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ADP Champ or Chump - J.T. Realmuto and Wilson Ramos


This week I am turning my attention to the position that gives most fantasy owners the biggest concerns, the catcher position. Every year there is at least one catcher who rises to the top of the position and ends up being drafted clearly ahead of the others. This season that catcher is J.T. Realmuto, who is in demand not only in fantasy but from a lot of Major League teams as well. Realmuto's consistent performances have meant that he currently being drafted just outside the top-50.

Within the NL East, there is another catcher who is also experiencing a current run of good performances. Wilson Ramos broke out in 2016 with the Washington Nationals, and after losing a chunk of 2017 to injury had a bounce back 2018. Ramos is currently being drafted outside the top-100, at pick 135.82, but should the veteran catcher be getting similar buzz to the younger Realmuto?

Let's take a closer look at these two catchers.

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J.T. Realmuto (C, MIA) ADP: 56.95

Despite being just 27, Realmuto is somewhat of a veteran himself. Realmuto was drafted by the Marlins in the third round back in 2010 when he was just 19 years old. In 2014 he broke into the Marlins teams and has never looked back, playing at least 125 games in every season since. Over those four seasons, we have seen him grow as a power hitter and last year he hit a career-high 21 home runs, to go with 148 combined runs and RBI (74 each). He backed that up with a second-straight year hitting in the high .270s (.277), and even added three steals for good measure.

In the last two seasons, we have seen Realmuto jump from 11 home runs in 2016 to 17 in 2017 and then up to 21 last year. Essentially doubling your home runs over two seasons is extremely impressive and his ISO has also jumped from .126 to .208 across those three seasons. The fascinating thing about his performance last year is that his FB% actually fell nearly 6% (45.5% to 39.8%) compared to his career average. In a time where many hitters are actually looking to elevate the ball more, Realmuto appears to have tried to do the opposite.

However, to replace this drop in FB% his HR/FB% went from 11.6% to 14.9%. That increase may largely be in part to an increase of 5% in his hard-hit rate. 2017 was already a career high for Realmuto at 33.3% but last year he took that through the roof to 38.5%. It will be interesting to see if he can maintain that this season, especially if he remains in a tough park to hit home runs in Miami. My expectation is we see a slight regression in hard-hit rate and HR/FB rate, some of which may be countered by a positive regression in FB%. The question is if only one or two regress, which ones because those three stats could be the difference between 15 and 25 home runs this season?

The home-road splits for Realmuto are pretty stark. In just 31 extra plate appearances, Realmuto hit five more home runs, had 14 more runs and 16 more RBI away from home. His batting average on the road was also .014 higher than at home. The average is nothing special, but as an overall picture, his hitting away from Marlins Park last year is a good indicator of what we might see if he were to be traded to a more hitter-friendly location. For example, if he goes somewhere like Cincinnati, where home runs are generally easier to come by, then his home run totals could go through the roof.

I just want to finish by looking at Realmuto's performances against specific pitch types, because the difference is pretty big. Sometimes a big increase can be attributed to a different pitch mix faced by the hitter, but in this case, Realmuto has turned one of his negatives from 2017 into a positive. In his career, Realmuto's success against the fastball has fluctuated. His first two years he put up negative runs compared to the average when facing that pitch. In 2017 he was also just below zero (-0.8). However, in 2016 and 2018, Realmuto had was 6.7 and 5.3 runs better than the average when facing the fastball. The biggest reason for that is his success against the sinker, which he was worth 7.6 runs above the average when facing. However, something to watch this year is his success against the four-seam fastball. Realmuto's success against that pitch has dropped each of the last two years, from 2.6 in 2016 right now to -3.7 last year. It will be interesting to see if teams start using the four-seam more often against Realmuto in the 2019 season.

I should make it clear, I am a massive fan of Realmuto and I think he has the underlying numbers to get even better. In addition, in terms of safety, there is no catcher more valuable than Realmuto. Not many catchers hit third in their team's lineup, have the ability to go over 20 home runs and can hit for a .270 batting average. However, there are enough doubts in the underlying numbers for me to be concerned about him taking that next step.

That means I am not willing to take Realmuto 80 picks higher than most catchers. I would much rather be using my pick in the 50s to draft one of the pitchers currently going in that range, Stephen Strasburg, James Paxton or Patrick Corbin. Then I can use a pick in the 110/120 range to draft one of a handful of catchers which I believe has the ability to put up solid numbers and still have some upside, even if it is not as great as the upside Realmuto has. If he does go to a more hitter-friendly park then obviously the chance of achieving that upside would increase but so in all likelihood so will the price you have to pay to own him.

Verdict: ADP Chump

 

Wilson Ramos (C, NYM) ADP: 135.82

Compared to Realmuto, Ramos is an old-timer in the majors. Ramos was also drafted by the Minnesota Twins at 19 years of age and took four years to break into the majors. He then had a reasonably successful spell with the Washington Nationals, culminating in a breakout 2016, when he set a career high for runs, home runs, RBI and average. Unfortunately, his 2016 season ended prematurely when Ramos suffered an ACL tear at the end of September. Now on his third team in those three years since leaving Washington, which version of Ramos will we see?

If you were to look at the last four years of Ramos career it may seem as though his batting average is hard to predict. However, since the breakout year in 2016, Ramos has actually been a very consistent hitter. The 2017 average of .260 is somewhat false due to his slow start. Ramos missed the first three months of the 2017 season due to the torn ACL he suffered late in 2016. Therefore, he missed the chance to get into gear during spring training, and instead had to "get his eye in" while playing for the Rays instead. Ramos struggled in his first 35 games, hitting just .194. However, in his final 29 games of the season, he hit an impressive .330.

What changed in 2016 compared to earlier in his career? Essentially, Ramos just started hitting the ball harder. In 2014 and 2015, his hard-hit rate averaged out at 27%. In 2016 that jumped to 35.4%, was 33.1% in his injury-hit 2017 and went one better in 2018, ending up at 39.1%. The fact that we have seen that number stay relatively stable over three years suggests to me he can do it again in 2019. Additionally, his HR/FB% has been consistently between 20 and 22% over the last three years and his FB% has been around 25% in three of his last four years. His FB% in the 2017 season is somewhat distorted due to an extremely FB heavy profile to start the season, and can, therefore, be somewhat ignored. What this means is that a home run number somewhere in the 15-20 region seems more than fair to predict for Ramos this year.

Ramos does not offer the same safety as Realmuto, or the same upside. Ramos is likely to hit in the middle of the Mets lineup, but the Mets have a more reliable secondary catching option than the Marlins have. Therefore, given the knee injury from 2016, and the niggling back injuries we saw last year, there is a good chance we do not see Ramos getting close to the same number of PAs as Realmuto. The expected lesser playing time likely means he does not reach the same level of runs and RBI, and it would be fairly shocking if he even stole a single base.

All of that said, it is not inconceivable to see Ramos hit a similar number of home runs and have a slightly better batting average than Realmuto this season. There is no doubt that Realmuto has the higher upside and the safer floor, but at an average of 80 picks later, Ramos is the catcher I will end up targeting in drafts far more often than Realmuto.

Verdict: ADP Champ

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