Back in 2008, his first big league season, Alexei Ramirez slugged 21 home runs, drove in 77 and added 13 steals, establishing himself as a top fantasy shortstop.
But those long balls represented something of an aberration for Ramirez who, despite averaging 16 homers over the next three seasons, has seen his power collapse in the past two years, putting just six over the fence in 2013.
As the homers have faded, so has his fantasy stock, to the point where the 32-year-old is currently being drafted 14th among shortstops on Mock Draft Central. But as Ramirez’s profile as a hitter has evolved, he’s found other ways to help fantasy owners, leading me to wonder if he’s being a tad undervalued right now.
After all, power aside, 2013 was a year of career bests for Ramirez. He posted by far his best contact rate (88.3 percent, tops among all qualified shortstops) in a year when his swing percentage was its highest since his rookie season. Meanwhile, he cut down his swinging strike percentage to 6.4 percent, which helped him finish with a 10.1 percent strikeout rate, both career bests.
When he made contact, he smacked the cowhide to the tune of a 22.1 percent line drive rate — again, a career best — which fueled a .309 BABIP, also a … you get the idea. He finished with a respectable .284 average, his best showing since his rookie year, certainly within shouting distance of the .300 mark that’s eluded him in the majors.
Then there are the stolen bases, which have jumped significantly over the past two seasons. After swiping 20 in 2012, Ramirez was even more daring on the basepaths last year, finishing with 30 steals. That’s another for the “career best” bin, along with the 39 attempts and 77 percent success rate.
Of course, hitching a ride on the Ramirez train means learning to live without a high on-base percentage; despite all the contact, he finished with a .313 OBP, and his 3.9 percent walk rate was next to last among qualified shortstops. And the home runs are indeed a glaring blight on his fantasy credentials, as his output has dropped three years in a row.
But although Ramirez will never be mistaken for Cal Ripken Jr., his 3.6 percent HR/FB rate last year is still ridiculous, regardless of how less of an emphasis he places on hitting fly balls at this stage in his career. His batted ball distance essentially has remained the same over the past three seasons, so I don’t see why he can’t hit at least a few more homers in 2014.
The last part of the equation is where he’ll hit in the lineup. The addition of leadoff man Adam Eaton could bump Alejandro De Aza down to Ramirez’s customary No. 2 hole, unless De Aza is benched altogether in favor of Dayan Viciedo. But regardless of where Ramirez bats, the acquisitions of Eaton, Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia practically guarantee this White Sox team will outperform the 2013 version that was one of the league’s worst offenses, which should provide a boost to Ramirez’s RBI and runs totals.
Yes, Ramirez is on the wrong side of 30, but he’s been extremely durable thus far, averaging 158 games over the past four years, and the contact, which has improved throughout his career, is legit. He may never fulfill the 20-20 potential fantasy owners drooled over a few years ago, but even 10 home runs combined with, say, a .280 average, 25 steals and 70 runs and RBIs would make him an extremely useful commodity at shortstop in standard leagues.
Karl, a journalist living in Washington, D.C., learned about life's disappointments by following the Mets beginning at a young age. His work has appeared in numerous publications, and he has contributed to the 2014 and 2015 editions of The Hardball Times Annual. Follow/harass him on Twitter @Karl_de_Vries.