Many of you may be under the impression that Alexei Ramirez is having a bad season -- but that's simply incorrect. The word "bad" is not even close to strong enough to describe veritable dumpster fire that has characterized Ramirez’s 2015 performance to date. I suggest consulting this list for better adjectives.
If that seems like an exaggeration, consider the following: According to FanGraphs statistic "wRC+" (or Weighted Runs Created Plus, which uses linear weights to measure total offensive output, adjusting for park and league), Ramirez has literally been the worst qualified hitter in the Major Leagues this season -- his 2015 batting line (.224/.249/.292) translates to a 43 wRC+, or 57 percent less productive than an average hitter and, at press time, five points below even All-Star snub Omar Infante.
Defensively, a flurry of rushed throws and bobbled grounders have led to UZR and TotalZone rating Ramirez as significantly below average for the first time since his rookie year. His 10 errors have him on pace to match his career high.
So where does that leave the White Sox? His abysmal first half has likely nuked his trade value – so the White Sox will probably be deciding whether or not to pick up his $10 million option for 2016. Is Ramirez a candidate to bounce back, or should he be taken to pasture?
First we’ve got to diagnose the issue. It’s always possible that the numbers are missing something physical, but we have to assume the front office will have that information and act accordingly. Let’s take a quick look at some peripherals to see if anything shows up in his performance:
Strikeout rate: 11.5% compared to 11.8% career. Normal and above league average, nothing to see here.
Walk rate: 3.3% compared to 4.7% career average. His career total is heavily skewed by the early part of his career, and this year’s rate is almost identical to the last three. It’s a bad number but also totally normal for Ramirez. Moving on.
Plate Discipline: Though he’s been a hacker his whole career, his O-Swing% (the number of pitches a player swings at outside of the strikezone) is actually hovering around league average, and his Z-Swing% (the number of pitches a player swings at inside of the strikezone) is significantly above average – both figures are better than we’re used to seeing from Ramirez. This is a big difference, but it doesn’t suggest that he should be playing worse.
Batted Ball Results: A .245 BABIP compared to a career .291 is a good candidate for positive regression, especially given that his LD%, GB%, and FB% are all hovering around his career averages. This is the first sign of something that should improve, but it isn’t enough to make up the gap.
Power: Ok, here’s our culprit. A crazy-low 2.4% HR/FB rate has led Ramirez to a career worst .067 ISO, .292 SLG, and just three home runs. He’s making contact, but that contact isn’t doing any damage. Maybe Ramirez has just lost some bat speed to age.
But here’s the thing: It doesn’t appear that he’s making softer contact. Baseball Info Solutions reports Ramirez’s Hard Hit rate as less than a percentage point under his career average, and even a touch closer to his number during his 15-homer campaign last season. And although we only have one season of data from Statcast, Baseball Savant shows Ramirez comfortably in the top half of the average batted ball exit velocity leaderboard. Given that HR/FB% is a relatively unstable statistic in the first place, it gets difficult to make a case that Ramirez’s 2015 rate isn’t just a fluke.
Looking at all of this together, I can’t find any evidence to suggest that Ramirez’s power shouldn’t return and that he shouldn’t see some more hits start to fall. If you believe his defensive miscues are mental and not due to age-related decline, Ramirez looks like an excellent candidate to bounce back toward his career averages in overall production.
While I spent a good portion of this past offseason on the “sell high on Alexei” bandwagon, I think I’ve convinced myself to stay away from the idea of selling him low at the 2015 deadline. With Tim Anderson still a year or two away, it looks like Ramirez is still the Sox’ best option at SS for the next season and a half.
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