When the Washington Nationals headed to the bottom of the ninth inning of Monday's 6-4 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, catcher Wilson Ramos was mired in a brutal slump. The 27-year-old catcher was 0 for his last 17. The long hitless streak punctuated a dreadful July for Ramos, who hit just .149/.171/.239 with 2 homers and a 7 wRC+ in 70 plate appearances in July. In fact, he's hit so poorly recently that manager Matt Williams has been rotating his catchers for most of the past week, actually giving backup Jose Lobaton two of the three starts in this past weekend's pivotal series in New York.
*As an aside, I've been pretty vocal in criticizing Matt Williams lately. It would be unfair not to give him credit for recognizing and reacting to Ramos' recent struggles as he has.
The Nats would end up mounting a rally that eventually fell short on Monday. Ryan Zimmerman got the one out rally started with a home run. It was the first of five consecutive hits for the Nats in the ninth, including an RBI single from Ramos that broke that 0 for 17 skid. Baseball is funny sometimes. Sometimes it just takes that one hit (or even a well struck out) to get a hitter going. We can't say that's the case with Ramos yet, but he sure looked like he was coming out of his slump a bit on Tuesday.
Ramos went 2 for 3 with the game-winning two run single in the eighth inning of Tuesday's 5-4 win over Arizona. He hit his first two line drives in four games, which has to be considered a good sign. As hscer pointed out back in June, Ramos hits a lot of ground balls. In fact, his 57.6% ground ball rate leads the Nationals and is the seventh highest in the majors. For a player that runs like Ramos does and has the type of power that he's shown, hitting a ton of grounders is about the last thing that the Nats want him to be doing.
Line drives are always going to be optimal, but hitting fly balls has netted positive results for Ramos as well. His 16.4% HR/FB rate this season ranks 36th in the majors and is well above the 10.9% league average. It's also right in line with his career 16.5%. Still, like I said, line drives are what just about every hitter should be gunning for when they step to the plate. Let's take a quick peek at Ramos' career splits based on how he puts the ball in play.
While some of the Nats were bitten by the poor BABIP bug on Tuesday, Ramos avoided it. Both of his line drives went for base hits, including the two run single that plated Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth in the eighth inning.
Ramos even surprised us with an eight pitch walk in his first plate appearance... after falling behind 0-2! Ramos has never been a big walker, but his 4.0% walk rate is the lowest he's had since his rookie year. Even if he's still unlikely to draw a ton of walks, seeing a patient approach like the one he showed in that first inning should be benefit him if he's going to turn things around. Ramos' chase percentage (35.3%) is actually just slightly lower than his career average, but his O-Contact% is a career worst (by about six points!) 54.8%. This is probably partially responsible for the fact that he's striking out in 19.6% of his plate appearances in 2015, compared to just 16.8% in his career.
An increased strikeout rate, a declining walk rate, and the seventh highest ground ball rate in MLB isn't exactly a recipe for success for a player like Ramos. For one night, he bucked all three of those trends. He put the ball in play in three of his plate appearances. He spit on a couple of tough pitches out of the zone in his other one to draw a walk. He hit line drives in two of those three plate appearances. While one game certainly doesn't represent a trend, hopefully this is the beginning of one.