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Wilson Ramos was a run producer in 2019 but also a defensive liability

Ramos was healthy for the entire 2019 season and excelled in situational hitting at the expense of his power.

New York Mets v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The Mets’ pursuit of a catcher in the offseason was certainly not without drama and intrigue. Connected to J.T. Realmuto for much of the winter, Brodie Van Wagenen ultimately walked away from the negotiating table, unwilling to meet the Marlins’ high asking price for the star catcher. Realmuto became a member of the Phillies instead.

The Mets then signed Wilson Ramos to two-year, $19 million deal to be their primary catcher. Later, we learned that the Mets offered top-tier catching free agent Yasmani Grandal a four-year, $60 million deal, which he turned down. Although both Grandal and Realmuto vastly outperformed Ramos this season, at the time the signing was seen as a reasonable choice.

Ramos had an enigmatic season full of both pros and cons, which is not immediately obvious when one looks at his aggregate 2019 numbers on the surface. First and foremost, the biggest (pleasant) surprise of all is that Ramos was healthy. Arguably the biggest concern about him heading into the 2019 season was his robust injury history, which turned out not to be an issue at all. He played in 141 games, which is the most of any season in his big league career and certainly no small feat.

He fell one home run short of his total from last season, however, despite logging over 100 more plate appearances than he did last year. Ramos was Chili Davis’s star pupil. He hit .307 with runners in scoring position, often shooting ground balls the other way with men on. As a result, his 73 RBIs were good for the fourth-best mark on the team behind only Pete Alonso, Michael Conforto, and Jeff McNeil. But that run production came at the expense of his power.

His ground ball rate skyrocketed. His average launch angle was zero degrees, according to Statcast, which is dead last among all hitters with over 200 plate appearances in 2019. In the midst of the launch angle revolution in a season where the balls were juiced, it seems puzzling that a hitter with the raw power Ramos possesses would take the approach that he did at the plate.

Back in May, I wrote that Ramos zapped of his power was not producing enough with the bat to make up for his defensive shortcomings behind the plate. Ultimately, that remained a problem. Although no one expected Ramos to be a defensively skilled catcher, his catching skillset didn’t just decline, it fell off a cliff.

No matter what your preferred metric for evaluating catcher defense, Ramos performed poorly. According to Fangraphs, Ramos ranked 59th out of 68 catchers with at least 200 innings in framing ability. To provide context, Tomas Nido ranked 24th on that list. Baseball Prospectus ranks Ramos 59th out of 75 catchers in framing runs among catchers with at least 1,000 framing chances. Tomas Nido was 19th. Among that same group of catchers, Ramos ranked 61st in FRAA, which also incorporates blocking, throwing, and general fielding. Ramos converted 46.8% of non-swing pitches into called strikes in the Shadow Zone, according to Statcast, compared with the league average of 48.4%. Statcast estimates that this cost the Mets four runs because of pitches not converted to strikes. Tomas Nido, on the other hand, saved the Mets three runs by this same metric.

This is all in line with what anyone who saw enough Mets games in 2019 observed when watching Ramos catch. Not only was he a poor pitch framer, he often flat out dropped pitches, even pitches that were strikes, which sometimes cost his pitchers calls.

Ramos’ performance behind the plate ultimately came to a head in the form of what ended up being a public disagreement between Noah Syndergaard and the front office. Among an entire pitching staff that has a proclivity for allowing stolen bases, Syndergaard is particularly vulnerable. And it also seemed that Ramos’ game calling didn’t exactly vibe with Syndergaard either. However, he did not receive universally negative reviews from his pitching staff on that front. Jacob deGrom publicly praised Ramos on multiple occasions and it’s certainly hard to argue with his results. And Ramos, to his credit, handled the situation completely professionally.

At the point when Syndergaard was raising his concerns, the Mets were in a tough position because Ramos was hot with the bat in the second half and the Mets were trying to make a push for the playoffs. Ramos was a huge part of the Mets’ miracle month of August, putting together a 26-game hitting streak—the longest of the 2019 season in baseball. And for that, I will certainly remember him more fondly than perhaps his overall numbers warrant because at times during the Mets’ improbable climb back into contention, Ramos really did carry the team.

In the end, however, his pedestrian 105 wRC+ for the season is nearly identical to the 107 wRC+ that one Travis d’Arnaud posted as a Tampa Bay Ray this season. In that same neighborhood is J.T. Realmuto, who put up a 108 wRC+ at the plate. However, their vastly different WAR totals highlight the stark difference in their catching skills. J.T. Realmuto ended the season with 5.7 fWAR, while Ramos’ ended up with 1.4 fWAR, 1.6 WARP, and 2.0 bWAR.

Barring trade or injury, Wilson Ramos will remain the Mets’ primary catcher for next season. If nothing else, the above underscores the importance of acquiring a better backup catcher than Tomas Nido this offseason. Having a catcher with roughly equivalent defensive skills to Nido’s, but also with the ability to hit major league pitching would go a long way toward the Mets being comfortable giving Ramos more rest and perhaps yielding to the idea of a personal catcher. This benefits everyone involved and improves the odds of Ramos staying healthy for another full season because the Mets simply cannot bank on Ramos playing 140+ games again next year.