A-Ram to the DL?

The Chicago Cubs enter play today at 26-32, with a negative 12 run differential. According to CoolStandings.com, the club has less than an eight percent chance of making the playoffs. While the Cubs boast the second-best starting pitcher xFIP in the NL, the bullpen has been a middle-of-the pack unit (eighth) and the offense places just 10th in the Senior Circuit in wOBA (.325).

To find out why the Cubs aren’t hitting well, look no further than the corner infield spots. Derrek Lee (.317 wOBA) isn’t meeting expectations to this point, but Aramis Ramirez has been the worst position player in the game. A-Ram ranks dead last among qualified batters in wOBA (.231). A consistent four-to-five win player from 2004-2008, Ramirez has been 1.2 wins below replacement in 2010.

And now, Ramirez will apparently hit the DL with a lingering injury to his left thumb.

Ramirez, 32, missed considerable time last season with a dislocated left shoulder suffered while diving for a grounder in May. But when he was in the lineup, he raked — a .317/.389/.516 triple-slash in 342 plate appearances, with a .199 ISO and a .392 wOBA. That power figure was down from previous seasons (his ISO ranged from .229-.269 from 2004-2008), but Ramirez still had excellent projections entering 2010:

CHONE: .289/.359/.502, .213 ISO, .373 wOBA
ZiPS: .295/.368/.519, .224 ISO, .384 wOBA

Instead, A-Ram has a .168/.232/.285 line in 198 PA, with a .117 ISO. His strikeout rate, 15.5% during his big league career, is 25.1%. He’s swinging through a good deal of pitches within the strike zone — Ramirez’s Z-Contact rate is 84.1%, compared to an 87.6% career mark and the 87-88% MLB average.

A .189 BABIP hasn’t done him any favors, but Ramirez is hitting line drives just 15.3% of the time (19.8% average since 2002) and is producing a bunch of weakly hit fly balls. Ramirez has lofted the ball 59.9% of the time this season, compared to a 45.1% average since ’02, and his home run per fly ball rate is just 6.1% (13.4% since ’02).

Ramirez has been bullied by fastballs. Per 100 pitches, he was about +1.3-+1.4 runs above average against heaters from 2007-2009. With a bum thumb, he has been -3.77 runs below average versus fastballs in 2010. That’s, by far, the worst mark in the majors. When Ramirez puts a fastball in play, he’s often hitting feebly to the opposite field (chart from texasleaguers.com):

Speaking of going oppo, Ramirez is hitting to the center and opposite fields more often, with awful results:

Some of Ramirez’s paltry numbers on balls hit to center and right is due to his low BABIP, but he’s not hitting with any power to those fields, either. The thumb injury, the problems with fastballs and his pulling fewer pitches are all indicative of a player who can’t turn on the ball like he typically does.

Without A-Ram, the Cubs will likely rely on Mike Fontenot against right-handers and Jeff Baker versus lefties (Fontenot is still getting some PT at second base, too). Chad Tracy, inked to a minor league deal over the winter and hitting .396/.427/.641 in 91 AB at Triple-A Iowa, is expected to be added to the active roster.

A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

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“While the Cubs boast the second-best starting pitcher xFIP in the NL…”

NL xFIP Leaders:
Doc (2.93)
Wainwright (3.08)
Johnson (3.26)
Lincy (3.27)
Haren (3.30)

The only Cub close is Randy Wells at 3.6…he was a lot lower a week or so ago, but his last start was 3 days ago.


I believe he meant staff