Finding value at the catcher position can be a volatile endeavor. If you jump in the draft to select a top catcher, you are passing up on superior talent in order to secure a top option at a “thin” position. The problem is, if you selected Gary Sanchez in 2018 (.185, 18 HR, 53 RBI), you may have dug yourself into an unnecessary hole. If you wanted that production you could have simply taken Robinson Chirinos at the end of your draft (.222, 18 HR, 65 RBI). However, if you wait to draft a catcher and just take what is left, you may find yourself streaming the position all season long. Martin Maldonado is simply not going to get you there.
The top options at catcher in 2019 are J.T. Realmuto and the aforementioned Gary Sanchez. To secure one of them will cost you a draft pick between the 7th and 8th round though. What if I told you there was a safe, yes safe, option you could land seven rounds later? Is that something you would be interested in? Great. Let’s talk about Wilson Ramos.
Ramos signs with the Mets
Ramos signed a two-year deal with the New York Mets in December, solidifying the catcher position and giving them a much needed right-handed bat in the lineup. The acquisition came on the heels of many rumors that had New York acquiring J.T. Realmuto from the Marlins (at a steep price). The argument was made that Realmuto is the “best” catcher in baseball. This obviously takes into account many things outside of fantasy baseball, but for our purposes we are going to focus on just the offensive side of the ball. Is Realmuto that far superior to Ramos offensively? No. In fact, I would argue Ramos is the best hitting catcher in baseball right now.
In 2016, Ramos had a career year with the Washington Nationals. The slugging catcher slashed .307/.354/.496 with 22 home runs and 80 RBIs on his way to a Silver Slugger award. Now if this seems like a good season for a catcher, you are correct. Ramos trailed only Jonathan Lucroy in homers and RBIs for catchers, while leading in batting average and wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus).
What is wRC+? Basically, it is a whole number that credits the hitter with a weighted value for each offensive outcome (single, double, etc.) rather than treating all hits as equal (like batting average). The number also takes into account park factors and the overall run environment. If you are looking for the best way to judge a hitter’s offensive value, wRC+ is the way to do it. It is easy to understand, just as OPS+, where league average is simply “100.” Every number above or below 100 is a percentage of how above or below league average a player is. Got it?
Going back to Ramos in 2016. He led all catchers in the majors with a 123 wRC+, this during Lucroy’s career year and when Buster Posey was still in his prime. See below.
Simply put, Wilson Ramos was arguably the best catcher in baseball. I bet you don’t remember that, do you? He was also well on his way to a giant payday, but then he tore his ACL near the end of the season. This led to the young catcher falling off the grid and into the back of everyone’s minds. A torn ACL for a catcher? He may never be the same.
2017 Tampa Bay Rays
In the 2016 off-season, Ramos signed with the Tampa Rays on a two-year, $12.5 million dollar deal. Not exactly the pay day he was hoping for, but with a torn ACL this was the opportunity presented to him. Ramos missed the first three months of the season before coming back on the field, where he struggled mightily upon his return.
During his first 30 games back, Ramos hit a lowly .194 and simply did not look the same. He looked uncomfortable and overmatched. For those wondering, his wRC+ in 2017 was 93. That was good enough for 29th among catchers with at least 200 plate appearances. However, Ramos did manage to knock some of the rust off and finished strong, batting .330 over the last month of the season—giving hope that he could once again regain the form he had just a year before. He finished with a .260/.290/.447 slash line with 11 home runs and 35 RBIs in 209 at-bats.
2018 rebound season
In 2018, Ramos came into Rays camp healthy and looking to move forward. He did, in a big way. The former top catcher regained his form and posted a solid .306/.358/.487 slash line between Tampa and Philadelphia (where he was traded in July) with 15 home runs and 70 RBIs. The numbers seem to be a near mirror image of his breakout 2016 campaign if you consider he accomplished this in 100 less at-bats. This led to his second All-Star game appearance in three seasons (he missed the game due to a hamstring).
To stay on theme, Ramos’ wRC+ in 2018 was 131. This was again good enough to lead all catchers in the MLB by a decent margin (Realmuto had a 126 wRC+). See the chart below.
Ramos seemed to rebound from his torn ACL and fall right back into the offensive machine he was in Washington. For those wondering, the injury did not impact his approach either. Ramos’ BB%, GB%, FB%, and LD% all stayed close to identical between his 2016 and 2018 seasons. The only noticeable change was the boost in hard hit% which jumped from 35.4% in 2016 up to 39.1% in 2016 (see chart below).
All signs point to Wilson Ramos being back to the player he was, yet he is being put on the backburner in fantasy drafts almost seven rounds after J.T Realmuto, who he has outshined every year he has been healthy. So what should we expect from Wilson Ramos in 2019?
The concern with Ramos is that he may be “injury prone.” To that point, 2015 and 2016 are the only seasons in the past seven years in which Ramos managed to avoid the DL. He’s had three total surgeries to repair the meniscus and ACL in his right knee—twice in 2012 and once in 2017. He has also made additional trips to the DL for hamstring strains and a fluke foul tip-induced fractured hamate that required surgery in his left wrist in 2014. He’s averaged just 92 games a year since arriving for good in the majors in 2011.
The lower body injuries could be a concern considering Ramos’ build. He is not the smallest guy in the world. However, Ramos is still in the Top 10 in both games played and plate appearances by a catcher since 2015. He reached a minimum of 380+ at-bats in three out of the last four seasons, while getting 475+ in the two seasons prior to his latest ACL surgery. I am not saying the injury concerns are not there, but they are not as big a deal for fantasy baseball as some may think. Fantasy owners may want to check their expectations as far as at-bat totals. The Mets will want to keep Ramos fresh and have a capable backup in Travis d’Arnaud (who has injury problems of his own).
Ramos moves into a new home for 2019 with the New York Mets. He is expected to hit in the middle of the order, possibly book-ended by Robinson Cano and Michael Conforto. Not a bad place to be if you consider that on-base machine Brandon Nimmo and newly acquired Jed Lowrie will lead things off in Queens. This means that RBI opportunities will be there for Ramos, as well as some healthy lineup protection. A good situation to be in, which should only add to Ramos’ fantasy outlook this season.
According to Fangraphs, the move from Tropicana Field to Citi Field should not impact Ramos in a meaningful way. If anything, the park change could produce a slight uptick in home run production. This is nothing significant enough to change the player’s value, but seemed like something I needed to mention given Citi Field’s outdated reputation for being a pitcher’s park.
The important thing to note is that Wilson Ramos is the best hitting catcher in baseball, and you can get a substantial discount on him in 2019 drafts. That is not an opinion by the way, that is a fact. He is currently the reigning and defending best hitting catcher in baseball according to the numbers and a stat line resembling 2016 and 2018 should be a baseline. He enters a superior lineup this season and is well worth the risk in terms of perceived injury issues. Draft with confidence.