Nationals Baseball: The future, Wilson?

Thursday, April 03, 2014

The future, Wilson?

When he was traded for Wilson Ramos immediately became the Nats' "catcher of the future". And by "the future" they really meant "from this point forward". Their highly touted minor league catcher Derek Norris was used as part of the deal for Gio Gonzalez (no complaints) and Wilson was handed the reins. The trade was four years ago. Since then the Nats have gotten 239 games from Ramos, or a season and a half. Is he still the catcher of "the future" or has his time come and gone?

The injury

This time Wilson injured his wrist.  It's a troubling injury because we've seen wrist injuries sap the power from players for a season or two. Wilson relies on his power more than any aspect of his offense. However, there is some conflicting information about this specific wrist injury though as Espinosa, Zimmerman, and Desmond, all who have had hamate bone surgery before, claim it didn't effect their power. Let's check that.

isoSLG* year before :  .168 minors, .233 majors
Surgery off season 2010
year after : .178 majors

isoSLG* year before : .168 minors prev year, .152 minors year of surgery
Surgery during 2008
year after : .147 minors, .281 majors

isoSLG* year before : .192
Surgery off season 2007
year after : .159

Honestly we don't learn all that much. Ian and Danny were both still developing players straddling the line between the minors and the majors. Their high isoSLG numbers in the majors come with limited play. It's hard to draw any conclusions from those numbers.  Ryan's show a bit more clarity that power was lost for him. However, looking at other major leaguers who have had the surgery recently, Pedroia, Sandoval, Tulo, there is no real pattern that power is lost. Sandoval and Tulo had the surgery in-season and hit with more power after.

So the power question is unfortunately unresolved. It may effect Ramos, as it did seem to effect Zimm. Or it may not. The odds are leaning toward it not, but it IS surgery and I never would claim anything for sure after a surgical procedure.

The other injuries

As we all know, this isn't Wilson's first time at the rodeo.
2009 : Broken Finger, Hamstring injury
2012 : Tore ACL
2013 : Hamstring injury

The most obvious point is that you see, counting the injury this season, is he's had five injuries missing some significant time over the course of six seasons. It is difficult to believe you can rely on Ramos to play a full season. A smaller point is that's we see three leg injuries in 5 years. That's a bit worrying as it is hard for catchers to remain catchers forever because of the wear and tear. If he's already got significant "tear" on his legs, it probably won't take much more "wear" before he's forced to move to another position. Ramos' overall stats seem like a decent bet going forward - something like .270 / .325 / .450 (power depending on injury recovery of course). That's getting into the Top 10 for catchers, but only the Top 20 for first basemen. 

Age and Contract

The surgery is a wash right now, and the history of injuries work against him. What works for Ramos? His age. Wilson is still only 26 years old (27 in August) and thus is at his peak, rather than coming down. There is some thought that catchers peak later, but the evidence is not strong. The next few seasons are likely to be the best the Nats get from Ramos and by 2016 or 2017 injuries or performance may have changed his place on the team.

As for the contract he'll be a free agent after the 2016 season. That's both good news and bad news for the Nats.  The good news is that it doesn't force them to make a decision on Ramos during his peak years. The bad news is that it could hamper moving forward in a different direction with Ramos' talent, whenever it can play, available to them cheaply.  Either way right now Ramos on the Nats in 2017 and beyond looks unlikely.

Catchers in the minors? 

The Nats "catcher of the future" in the minors is most likely Sandy Leon. He had a great season 2012 in limited play (he would injure his ankle while blocking the plate) but hit terribly last season.  The team plays it off as a "season long slump" but looking at his minor league stats it's hard not to see 2012 as a fluke season, rather than a break out. Jhonathon Solano's age and performance at the plate makes him a non-starter. Adrian Nieto might be another name you've heard of and, yeah, he's kind of on the White Sox now. The Nats did like him as he did seem like he could hit (though admittedly at lower minor league levels) but with Ramos and Leon (and Solano for some reason) ahead of him he was depth, not a real prospect. He wasn't protected in Rule V, as the Nats gambled if a team did pick him up they wouldn't be able to keep him on their roster. The White Sox made him their back-up catcher. He scored a run yetserday!

Short of it - not really much here, as much as they'll try to tell you differently.

So is it time to move on or not? 

I was worried when I started looking at this that it would be. But the recent history of the hamate bone surgery looks pretty good, Ramos is still only 26, and they have him cheaply through 2016. He could very easily come back in mid-May play 110-120 games and hit .270 while slugging 20 homers. Since that remains a possibility with 2 whole more years where he is still not yet 30 in front of you, you have to continue on with the Ramos plan as is. It does have to be similar to the 2014 plan, which demands a major league ready back-up like Lobaton, but it is too early to move on. 

I will say that Ramos, for me, is on his last strike now.  Failure to hit the rest of the season when he comes back or another weeks long injury and I think the Nats do have to look in another direction. Maybe they don't find anything while looking but they'd need to.

*SLG-BA, a better read on power than SLG


Donald said...

Sticking with Ramos or looking elsewhere aren't necessarily mutually exclusive. It's probably too expensive to get an MLB starting catcher worthy of the future. It seems like most teams go the Ramos / D'Arnaud route and trade for a top prospect that can be developed. So Rizzo could swing a trade for some promising A or AA guy while sticking with Ramos for the next 2 years. If Ramos stays healthy, great. If not, you have another option.

On a related topic, I know that catching is really hard, but how come no prospect is moved into that position from somewhere else? They're just moved out of that position. Is it a position, like pitcher, that you need to have grown up playing? Wondering why no one ever tries to convert someone like Matt Skole to C.

