Yesterday, I analyzed Ketel Marte’s power breakout, identifying what has driven his 20 home run total. Today, we’re going to flip to the sad side of 2019 performance. Jose Ramirez has been one of the season’s biggest busts, after he delivered both elite fantasy and real baseball production over the past two years. Now, nearly half way through the season, he’s sitting with just four dingers. He’s managed to swipe 16 bases, despite a sub-.300 OBP, though, so at least us fantasy owners are getting something for our hefty investment. Let’s find out what happened here.
|Season||FB%||FB Pull%||FB Oppo%|
Rather than suddenly join the Fly Ball Revolution, Ramirez has seemingly increased the tier of his membership in the club each year. Aside from 2014, he has always posted an above average fly ball rate, but for the past two years, he’s become an extreme fly-baller. That’s what you expect to see from a power hitter and a good sign if you’re hoping for 30+ homers from a hitter. So as his FB% currently stands, he would be setting another career high.
Ramirez’s fly ball pull rate spiked in 2017, which coincided with his power surge. That’s no coincidence. That’s exactly how it’s supposed to work — hitter learns to pull his flies, hitter’s power blossoms. While his FB Pull% has dipped this year to a three-year low, it’s hardly meaningful and still well above the 24% league average. His FB Oppo% has remained pretty stable these past three seasons as well, in line with the pull rate spike.
So far, we’ve got nothing. Ramirez continues to hit tons of fly balls and pull those flies frequently as well.
|Season||FB Hard%||FB+LD EV (MPH)||FB+LD Avg Dist (ft)|
Our first clue is the collapse in Ramirez’s fly ball hard rate. It’s plunged to the second lowest mark of his career and significantly below the 39.7% league average. Note that he’s never even touched a league average FB Hard%. It means that he’s not hitting near 40 homers because of his massive power, but rather because of his fly ball rate, fly ball pull rate, and low strikeout rate. The sub-28% FB Hard% this year really puts him in weakling company, just below guys like Delino Deshields and Andrelton Simmons.
Interestingly, his exit velocity on fly balls and line drives has barely budged. It spiked from 2015 to 2016, and then again in 2017, but has been relatively stable since, with a small bump in 2018. Similarly, his average distance on those batted ball types hasn’t moved any either. It makes me wonder how a batter could suffer such a decline in FB Hard%, but no such decline in exit velocity or average distance.
As mysterious as the mismatched metrics above are, so far our only clue about Ramirez’s missing home run power is the decline in FB Hard%.
You’re tempted to chalk up 2017 and 2018 as the flukes, as his 2019 looks mighty similar to his 2014 through 2016 seasons, right? It’s not often a 24 and then 25-year-old exhibit power surges and then revert right back to their 21 through 23 year old power levels.
This is one final trend that definitely helps explain the measly four homers, but not the poor HR/FB rate. One of the skills that has made Ramirez so elite has been his amazing contact ability. You don’t need to be a hulking slugger to hit near 40 homers if you only strike out 10%-11% of the time and hit fly balls more than 40% of the time. But that contact ability has deteriorated this year. Now don’t get me wrong, he still owns elite skills, they’re just merely less elite, or the least elite he’s displayed over his career. Not shown in the table is also a SwStk% sitting at a career high.
The increase in strikeout rate reduces his home run total, but even if his strikeout rate was around his career average, that would likely only add a homer or two, which would still remain well off from where we had expected at this point.
Honestly, I’m stumped. I figured we’d see a clear loss of power in his exit velocity or batted ball distance, a major regression in pulling his fly balls, or something else that sticks out like a sore thumb. Instead, all I found was a decline in fly ball hard percentage, which doesn’t even match up with the Statcast metrics.
Or perhaps, I just found the answer, or a partial explanation. Check this out…
|Season||FB Launch Angle (in degrees)|
From 2015 through 2018, Ramirez had kept his fly ball launch angle in a pretty tight range. Suddenly this year, his launch angle has shot up to 39.2 degrees. Maybe, just maybe, he’s been hitting his fly balls at a slightly too elevated angle and so they are falling just short of the wall, rather than going over like the previous more line-drivey fly balls. That could explain why he’s hitting them with the same exit velocity, but less of them are flying over the wall. However, I ask why that wouldn’t also affect his average distance.
Guess what, I have the answer to that too. That’s because fly balls need to be divorced from line drives. Check the average exit velos and distances separately.
|Season||FB EV (MPH)||FB Avg Dist (ft)||LD EV (MPH)||LD Avg Dist (ft)|
Now we find that Ramirez has lost significant fly ball distance, but that was offset by the jump in line drive distance, so combined, there was little change. His line drive EV is also near a career high, covering up the decline in his fly ball EV. So he’s doing awesome with his liners, but not his flies. Since most home runs come on fly balls, that’s the reverse of what you want.
His fly ball EV is certainly down, but not by a significant margin, and certainly not to the degree in which his fly ball distance is down. So this makes me think that I’m on to something with the increased fly ball launch angle. This might be a swing thing that needs to be fixed. It’s probably easier said than done, of course, but it doesn’t actually seem like he’s lost as much power as his results would indicate.
Given the massive upside, and the fact that he continues to steal bases, I think Ramirez is an ideal acquisition target after running this analysis. It’s very possible that he never fixes what I think may be the issue. But if he does, your wallet and ego are going to thank you.
Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.