Nationals Baseball: Wilson Ramos - breakout star

Monday, April 02, 2012

Wilson Ramos - breakout star

The general consensus on Wilson Ramos is positive. He'll hit around .270, smack 13-15 homeruns, and take a walk every so often.  Given that he's cheap, plays good defense, and most importantly is doing this all at the catcher position, most people agree he's a nice piece for the Nationals to have.

I don't buy it.

Wilson Ramos isn't a "nice piece" he's a star in the making.

1) His BABIP can get better, not worse. Minor League BABIPs are generally higher than major league ones, thanks to worse fields and worse fielding. Generally you expect BABIPs to go down in the majors, and that's what most people project for Wilson. He had a .297 BABIP last year, most are thinking a little less than that for this year. I disagree. Often minor league BABIPs are inflated by one or two out of touch seasons where it goes up to like .400+.  Wilson never had that crazy odd year and has pretty consistently been around .340.  This gives us a good starting point.

There's also a feeling that a high K rate can be a precursor of a good sized drop off in the majors. If you can't make a lot of good contact there - how will you in the majors? Wilson does K a fair amount, but he's improved since his early minor league days going from a 20% guy to a 15% guy (unlike say - Roger Bernadina who never changed from a 20% guy). While it went back up a bit last year, usually guys that are good tend to drop a few percentage points from their earliest major league years. I see him as maintaining that 15% level.

I like Wilson to be a .320 level BABIP guy for his career. If he had done that last year you are looking at a .285 batting average rather than a .267.

2) His walk and power rates were better than expected last season.  Two questions that are always asked about young free-swinging players is can they develop more power as their body matures and can they learn to take a walk now and then. Wilson never had much power and had some truly hideous isoOBP years in the minors, but in his first year with the Nats he put up his best isoSLG numbers ever, and a more acceptable (though still not great) BB-rate.

Flukes? Perhaps, but perhaps not. This isn't like Ian Desmond who put up a completely unrepeatable power line over a mere 20 games in his first call-up. This is 113 games and a power improvement that seems explainable. Of course there is that 13.4% HR/FB rate sitting out there. That's high looking at Wilson's minor league numbers. Even if he's developing a 10% rate may be more reasonable.  All in all I'll be optimistic and assume slightly higher than 10% but not so high that he couldn't pleasantly surprise.

As for the walk-rate, I'm not sure what to say. Sometimes guys get it, sometimes they don't. Will Davey help or hurt? Pudge didn't seem to hurt him and he's a big time hacker, even as his body began to fail him. I choose to believe he's moved to become a low-walk guy from no-walk guy.We'll just have to see.

3) He's still young.  That's really what makes all of the above possible. He won't be 25 until late in the season. There is a reasonable expectation he can continue to improve for 2-3 more years.  He has shown an ability to acclimated to each minor league level. He has shown immediate improvements upon playing in the majors full time. I see no reason not to believe he can't improve some more.

If I'm right then (given 450 at bats or so) Wilson should put up a line of like... let's say .285 / .350 / .450 with 17 homers. That may not seem like much but given the age and luck of some of the NL catchers a season like this might propel him to being a top 3 NL catcher offensively behind McCann and Posey (if they are both healthy).  Given his defensive prowess he may just be the best NL catcher overall*  in 2012.

And this is saying nothing about 2013 and beyond.  If he does follow the track I'm thinking without help from any crazy luck, then you'd go ahead and expect a little better year in 2013. .295 with 20 homers?  Maybe he still improves from there or maybe that's his level for the next few seasons.  Either way that's a start to a career few catchers have had.  Looking since 1996 only McCann and Pudge have hit .280 with 100+ homers by the time they were 28. Hell, if Wilson does what everyone ELSE thinks he will do (.270 and 13 homers or so a year), he's still in rarified air. Only 6 catchers hit .270 and 80+ homers by the time they were 28 since 1996.

I'm not prone to optimism, but I really am about Wilson Ramos. I think the numbers I'm seeing for him from everyone else are underselling what he will do. If that's true the Nats have more than a nice piece.  They have a cornerstone to build around.

*This is up for a lot of debate since catcher D is still ill-defined.  Brian McCann (28) is a subpar defender but can put up awesome offensive years. Yadier Molina (29) is a great defender but he may have peaked offensively last year. Buster Posey (25) is a great hitter but may or may not be a great defender, so far he's looked ok but the sample size is limited, and he's returning from that nasty injury. Underrated Miguel Montero (28) is also an ok hitter and fielder that should be included in the discussion. And you can see by age, Wilson Ramos (24) has a big edge on all of these guys except Posey.  They may start to decline while he's getting better.


cass said...

Perfect post for three days before Opening Day.

Harper said...

cass - then don't read my column tomorrow (or Wed if I get derailed) it's "Offensive keyhole" time and the last 2 years I've nailed the guy who is going to terribly underperform outsized expectations.

Anonymous said...


Ooooh, let me guess tomorrow's post: Espinosa? No, wait, Desmond. No, wait, Morse.

Augh, there's so many guys who could bottom out and drag this offense with it...

I'm with you on Ramos, though - I think of the three young guys we're relying on (Espi, Desmond and Ramos), he's the most likely to surprise to the upside.

And we're going to need him - there are lots of holes in the lineup.

Anonymous said... depression is starting to fade. Thanks Harp :-)

Donald said...

Hmmmmm. There aren't that many guys with outsized offensive expectations except for Morse. Every expects Zim to hit well, but those expectations aren't out of line. There's speculation that Werth is entering his decline phase, but expectations for him aren't particularly high -- just higher than last year. Desi and Espi don't have high expectations, especially given this spring. Picking on LaRoche, Ankiel or Bernadina just seems mean-spirited.

Anonymous said...

Harper for Optimist of the Year!! Now you're talking! Ramos will be without question (caveat, healthy) one of the top 5 offensive and defensive catchers in the NL this season. The cool thing is the guy backing him up might be in the top 10 himself. Flores had just figured out the major leagues when the shoulder went. Position of strength. Looking forward to the downer articles....expect you'll be wrong this year!


Harper said...

Anon - there are so many guys aren't there? But at the same time most of them have the potential to take off too.

Anon - Depressing fading... fading... rising!... fading... gone

Donald - you're burning up!

Anon - That's how the Yanks set their foundation right? CF, SS, C... (of course none were great fielders) now if only the Nats can find a CF... and probably a SS, too.

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