Nationals Baseball: Last year catcher discussion : revisited

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Last year catcher discussion : revisited

Last year I did this all at once, but I'll try something different this year, keeping the positions together and going a tad bit more in depth.

My Take: Ramos, Lobaton and pray for health.

2015 Reality : Even with the benefit of hindsight it's hard to see this as a bad plan. Ramos had, for the most part, been a good offensive player prior to 2015 when healthy enough to play. Sure he dipped in 2014, but only to below average and you never could rule out injury being the cause. Plus he was only 26 and the thought was that it was simply him wearing down. He hadn't played that many games at C since 2011. Finally get him healthy and everything will be fine.

But it wasn't. Everything kept moving in the wrong direction even though he was healthy. That might have been ok but the second assumption, that Lobaton would bounce back a little, didn't happen either. He had been below average but passable for 2012-13, and honestly bad in 2014. But some of that had to do with being forced to hit lefties when Ramos went down. If Ramos stays healthy the domino effect would mean Lobaton could rarely come up against a LHP and thus would produce at a usable level again. Well that did happen, Ramos was healthy, Lobaton didn't face LHP (22 PA in 2015) but he still got worse.

Does Rizzo get blame here? Not really. If this was going to fall apart you assumed it would be because Ramos would get injured and Lobaton couldn't handle an every day job. That was the iffy part that Rizzo was gambling on. Unlike every other position, he actually won this bet. Ramos stayed healthy. But it didn't matter. Ramos hit significantly worse, and that Lobaton, given the chance to face only RHP, also hit worse. A surprise crash and a disappointment? Hard to plan around that.

Out of Box : Since a trade for Lucroy would likely be too rich for the Nats blood, what about a challenge deal for Hank Conger or Tony Sanchez?

2015 Reality :Neither of these guys would have been much of an upgrade over Ramos. Conger did show some impressive pop, but almost entirely at home in Houston. So he might have been more of a threat at the plate, but not that much more.  Defensively he seems to be a hell of a pitch framer but meh otherwise. Tony Sanchez is more of a question mark as he never really made it out of AAA, thanks to Cervelli. But in AAA he did nothing to force the issue, and I have to think that would be unlikely to change at the major league level.

So Conger would have made the Nats better but it's not a slam dunk. Sanchez probably wouldn't have. 


blovy8 said...

Yeah, even coming off a poor year, and being a bit old, LuCroy's deal is too good for the Brewers not to ask for a lot. It might come down to how much the Nats are willing to risk on Wieters being healthy vs. whether they think Ramos' 2015 is now his true talent level. Does Ramos have trade value at around 5.3 million? 2012-3 is looking like a fluky power period in HR/FB, but the guy can hit the ball really hard at times, maybe it's a matter of an adjustment. Has the guy stopped using his legs to hit too? He went from being 4th in fly ball distance in 2013, a still very good 12th in 2014, to a meh 72nd in 2015.

ProphetNAT said...

Ramos' hitting mechanics are all out of sync. His lower half is lacking in his swing and he often steps toward the third base line, rather that transferring his power toward the middle of the field. It pains me to see some of these hitters with such potential (as blovy8 noted above) and no one willing to adjust them; or perhaps a stubbornness on the players part. Ramos has the pop necessary to be a good hitter. I see him as .275 guy with 15-20 homeruns, which in this catching market, we'd be lucky to have. Problem is - he has become way too predicable for the opposing pitcher. His inability to hit anything low and away and the struggle to barrel-up fastballs has been a problem for him the past two years, and is only getting worse. I would expect, barring some mechanical tweak, that he hits worse than he did this year - but given the uncertainty and cost of alternative options outside our organization - its better to cross our fingers and hope he adjusts to a league that has adjusted to him.

Up until this season, the book on Bryce was that he struggled against the breaking ball - until he proves he can hit it - don't feed him any heat. Well Bryce's adjustments were two-fold this season: Patience & Pitch Recognition. Recognizing that each at-bat, as has been said, presents at least 1 pitch that is to a hitters liking. If that pitch does not present itself, especially when you're ahead in the count, don't swing at it. His patience was remarkable. Keep in mind that this is a trained - not natural skill. Harper's improved pitch selection/recognition allowed his talent to be showcased and resulted in a productive season for him. This is the formula for many hitters to find success. (aside from Altuve who can hit .320 and never draw a walk).

Someone like Ramos, who is being fed a steady diet of low and away sliders, and off-the-plate fastballs needs to improve his pitch-location-recognition and be more selective at the dish. Otherwise I see a year similar to 2015 for him. This is no easy task - some players are just never going to hit .300/.375/.500. Guys like Lobaton can improve as well, but their ceiling is only so high. Someone like Ramos, who like Harper, has shown the ability in the past to connect and be successful - certainly have the opportunity to flourish in this league. How do you adapt? Harper clearly did, and now his scouting page is being completely re-written. Change the script Wilson.

Anonymous said...

The problem with the position of catcher is that it doesn't make sense to trade for a power hitting catcher because of the abuse they take throughout the year. It seems they are always on the DL for something so why spend a fortune or trade away prospects for someone who most likely won't play a good portion of the year. This seems to be the position that should be developed within the organization rather than traded for.

Chinatown Express said...

@ProphetNAT- "If that pitch does not present itself, ... don't swing at it." That's very Yogic of you. And I agree - Ramos' pitch recognition is lousy. But is it really a learned skill? I've always understood SO% (which seems like it should be strongly correlated with pitch recognition skill) to be pretty consistent through minors to majors.

