When it comes time to name backstops you can describe as real offensive threats, the list comes down to a handful of players: Yadier Molina, Buster Posey, Miguel Montero, and Carlos Ruiz in the NL; Salvador Perez, Brian McCann, and Derek Norris in the AL. Maybe your list includes Matt Wieters too, depending on how confidant you are that he’ll avoid Tommy John surgery all season and if his hot start is legit. Maybe it includes a few others.
With the return of Wilson Ramos to the Nationals lineup on Wednesday, he should be included on this completely arbitrary list as well. Is it too soon (quickly scanning the injury report)? He’s still officially healthy, so with each passing day that he avoids the DL we can officially list Ramos as a catcher. Check and check. Since becoming a full-time starter in 2011, Ramos has missed 221 combined games to injury. With only 356 possible games to play in, Ramos has missed nearly 62% of the games he could have started. That doesn’t even include his being kidnapped in Venezuela in 2011. While that’s not entirely relevant to his remaining on the field, Ramos seems like he’s one broken mirror away from being the first person ever to tear both hamstrings just from standing.
If Ramos can stay healthy, what exactly can the Nationals expect from him? In 2011, playing in 113 games, Ramos hit .267/.334/.445 with 15 home runs and drove in 52. In 2013, through 78 games, Ramos hit .272/.307/.470 with 16 home runs and 59 RBIs. According to fWAR those two years were worth 3.0 and 1.8, and if bWAR is more your cup of tea, we’re talking 1.8 and 2.5 respectively. For this season, Fangraph’s ZiPS projects Ramos to play a paltry 59 games in ’14, accumulating 1.5 WAR while Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA is more optimistic, believing Ramos will play roughly 2/3 of the season with 2.0 WARP.
Remember, projections are cold, heartless monsters, but if you believe those numbers are low, especially considering how Ramos hit in the past, remember that’s when he hit in the past. I could assume the wishy-washy stance and say let’s assume it’s somewhere in the middle, but that’s weak. I’ll use PECOTA and take the over. 2 WAR is our target.
Are the Nationals getting that now from the catchers? Defensively, maybe. Jose Lobaton and Sandy Leon are capable backstops. Offensively? The pair has combined to hit .224 with a .318 slugging percentage. So, just by showing up Ramos will top those numbers. It might seem a bit silly to complain about a Nats offense that currently ranks fourth in the NL in batting average, third in slugging (second for non Coors Field assisted teams), and fourth in home runs, but catcher has been up to this time a big disappointment. Nationals catchers currently rank 12th in average and 13th in both slugging and home runs. Nats catchers have one more home run than Gio Gonzalez. Using a strictly offensive stat like Weight Runs Above Average, only the Dodgers rank worse in the NL.
With all of the injuries the Nats have endured already this season, and with Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper still shelved for the foreseeable future, any added offense the Nationals can find should be celebrated. Considering that offense comes from someone the Nats were hoping would be contributing since Opening Day only makes it better. So, rub your lucky rabbit’s foot, burn a stick of incense, and chant until your throat goes hoarse. Let’s just all collectively hope Ramos remains mobile and capable of swinging a bat this season.