s put up in the past few years. Mike Podhorzer went over some reasons why last year, and those things held up, in terms of his fly-ball and home runs distances, for the most part. Ramos, basically, hits the ball pretty hard when he makes contact.
Making contact has increasingly become a possible issue, though.
His swinging-strike rate rose only incrementally prior to this past season. But he’s become increasingly aggressive, and the reach rate has become troubling in kind. The SwStr%, Swing%, and O-Swing% were notably above league-average. It seems like a good possibility that, in the near future, his K% – heretofore better than league-average – will begin to join those figures. His heatmaps show a player whose strike zone has slowly expanded.
I started to wonder what his discipline marks looked like when I watched him repeatedly flail at pitches out of the strike zone, mostly at stuff away, in his club’s NLDS loss to the San Francisco Giants. He was easily exploited, seeming to take nothing away from his previous at-bats. His outcomes against RHPs in general appear to be in peril. I understand that he might deserve some leeway for his performance in these areas because of the injuries he’s incurred, but those are almost part of the package.
Ramos still has chances to show us that big season. I can’t help but think that the window of opportunity is very narrow, though. He’s not old, but the combination of durability concerns and questionable components makes him tough to chase. It seems as if a lot of things have to go right for him: stay healthy, continue to make contact at a league-average rate, hit the ball hard and far a lot of the time (with a high HR/FB), stay healthy. …
Yes, there’s significant upside, but how likely is he to reach it? His Steamer projection – a .270 average with 20 HR and a .270 AVG in 551 PAs – is disgustingly optimistic. As long as Ramos’ cost isn’t prohibitive, he’s going to be worth a gamble, no question. If the throng of “this might be the year” hopefuls hasn’t dissipated, though, then it doesn’t seem smart to compete for that chance.
Nicholas Minnix oversaw baseball content for six years at KFFL, where he held the loose title of Managing Editor for seven and a half before he joined FanGraphs. He played in both Tout Wars and LABR from 2010 through 2014. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasMinnix.