We’ll get back into reviewing some of the performances at the hot corner next week. With the World Series currently underway, and myself having explored Kris Bryant extensively this season (and recently profiling Javier Baez), it’s the perfect opportunity to look at Jose Ramirez for the first time in a couple of months. While fans in Cleveland have become well aware of what he has brought to the table with a breakout 2016 campaign, the rest of the nation has really experienced their first exposure to Ramirez throughout this postseason. Not only has he broken out, but the numbers paint him as one of the more clutch players in baseball.
This is a player who was coming off of two consecutive seasons in which he provided negative offensive value, according to his Off rating. The 2014 season saw him post a -3.2 mark in that regard, while in 2015 he came in at -8.7. He still managed to break positively into the WAR game, primarily because of his defense. That 2015 campaign painted him as a well below average player by virtue of wRC+, where he came in with a figure of 73. What also certainly didn’t work in Ramirez’s favor is the fact that his BABIP was extremely low, at just .232. He reached base at a paltry .291 clip and was demoted to Triple-A twice. However, in September of last year, he hit .280 and reached base at a .341 rate, while bringing up his K/BB ratio to 1.40, his best rate of the season. That strong finish earned him a look, especially with the setbacks experienced by Michael Brantley.
Ramirez has done nothing but take advantage of the opportunity after a rough go in the prior year. In the previous profile in which I touched on some aspects of his performance, I noted that his 2016 performance isn’t quite elite, but it’s certainly worth considering in that next tier of third basemen. He’s posted career highs across the board, reaching base at a high rate and providing an important source of speed for the Indians in their relentless baserunning attack.
Attempting to dissect exactly what has made Ramirez so successful is an interesting task, though. There haven’t been significant changes in the trends as far as his approach or his ability to make contact. He’s largely attacked the same type of pitches, and he’s overall been an aggressive hitter. The fact that this is far and away the largest sample that we have to work with from Ramirez makes it all the more difficult to measure up against previous years (which means next year will make him an even more interesting entity to study).
What’s perhaps most notable in regard to Ramirez, apart from his overall breakout, is the “clutch” factor. Now, whether you believe clutch is a real thing or not, there are at least statistics to lend themselves to the idea, and it’s in these aspects that Ramirez really managed to succeed in 2016. The following represents Ramirez’s performance in a variety of situations:
It’s probably also worth noting that in that RISP spot, with two outs, Ramirez goes for a .366 average, a .423 OBP, and a .944 OPS across 78 plate appearances. This would appear to indicate that not only does Ramirez excel with runners on, he actually gets better. Although, it probably does go without saying that plate appearances with bases empty are going to be significantly more than those with runners in scoring position.
And that’s the case with Ramirez, as that number is almost shredded into a third in that situation. It certainly helps that his BABIP with runners on, with runners in scoring position, and in overall high leverage situations sits over .370. Which is interesting because his hardest contact among these situations come with the bases empty, where he posted a Hard% of 28.7 during the regular season. This is where the speed becomes an aid for him in allowing him to gain this reputation as a clutch player. While he doesn’t have an inordinate amount of infield hits on the year, the percentages are intriguing nonetheless, and, thus, worth noting.
With the bases empty, only 3.2% of Ramirez’s hits come on the infield. That percentage goes up to 8.5% with runners on and 10.2 with runners in scoring position. In high leverage situations overall, the number is at 8.7%. Again, we’re dealing with a gradually smaller sample size, and the fact that the percentage is going up doesn’t mean that he’s a straightforward Billy Hamilton type of threat with his feet. However, it does illustrate the idea that because he can move so well out of the box, especially out of that left-handed batter’s box, it makes him more of a threat.
We saw it in Game 1 on Tuesday night. Bases loaded, Ramirez hits a weak groundball that goes just a matter of feet. But with his ability to get down the baseline, it was yet another example of the Cleveland third sacker producing in a clutch spot. Kris Bryant and David Ross didn’t have a play on it thanks, in part, to that mobility. In addition to the location of where the ball came to a stop, of course.
By comparison, only three third basemen in baseball reached base at a higher rate in high leverage situations than Ramirez. His OPS in those situations ranked eighth, his wRC+ ranks seventh, and his batting average ranks second. He has the second lowest strikeout rate in those situations as well. While his OPS and his ISO, the latter in which he ranks in the second half of qualifying third basemen, can’t necessarily keep up with some of the elite players at the position, it’s clear that this guy has emerged as a very real threat at the plate and is quickly becoming the type of player that Cleveland absolutely wants in those types of scenarios.
In terms of skill set, 2016 likely presented what we can expect to see from Ramirez moving forward. He’s not a particularly heavy hitter, there’s just a little bit of pop there, but he moves well on the basepaths and uses his aggressiveness to his advantage in making regular contact. If he can continue to be that high contact guy (88.8% contact rate was second best at the position), along with that penchant for swiping bags semi-regularly, then the Indians have found a steal that is basically playing for peanuts on that cheap contract.