Alexei Ramirez is fine, when so much else isn't

Alexei Ramirez is fine, when so much else isn't
"Go check my UZR and then get back to me" says Alexei // Brian Cassella, Chicago Tribune

It’s just too dead of a period of time in the White Sox news cycle to pass up some media criticism.  That rainy day post about the biggest WPA swings of the season can always wait another day…

The Tribune’s White Sox beat writer Mark Gonzales took out the time Thursday to identify Alexei Ramirez of all people as a player who sorely needs to improve his play, and posits facilitating this improvement as something that should be a primary focus of Robin Ventura’s inaugural year as manager.

For anyone with a passing fondness for WAR–of which Alexei ranks 1st by a mile on the team according to FanGraphs, and is still tied for 3rd according to Baseball Reference–this elicits more than a little eye-rolling, but I must admit I understand what he’s getting at.

Not when he’s complaining about Ramirez’ RBI total, or quibbling with his defense, blaming him for A.J. Pierzynski’s scattershot throws, or dumping blame on him for all the short pops that fell in front his crappy outfielders.  No, none of those times, really.

But I get the urge.

Ramirez is a player with a very wide skill set–especially as a hitter, who has displayed plus production in a lot of areas, but lacks of season where he has operated on all cylinders.

In other words, we’ve seen him hit 21 HRs, we’ve seen him hit for high-average, and we’ve seen him display above-average patience, but never all at one time.  To top it off, he’s a fast runner who can’t steal bases, and while he’s unquestionably an elite defender, he does seem to have some errors of the ‘botched routine play’ variety.

As a result, he’s a player who tends to invite more contemplation on what he could do, rather than misty-eyed gratitude for what he does provide.  To contrast, Paul Konerko is accepted as a specialist, and any suggestion of him improving his defense or baserunning, or focus on anything besides mashing, would be rightly laughed off.

I know I have been guilty of it at times, but after four years, viewing Ramirez as a bunch of tools not used to their full potential isn’t a fair way to judge his performance.  And it’s certainly not a reasonable one as he enters his age 30 season, as he’s quite likely a fully-realized player.  Huge performance jumps at that age aren’t unprecedented, but they aren’t expected, and sure as hell aren’t demanded.

Alexei’s plate discipline and power may be inversely related, he may make hard plays look easy and occasionally vice-versa, and his speed doesn’t equate base-stealing instincts, but he is very good as he is.  Which is convenient, as that’s probably what we’re stuck with.


Some notes to make this a proper length

-If we’re going to speculate on who Robin Ventura–a man devoid of coaching experience–is going to be able to coach up, I’d rather pull for his stated goals of improving youngsters with glaring flaws like Gordon Beckham.

Ventura had a lot of plate discipline, so uh, maybe he can, uh…teach Morel and Beck–See!  See how useless this speculation is?  They hired a mystery box!

-Much has been said about Ventura being a mentor to young Brent Morel.  It’ll be interesting to see what his influence is given their contrasting fielding styles.  Brent Morel has shown a preference for waiting back on grounders and searching out the right hop, confident that he can compensate with his strong throwing arm.  In an interview in June, Robin admitted that his trademark aggressive style was actually a product of him lacking such a luxury.  Though I’m sure Robin has more advice to offer than “Run forward!”

-The White Sox are crappy about spending in the draft, and spending on international amateur talent, BUT NO MORE!  Kenny Williams is “taking a hands-on approach now”, and leaving on a scouting trip that will include a stop in the Dominican Republic.  Whether or not the first instance of  the GM taking “hands on” approach to scouting in Latin America occurring after his 11th season, and a spotty record in the region are interrelated somehow, has yet to be concluded.


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