Tuesday afternoon, ESPN.com's Eddie Matz wrote a piece about Nationals' catcher Wilson Ramos, and his preseason Lasik eye surgery to correct his poor vision. After previously declining the surgery, an uncharacteristically poor 2015 season (63 wRC+) convinced Ramos to undergo the procedure in the Spring Training before his walk year.
As Matz notes, the results have been staggering. Following the season where he was the third-worst qualifying hitter in baseball, he is currently sporting a 152 wRC+, the best rate among all catchers. His .224 ISO is well above his career rate, he's hitting the ball harder than in past years, and he's pulling the ball at a higher rate than ever before. He's certainly making better contact against opposing pitchers.
However, the most glaring indicator of Ramos's new-found vision is his career low 12.2 percent strikeout rate – about 25 percent lower than his career rate, and a significant improvement from his career worst 2015 rate. This is paired with an improved 7.0 percent walk rate. Specifically, it seems that Ramos has been far better at recognizing pitches outside the strike zone. His swing rate at those pitches in 2016 is currently 30.3 percent – a sizable drop from his 36.4 percent rate in 2015. Also improved is his contact rate on pitches outside of the zone – a 60.6 percent rate in 2015 has jumped to 70.5 percent this season.
He's swinging less often at balls, and making more contact when he does; he's making better decisions, and executing on them better. According to FanGraphs, Ramos ranks among the league leaders in year-over-year improvement in both categories.
|Name||O-Swing% Improvement||Name||O-Contact% Improvement|
|Christian Yelich||8.8%||Wilson Ramos||9.9%|
|Jose Altuve||7.7%||Odubel Herrera||9.7%|
|Ian Desmond||7.3%||Joc Pederson||9.7%|
|Todd Frazier||7.2%||Nolan Arenado||9.5%|
|Anthony Rizzo||6.9%||Brett Gardner||9.0%|
|Jean Segura||6.9%||DJ LeMahieu||8.1%|
|Brett Lawrie||6.2%||Mike Trout||7.7%|
|Brandon Belt||6.2%||Marcus Semien||7.0%|
|Wilson Ramos||6.1%||Didi Gregorius||6.8%|
|Brandon Crawford||5.7%||Addison Russell||6.7%|
Not only does Ramos rank among the top ten in O-Swing% improvement, he leads all qualified hitters in improved contact on outside pitches. Additionally, he's transformed into one of the best fastball hitters in all of baseball. Among qualified hitters, his 11.4 wFB runs created is one of the 25 best, with only the 163rd most plate appearances. On a rate basis, Ramos has performed as one of the top ten fastball hitters in the Majors.
This surprising performance comes to a hitter who has never been particularly good against the pitch – prior to this season, Ramos had produced a cumulative 0.6 wFB. Because this change is so stark, regression should probably be expected. However, we also know about a material change in his physical abilities via the Lasik, so it is at least something to monitor moving forward.
To veer a little further into PitchFX minutiae (with caution), Ramos has swung less often at fastballs this season, and is minimizing his swings against offspeed pitches (still a relative weakness). Ramos' whiff rate is currently the lowest of his career, and per Baseball Savant, he has reduced the hole in the down-and-away portion of the strike zone.
Wilson Ramos, All Whiffs, 2015 (L) vs 2016 (R)
It's still not halfway through the season, so there's plenty of time for regression. However, Wilson Ramos underwent a material change immediately before a significant, logical improvement that has lead to him appearing atop the catcher hitting leaderboard. He appears to be better recognizing balls and strikes, and is making more solid contact on fastballs. It is something to review at the end of the season, but if he can maintain this pace, Ramos will rocket his way towards the top of top free agent lists before the end of the year.