Chaz R said...

Good analysis, Harper. Man, this is frustrating for all of us, but I can't imagine what it must be like for Wilson. At this point, we can only hope he can come back from it and contribute for the rest of the season. I can't imagine Rizzo doing anything else at this point, unless Wilson completely digresses or gets injured again.

cass said...

It takes years of development, as far as I understand, to learn to play C at the MLB level. Even for players who already were catchers. The Nats cited development time for why they converted Harper into an OF but it probably had as much to do with injury risk as that.

Harper said...

Donald - I suppose but I don't think catching prospects are that deep on any team. I think a real promising guy will cost you - even A ball level.

That's a good question. There is some overrating of the difficulty I'm sure but still catching is very different. I wouldn't be surprised if a move took more than a season with unpredictable results. (also I bet they don't like to fool with prospects doing well)

Chaz R - I just want to see one whole year. That's all I'm asking now.

Donald said...

In other news, I had suggested earlier that they should pitch Roark today so that Znn and Stras could be used in the Atlanta series. From my lips to influenza's ears...

blovy8 said...

Unless a guy is really good defensively, if he can hit well as a catcher, he'll get moved off the spot eventually. Mauer, VMart, Napoli, pretty soon Posey. Even the guy Harper wanted in the offseason, Soto, is already injured.

Lobaton is cost-controlled for a while, and Leon will now get an opportunity. That's pretty much the proper path. Planning for 110 games instead of 130 isn't such a big deal, when you look at the alternatives. If a club has a good catcher, they're keeping him, unless he wants way too much money.

Sirc said...

The Nats planned for this kind of injury, a minor injury that would take Ramos out of play for a month or so. Lobaton is that sort of temporary fill-in catcher, isn't he? He's a 1 WAR player, average in most measurable ways.

The immeasurable part is that Lobaton did catch on a contender last season, and for a pitching staff comparable to the Nats staff. That's the reason I am not worrying.

Ramos gets hurt. It's his thing. We knew this. The Nats are better with him, no doubt. But they'd be better with Mike Trout too, who is just as useful to the Nats as a player who doesn't play.

I'm absolutely sure Ramos will be healthy and play 150 games in 2016, his contract year.

Kenny B. said...

Off topic, but I need to know when to start worrying about Bryce's Ks.

Kenny B. said...

Would also like to point out that I appreciate when you explain the fancy stats like you did here. That's very helpful for us more casual observers.

It's definitely depressing that Ramos didn't get a single game under his belt before breaking, but I suppose it's better than having him flail around for half a season trying to play through it. And thankfully it's not a leg/knee type injury, so as long as the power sap is minimal to none, we should be able to weather it.

Still, as we started the season saying "we'll be great if everyone stays healthy," it's unfortunate to have one part of that plan go wrong so fast.

Donald said...

One thing in Ramos' favor in regard to a power sap is that he has a LOT to spare. A 5-10% dip in his power probably doesn't have the same impact as Span.

Erich said...

It's early. Start worrying at the end of the month. If he gets hot, the Ks will go away.

Matt said...

I'm worried Williams didn't get the memo on Soriano. 62 games finished this season and the Nats will owe him 14 million big ones for next season. Since he sulks if he's not finishing a game, why oh why is Williams wasting one of those 62 bullets in an 8-2 game?

John C. said...

Is there any move that Williams can make that will not get ripped here by someone? A few facts:

(1) Soriano isn't going to finish 62 games this year. He's never done it in his career. He's not going to start at age 34. Soriano finished today, Oh Noes! That puts him on a pace to finish ... 54 games. Well short of 62.

(2) OK, there is a slim, theoretical chance that Soriano sets a career mark for finishing games at age 34. But think about this: virtually any scenario where Soriano does finish 62 games involves the Nats winning around 100 games and Soriano being a big part of it. If that happens, I'm really OK with it. Really. I suspect even the Lerners would be OK with that.

(3) Bringing in Soriano today lets Soriano get a real game tuneup against an easier opponent before having to face the Braves. That doesn't strike me as a bad idea.

Bjd1207 said...

I think the secret to Roark's high strikeout-looking rate is his two-seamer. That things filthy and he rung a couple up watching it clip the outside corner

Zimmerman11 said...

Wow... our owner is a CLOWN, Bro! Payroll is "beyond topped out"??? Lerners are angling for a better deal from MLB/BAL wrt the TV rights, no doubt. And that makes good business sense. But does anyone believe for a minute that the Nats are losing money with the 10th highest payroll in MLB? Can you imagine the cajones on this guy, taking depreciation on a stadium paid for with taxpayer money and operating in a legal monopoly whining about payroll? 250M in revenue? Servicing debt on a purchase price of 450M when the team is valued at 700M? LOTS of teams report break even or even negative operating revenue and the Nats are at +22 and they are beyond topped out? About to sign a stadium naming rights deal? The richest and cheapest owners in baseball ladies and gentlemen!

John C. said...

Well, before I accuse them of being the cheapest owners in baseball, I think I'll at least give them credit for increasing the payroll from $37.7M in 2007 to about $134.7M in 2014. That's a lot of coin no matter how you slice it. But yes, their spending essentially amounts to spending "other people's money" so TEH LERNERZ R CHEEP!

Zimmerman11 said...

Lighter note... LaRoches beard makes him look like Brian Posehn...

Nattydread said...

Tell us what you think about the Zimmerman throwing saga. And why oh why didn't they pick that up in ST?