As the starting catcher for the majority of this season so far, Kurt Suzuki has been pressed into service that wasn’t entirely expected. Unfortunately, at least on the offensive side of the ball, he has not performed well at all.
Suzuki’s OPS of .608 ranks 221 out of the 245 players in MLB with 200 or more PAs. Of the 25 catchers in baseball with that many PAs, he ranks 24th. Of the 46 catchers with 100 or more PAs, he ranks 40th. His True Average of .225 only beats out Alex Avila, Ryan Hanigan and Tyler Flowers among catchers who are considered more than just part timers.
He has shown the last few years that he can’t hit regularly enough to be a starter, and being put in that position for the first 3 months of this season certainly contributed to the Nats offensive woes.
The return of Wilson Ramos not only extends this lineup to have dangerous hitters 1-8 in the order (with 6 or even 7 batters easily having 20 HR potential over a season), it also removes what has been the team’s biggest offensive hole since Danny Espinosa left.
Much like the swaps of Rendon for Espi, and Werth and Harper for the various backup OFs/IFs playing OF, have been so impactful because it’s bringing in a very good hitter for a replacement-level one, Ramos is a significant upgrade over Suzuki.
Ramos is probably not the .300/.344/.517 hitter that his line currently shows, but he may actually not be that far off from that. His OPS ranks 8th in MLB, although with only 64 PAs, that ranking is not particularly meaningful. His career line of .272/.334/.440 is already pretty good, and that’s coming from a guy who has yet to turn 26. Since coming back from his latest injury, he’s gone 6 for 12 with a HR and a double.
Defensively, Ramos is the better catcher, too. Suzuki isn’t a bad defensive catcher at all. His receiving skills are quite good, although his arm is not. His CS% of 12.5% (16th out of the 17 that ESPN lists as qualified) can only be partially be blamed on the pitching staff.
I’ll be interested to see how Ramos and Suzuki fare on the Catcher ERA statistic, as Ben Lindbergh, who has been studying up on catcher framing quite a bit this season, called Ramos very good and Suzuki one of the worst in the league. Right now they rank right next to each other on the CERA list, but Suzuki’s actually got the better number. It might have something to do with when they played, as Ramos was in when Strasburg and Gio were going through early season struggles (although it’s entirely possible that the struggles were because of Ramos, but I have serious doubts there).
Despite his offensive woes, and his probably poorer defensive skills, I’m not ready to bury Suzuki. One of the reasons that Ramos looks so much better is that Ramos is probably a top 10 catcher right now, assuming he’s healthy. There really is still a role for Suzuki on this team. While he has his faults, he’s still valuable as a backup, where he can hit as well as or better than a good number of backup catchers in baseball.
From all accounts, he has a good relationships with the pitching staff and provides leadership for that group. Of all the position players, the intangibles of a catcher matters the most, and Suzuki does seem to provide that. He will probably also hit better when he isn’t the starter, and he gets significantly more rest.
Ramos provides a huge upgrade though. That lineup depth doesn’t translate to 10 runs every night, but it gives cushion if two or three guys aren’t hitting when you have 5 others who can still provide real offense. All Ramos has to do now is show he can stay healthy.