Mackey: Ramos is good, but he's no Joe
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Ron Gardenhire announced on 1500 ESPN Sunday morning that Joe Mauer's heel bruise may be a "week-to-week" thing, rather than day-to-day. The Twins were forced to play Saturday night's game with Drew Butera as the only catcher available, and Butera promptly grounded into a crucial, bases-loaded, inning-ending double play in the 11th inning.
Mauer could sit out a few days, or he could sit out much longer. We simply don't know. In the short term, it appears as if the Twins have found a capable replacement behind the dish in Wilson Ramos, who smacked four hits in his major league debut Sunday -- the first Twin to tally four hits in a debut since Kirby Puckett in 1984.
Despite the four hits, however, Ramos' production over a long period of time wouldn't come close to the offensive value Mauer provides -- regardless of what many fans believe on the surface. And that's not an indictment on Ramos by any means. It's simply a testament to how great Mauer is.
It's difficult to project exactly how Ramos, 22, will perform at the plate if he were given an extended stay on the big league squad. Ramos hit .400/.400/.733 with two home runs in 30 spring training plate appearances this past March, but he struggled through his first 70 plate appearances at class-AAA Rochester this month, posting a .179/.214/.328 batting line with three home runs, three walks, and 15 strikeouts.
In 2009, Ramos hit .317/.341/.454 with four home runs and 20 extra base hits in 214 plate appearances at AA, and in 2008 he hit .288/.346/.434 with 13 home runs and 38 extra base hits in 500 plate appearances at high-A.
Ramos' ripped physical frame implies that he packs more power than his minor league numbers suggest. He doesn't draw many walks at all, but there's a ton of offensive upside. Ramos makes a lot of solid contact, and realistically he likely projects as a poor man's Pablo Sandoval, at least statistically.
Take that however you want.
Mauer, on the other hand, is one of the best offensive players in all of baseball, regardless of position.
So with Ramos taking over for Mauer on a daily basis until further notice, what kind of a drop-off in production will the Twins' lineup experience?
How can we quantify it?
For now, let's pretend Ramos were to replace Mauer for a full season.
Defensively, Ramos has thrown out 42% of baserunners throughout his minor league career, so the only real question is how well he can call a game behind the plate compared to Mauer -- a drop-off no doubt, but difficult to quantify.
Mauer's 2010 projection (in 500 plate appearances from now until season's end):
.338/.421/.522, and 93 "runs created."
Ramos's 2010 projection (500 plate appearances, hypothetically):
.256/.297/.369, and 50 "runs created."
Now, Ramos' projection seems way too pessimistic after watching him mash at Progressive Field on Sunday. Let's be optimistic and say that Ramos is capable of hitting .285/.330/.420 this season instead. With those numbers, Ramos would be projected to "create" roughly 60 runs over 500 plate appearances.
(Some of you may wonder why 60 "runs created" seems so low for a projected .280 hitter. That's because high batting averages are often hollow and somewhat meaningless without a high on base percentage and high power outputs. See: Young, Delmon.)
Still with me?
So if Mauer is projected to create 93 runs this season for the Twins going forward, and Ramos (perhaps optimistically) is projected to create 60, that obviously means Mauer would be worth 33 runs more offensively than Ramos from now until October.
In other words, if Ramos replaced Mauer for the rest of the season and hit .285/.330/.430, the Twins lineup would likely score approximately 33 fewer runs. To break it down by month, the Twins would lose approximately six or seven runs per month -- disperse them however you want. Some of those runs might be more "clutch" than others.
This isn't necessarily a knock on Ramos, but rather an illustration of how good Mauer is. Mauer's ability to coax walks and get on base at a .400+ clip sometimes goes undervalued.
Ramos is a solid hitter, and he certainly has a ton of upside, but losing Mauer for any period of time is a big blow.