@Anon- That seems like a truism. But isn't the reduced playing time for catchers (due to injuries and days off) already baked into their price?

DezoPenguin said...

Yes, catcher is definitely a defense-first position. Sure, nobody's going to say no to Buster Posey or a prime-years Yadier Molina or Joe Mauer, but those guys don't grow on trees.

The strength of the Nats is its starting pitching staff. The biggest weakness of the Nats is its bullpen. Having good defensive catchers helps to emphasize the first and minimize the second.

I very much do not want Wieters. He's not likely to hit enough to justify the drop in defensive production (since his offense is on the downslide as well), and his injury history just adds another brittle body to the Werth/Zim/Rendon/(possibly Span) counter. And his contract is going to command plus dollars.

If we're thinking trades, then what about someone like the Red Sox's Vasquez (whom Swihart seems to be making somewhat superfluous, and who might be available for cheaper than last year since he's just missed a year), or the Yankees' Murphy or Sanchez (since they're locked into the McCann deal for another three years and he's still a good defensive catcher, unless the whole "sign an ex-Yankee catcher" thing only works for the Pirates)?

Anonymous said...


SM said...

At what point does an organization's developmental and instructional program no longer apply to its players? When they reach the big leagues? Sometime before? Never?

The thing that strikes me about Ramos is how many of your commentators, who know far more about the Nats than I do, repeatedly point to the same flawed batting habits, the same results, and his seeming refusal to adjust.

Maybe he needs a rigorous, off-season instructional program. Or, as @Froggy intriguingly suggested, a crossfit fitness program. Or maybe Ramos has just reached his Grass Ceiling.

In short, can this organization salvage Ramos?

ProphetNAT said...

@Chinatown Express:

It is absolutely a learned skill. Like I said, Ramos is not going to turn into a .300 hitter if he improves his pitch recognition. But he is better than .229, more like.275. His strikeout rate may stay around the same, but the pitches that he does swing at will result in improved contact; more hard-hit balls. Harper still struck out 131 times this year in about 50 more at-bats than he did in his rookie year when he struck out 120 times. He hit .270 vs. .300 - and a lot of that is a command of the strike zone, laying off pitches that are not to his liking, and barreling-up a ball when he does swing way more often.

This is a learned skill that has resulted in the improved performances of hitters at all levels. From developmental youth leagues, to minors, to reviving careers of well-seasoned vets. How much time are they willing to spend on it vs. the weight room is the struggle I see it as.

Anonymous said...

@Chinatown Express-It seems what we have in Ramos is an average catcher-nothing particularly special. If you're going to upgrade the position and by that I mean go for an elite catcher such as a Posey or Yadier Molina, does it make sense to commit to a long term deal or trade away great prospects if the guy is going to be on the DL? I don't think that is baked into the price. Do you think the Mauer deal with the Twins was worth it? I don't think Brian McCann performance with the Yankees is anywhere near what he did with the Braves. With catchers such as Piazza and Pudge who went on to have successful years with different clubs, they are now tainted with PEDs. It just seems that having a great catcher in his prime years is a crap shoot. You're fortunate if you have one but otherwise you're satisfied with average performance.

Anonymous said...

Matt Harvey now at 194 innings and counting, and it sure looks like his arm is still attached.

Harvey pitching for the Mets in Game 7 of the World Series would probably be the biggest F.U. from the baseball gods of all time. Pointed straight at Mike Rizzo and all his completely unjustified hubris.

Anonymous said...

DeGrom will pitch Game 7.

Harper said...

No faith that the Mets will sweep? What kind of fans are you?

John C. said...

Everyone crowed about how the Braves handled Medlen's TJ comeback better than the Nationals handled Strasburg. The Braves did have Medlen for the playoffs, but they were one and done in the wild card game (the "infield fly" game) and then Medlen's rebuilt UCL failed and he had to have another TJ surgery.

Bottom line, if I were a Mets fan I wouldn't be crowing about Harvey just yet. Talk about unjustified hubris!

Anonymous said...

Is anyone paying attention to the way Joe Maddon has been handling the Cub pitching staff in the post-season? Do you suppose bench-coach Dave Martinez has learned anything from Maddon?

Is Rizzo paying attention as he contemplates hiring a new field manager for 2016?

Chinatown Express said...

@ProphetNAT: I'm not a pro baseball player, a coach, or a sabermetrician. But here's a Sloan talk that suggests pitch recognition has historically been treated as more of a talent than a learned skill: And here's a statistical analysis noting that high minor league K% correlates with low major league OPS (although that admittedly seems like a pretty obvious observation): I'm not saying players can't improve at pitch recognition. I'm just saying that they tend to do so in a way that is similar to their peers' own improvements, making it unlikely that a player with comparatively bad pitch recognition at a mature stage in his career can train himself into comparatively good pitch recognition.

@Anon: Mauer's deal was a bust, but so was Adam Dunn's. None of the 10 biggest contracts in baseball history (per went to catchers. Only 2 of the 50 biggest went to catchers. And one of those two, Posey, has been worth every penny. It seems to me that good-hitting, good-defending catchers might be undervalued.

John C.: It's ok. When Harvey's arm falls off, you can gloat about it. Just send a letter to "Anonymous Mets fan." It's like Santa Claus - the USPS will know where to deliver it.