There's been enough railing on the management, time to get back to sighing deeply about the players.
Let me start by saying that Alexei Ramirez is under no circumstances to ever be referred to as a disappointment. He's an elite fielder at the most important position in the infield, so much so that he leads the entire team in fWAR despite ranking as an average hitter.
A September hot streak could make him a 5 WAR player for 2011, and people just don't rack up those seasons every day. The rest of the roster, for example.
It just seemed like there was a chance for so much more. For his first three seasons, Ramirez posted abysmal numbers in the cold of April, suggesting one of those common-sense-but-not-thoroughly-investigated theories that the Cuban native couldn't hit that well when his skin was cracking and turning blue, but was an above-average hitter under ideal conditions.
Surely his career .257 wOBA for the month was dragging down his .325 total mark. If he could crater a little less hard to start, the wonders he could achieve....we thought.
Ramirez was still bad in the opening month this season (.303 wOBA), but substantially less than God-awful. Once he went bananas in May(.313/.380/.513 with 17 extra-base hits), it was clear. This was a new level!
Alexei was going to hit 50 doubles, win the Gold Glove, and have an 8 WAR season. Toronto was going to call at the deadline and offer Jose Bautista, and Kenny would tell them to go to hell, and the fans would all cheer. Because it would be on the jumbotron and they wouldn't be watching the game, because it would be canceled, because the Sox would be 30 games up in the AL Central with their opponents forfeiting in waves. This was going to happen, I was sure of it.
Two weeks after my giddy post, Alexei peaked. On June 4th he boasted a .300/.360/.452 line, and his .326 BABIP didn't seem so unreasonable given how he was clubbing the ball. .360 OBP! Even Phil Rogers didn't seem so crazy about calling him a leadoff man!
Since then, Ramirez has hit .231/.295 /.347, over an almost half-season period. That slash line is also known as 'The Beckham'. In all, he's still sitting at a season that would fit right in line with his career, but is on one hell of a slide.
The quick and dirty explanation is BABIP. It's been .243 over the aforementioned stretch, and with nothing in his plate discipline stats sticking out, or even a tremor in his strikeout and walk rates, there's no reason to think he's getting weak contact due to his own incompetence like others on the team.
His full-season BABIP sits at .280, and I'd put good money on it shading closer to league average while his line drive rates recover.
If there's cause for alarm (besides how incredibly likely it is he'll set a career-high in pop-ups) is why on Earth he's rating out so poorly against fastballs. Ramirez has always been more efficient hammering hangers than turning on heaters, but this is the first time he's rated as below-average.
One look through the pages on FanGraphs of Juan Pierre, or Juan Uribe, or even J.J. Hardy shows that year-to-year fluctuations on pitch values can be intense, and thus, not damning of their true talent. However, Alexei is turning 30 at the end of the month, so an eye should be kept on whether his hands slowing down is a trend.
I'd doubt it reveals itself to be one, because if there's a trend I've seen with Ramirez, it's this: Furious hot stretches, long periods of malaise, and finishing up in the league-average neighborhood. He's all over the map, but always returns home. At age 30, what really should be accepted is that this is the player he is.
He looks so darn good when he's rolling (speed, power, plate discipline that seems worlds ahead of where he started) that the idea of him emerging as a superstar is tantalizing, but maybe White Sox fans will just be have to be satisfied with him being the best player on the team.