It May Not Be a Catcher that Replaces Ramos

The season ending injury to Wilson Ramos is obviously a big blow to the Nationals. And with everything Ramos has gone through, especially after the season he was having, it’s hard not to feel sad for him.

But the loss of one player, even one who was the team’s second-best hitter this year, won’t end the Nats chances. Ramos hasn’t exactly been hitting well recently, with only a .764 OPS in the second half, but the team’s production hasn’t diminished – August was, in fact, their best month in terms of runs scored.

The Nats will finish in the top third of the league offensively, and losing Ramos doesn’t eliminate what could be a very effective lineup – assuming they still have Trea  Turner, Jayson Werth, Daniel Murphy, Bryce Harper, and Anthony Rendon all ready to go.

It does, however, hurt the depth of the lineup after those top five, and someone will have to step up and fill in for Ramos. They have two catchers, Jose Lobaton and Pedro Severino, that are considered good defensive catchers. This, hopefully, means there won’t be much of a dropoff on run prevention thanks to the Ramos injury.

Unfortunately, despite some previous playoff heroics, neither are very good hitters. Platooning them may help, since Severino is a righty and Lobaton is better, and more comfortable, from the left side.

So we know who will take his place on the field. But the man who may really get a chance to take his place in the lineup isn’t a catcher, it’s Ryan Zimmerman.

I wrote last week that Zimmerman wasn’t just a victim of bad luck on his hard hit balls, although that was part of the story. Rather, he was also a victim of not hitting the ball well. In the week since, two things have happened.

First of all, MLB Statcast came out with a stat they call “barrels” where they show how many balls a batter hits that were hit with a high exit velocity and a launch angle that is conducive to getting a hit. As you may recall, Zimmerman ranks highly on exit velocity, but he is hitting way too many grounders. The barrel stat confirms this somewhat, that it is more poor hitting than bad lucks driving his awful numbers. Despite ranking top 10 in exit velocity, he only ranks 109 in barrels per PA, showing he has been hitting the ball hard, but not hitting it well.

The second thing, though, is that Zimmerman had a good week. He had seven hits in five games, with 3 for extra bases. It’s not much, and it’s the kind of sample size that makes small seem like an inadequate definition, but it’s a good sign. He hasn’t had that many hits in five games since May (not counting one streak interrupted by a month-long DL stint), so it’s not like he’s flirted with this kind of resurgence lately.

Since we’re talking about small samples, I’ll just casually mention that he (7 for 22), Rendon (5 for 16) and Werth (10 for 32) are the only ones on the team with much success against Kershaw in at least 15 PAs. He has also had success against Rich Hill (a nice 6 for 9), although that may include the previous, completely different, incarnation of Hill.

I wrote last week that Zimmerman wasn’t simply unlucky, and that something else was the cause of the bad hitting. It could be lingering injury, it could be taking him a long time to get his rhythm, approach and swing right, or he could just have gotten really old really fast.

If it’s not the last reason, then it is possible that Zimmerman is indeed recovering some ability to hit. He did it at the end of last season, and if he starts doing it now, he could be a difference maker. The high exit velocity is important, because if he can get a few more line drives, suddenly he starts to look like a good hitter.

Losing Ramos is a body blow to the Nats. Thankfully, they have a couple of strong defensive catchers to take his spot in the field. And, if they’re lucky, they’ll get Ryan Zimmerman to take over his place in the lineup.

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