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Wilson Ramos has been a liability behind the plate

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After a fast start with the bat, Ramos has not produced enough to outweigh his defensive shortcomings.

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

After J.T. Realmuto rumors swirled for much of the offseason, Brodie Van Wagenen ultimately decided to walk away from the negotiating table, opting instead for Wilson Ramos as the Mets’ catching upgrade on a two-year, $19 million contract. At the time, this was praised as a relatively cheap upgrade at a position of need for the Mets. Since Ramos was signed, Kevin Plawecki was traded away and Travis d’Arnaud was designated for assignment, meaning that the Mets are committed to Ramos as the primary catcher for this season and likely next season as well. Unfortunately, like most of Van Wagenen’s free agent signings, Ramos has not panned out like the Mets hoped thus far.

Shortly after the signing, I wrote a profile of Ramos in which I summarized him thusly:

In short, Wilson Ramos is an above-average right-handed bat—far above average for the catching position—which the Mets desperately need, and a slightly below-average pitch framer, with good pitch blocking and throwing skills and poor base-running. While injury risk is obviously the major concern with Ramos, it’s hard to argue that he is not worth the contract he has been given, which doesn’t come with a high price tag or the sacrifice of a major league asset in trade.

Ramos was primarily acquired for his bat. In 2018 he carried an impressive .306/.358/.487 slash line with a 131 wRC+. 40 games into the 2019 season, he hasn’t even come close to matching last year’s offensive numbers. Even after Tuesday’s grand slam, his OPS stands at a subpar .605. Despite this, Ramos is still third on the team in RBIs, behind only Pete Alonso and Amed Rosario. A lot of this can be explained by the fact that he is one of Chili Davis’ star pupils, focusing heavily on situational hitting. The majority of Ramos’ production has come from soft singles the other way with runners on base.

However, although this approach has been helpful for Ramos in the RBI department, it’s pretty much zapped his offense otherwise. His grand slam against the Nationals was just his second home run of the year. Of his 28 hits on the year, only five are extra base hits. Although Ramos has never been a 30+ home run power guy, he still has the capability to elevate and drive the ball much more than he has done this year. In 2019, 62.2% of Ramos’ batted balls have been ground balls. That’s the highest ground ball rate of his career besides 2012, a year in which he only played in 25 games due to injury. Ramos’ launch angle this season is -0.3 degrees. That’s right. Negative 0.3 degrees—by far the lowest mark of his career during the Statcast era. Even early in the season when Ramos was collecting his hits, much of it was BABIP-driven. During much of April, he was running a BABIP in the .400s, which is not sustainable for someone with Ramos’ virtually nonexistent foot speed. Predictably, his batted ball luck has regressed and the result is his current 67 wRC+.

A 67 wRC+ may be tolerable for a defensive wizard as a backstop. But Ramos has been anything but that. Although no one expected the sort of defensive ability from Ramos as catchers like Tomas Nido or Martin Maldonado provide, his defense has been even worse than many would have predicted going in. He has five passed balls, which is the most in baseball (tied with three others). He ranks 75th out of 78 major league catchers in 2019 in adjusted FRAA. At the time of the signing, I warned that Ramos’ framing skills may decline with age.

That said, despite the fact that he has mostly graded out well by advanced metrics measuring framing throughout his career, he has been slightly below average in that department over the past two seasons. As a result, Fangraphs has Ramos’ 2018 season valued at 2.4 WAR, while Baseball Prospectus has it valued at 1.7 WAR. Ramos is now 31 years old and years of squatting behind the plate combined with multiple lower body injuries throughout his career may be contributing to a decline in framing ability.

However, I did not foresee just how steep of a decline it would be. It has gone from slightly below average to downright bad to the point where he is dropping at least 2-3 pitches a night that are strikes, sometimes costing his pitcher a call in the process.

Even his defensive saving grace, which was supposed to be his strong arm, has not come to the rescue. There have been 25 stolen bases with Ramos behind the plate this season and he has caught just five runners stealing, which makes for one of the worst marks in the league. Of course, that can’t all be pinned on Ramos, as it is well known that the Mets’ pitching staff is particularly vulnerable to the stolen base.

Nonetheless, his inability to elevate the ball consistently resulting in an underwhelming performance with the bat thus far combined with his poor defense have made Ramos a below replacement-level player this season. He currently holds a -0.4 fWAR in 2019. The one thing that we feared most about Ramos going into the season—injury—has not been the problem. But nearly everything else has.

Ahead of this series against the Nationals, Mickey Callaway cited the Mets’ winning percentage in Wilson Ramos’ starts as a credit to Ramos, which is perhaps the only thing more silly than citing catcher ERA. However, Ramos rewarded him with a grand slam against his former team, hopefully marking the start of a turnaround with the bat for the Mets’ backstop. He certainly has the ability to put up much better numbers offensively than he has done so far this year. And the Mets are going to need him to do so, not only to provide some much needed pop from the right side to pair with Pete Alonso, but also in order to make up for his deficiencies behind the plate.