Most of us who follow the Washington Nationals have a fond place in our hearts for the team’s catchers Wilson Ramos and Jose Lobaton. Both are team players, hard workers and appear to be all-around good guys. They also get praise for their work behind the plate, with Ramos even being considered for a Gold Glove Award following the 2015 season.
Despite our fondness for the duo, there’s a reason why rumors have been floating around for a while about the Nationals being interested in an upgrade at the catcher position. Ineffective production at the plate by the Nats’ catchers has plagued the team for most of its 11 years in DC. Since 2005, Washington has rarely had a catcher who was even in the top half in the National League in terms of Offensive Wins Above Replacement.
YEAR LEADER NATS LEADER NL RANK
2015 Cervelli PIT 3.5 Ramos/Lobaton -0.2 20th
2014 Posey SF 5.6 Ramos 1.0 13th
2013 Posey SF 4.6 Ramos 1.8 10th
2012 Posey SF 7.3 Suzuki 0.5 18th
2011 Montero AZ 3.5 Ramos 2.2 7th
2010 McCann ATL 3.7 I. Rodriguez -0.3 21st
2009 McCann ATL 3.6 Nieves -0.2 25th
2008 McCann ATL 4.7 Flores 0.6 16th
2007 Martin LAD 3.8 Flores 0.3 13th
2006 McCann ATL 4.4 Schneider 0.5 14th
2005 Barrett CHC 2.9 Schneider 1.6 6th
There were some semi-positive numbers for Nats’ catchers on offense last year. Washington catchers hit 18 home runs (Ramos 15, Lobaton 3) to rank in the middle of the pack (8th) in the National League, and the 88 RBI produced by the duo (Ramos with 68 and Lobaton with 20) was the third highest mark in the league. There were more negatives, however, as Nats’ catchers posted a National League worst OPS (.609), only four teams’ catchers had more strikeouts than the Nats’ 138 and the team’s backstops grounded into 21 double plays (the third highest mark in the league).
Solving the team’s problem is easier said than done. Catchers who are productive at bat are a commodity that few teams are willing to move. While hoping and dreaming for a Jonathan LuCroy or even a Derek Norris in a Nats’ uniform is fun to do at this time of the year, the reality of the situation is that the price to acquire a catcher of that ilk would likely be prohibitive. The Nats do have some catchers coming up through the Minor League system (Raudy Read, Spencer Kieboom and Baseball America’s number eight rated Nats’ prospect Jackson Reetz) who have the potential to develop into solid Major League hitters. With Ramos set to be a free agent after the 2016 and none of the team’s top catching prospects likely ready to assume full-time duties in 2017, the best way to improve the team’s outlook behind the plate (at least on the offensive side of things) may be to strike now to acquire someone who can provide better offensive numbers.