In the Nationals’ 6-0 win over the Phillies on Sunday, all eyes were on Stephen Strasburg as he put in the best pitching performance of his career. He tossed a complete game shutout with ten strikeouts, needing just 99 pitches in a display of pure efficiency.
In admiring the outing, however, don’t overlook the role of catcher Wilson Ramos. The 26-year-old backstop has a way of staying behind the scenes, soft-spoken yet intense in a locker room full of personalities. The fact he was behind the plate for this particular game is likely no coincidence.
After the game Ramos gave much of the credit to Strasburg and his teammates – including Ryan Zimmerman’s defense – for culminating the shutout. But he did concede he takes some pride in calling a game so brilliant.
“I was excited,” he said. “That’s what I want to do every day when I’m behind the plate, put zeroes up on the scoreboard. That’s my job.”
If Ramos was, in fact, just doing his “job,” he may be getting a lot better at it. We profiled Ramos back in April and showed how nearly everyone in the Nats’ pitching staff has fared better with Ramos behind the plate than another catcher. The numbers were consistent and striking, and since they’ve become even more extreme.
Ramos’ ERA as a catcher this season is 3.13 through 39 games, that ranks favorably among the best defensive backstops in the majors this season.
Jeff Mathis - MIA - 2.52 ERA – 47 G
Martin Maldonado - MIL - 2.82 ERA – 34 G
Brian McCann - ATL - 2.93 ERA – 63 G
Evan Gattis - ATL - 3.09 ERA – 37 G
Russell Martin - PIT - 3.13 ERA – 88 G
A.J. Ellis - LAD - 3.14 ERA – 80 G
Wilson Ramos - WAS - 3.17 ERA – 39 G
(Catchers with at least 30 games played)
And compared to his Nationals’ counterparts, it’s not even close how much better Ramos has been.
Jhonatan Solano - WAS - 3.95 ERA – 45 G
Kurt Suzuki - WAS - 3.97 ERA – 71 G
Ramos’ 2013 season has been shortened by hamstring injuries, as he’s only been available to start 39 out of the team’s 117 games this year. On those days Ramos is starting, the Nationals are 22-17. When Suzuki or Solano has started, the team is 35-43.
The Nationals’ rotation as a whole has had a bit of an inconsistent year. They’ve seen more injuries this season than they did in 2012 with Strasburg, Ross Detwiler and Dan Haren spending time on the disabled list. But in a year of turmoil, Ramos has brought the best out of his battery mates, and perhaps the best example of that success deals with Haren.
Both Ramos and Suzuki have started ten games apiece with Haren on the mound. While many have looked at Haren’s struggles as a major reason for the Nats underachieving this season, he hasn’t always been bad. Check out the numbers for Haren by Nats catchers in 2013.
Dan Haren in 2013:
Wilson Ramos - 10 G - 63.0 IP - 20 ER - 2.86 ERA - 4 HR
Kurt Suzuki - 10 G - 52.2 IP - 40 ER - 6.84 ERA - 16 HR
Jhonatan Solano - 1 G - 3.1 IP - 6 ER - 16.20 ERA – HR
In the same amount of games started, Haren has allowed exactly half the earned runs he has with Suzuki and a quarter of the homers. If Ramos has been able to find consistent success with Haren (7-11, 4.99) this season, then you know he’s doing something right.
Ramos and Strasburg worked together on Sunday evening for the 19th time in their young careers and combined for their best work as MLB players, but it didn’t start that way. Strasburg said he didn’t feel “good at all” in his pregame warmup session, and Ramos even called it a “struggle.” Somehow they battled through and found the right stuff to produce a shutout.
For two players clearly on the same page, Ramos was asked if he said anything to Strasburg as they took the field for the ninth inning, knowing a shutout was possible.
“Not much. All I said was, ‘let’s go, finish it up.’"
Nine more pitches is all it took.