As we begin to approach the 2017 season, one of the larger wild cards at the third base position is Cleveland Indians third sacker Jose Ramirez. While Ramirez is coming off of a remarkable season that saw him excel in a variety of offensive aspects, there isn’t a tremendous basis for it at the Major League level. Should we expect that 2016 will become more of the norm than his previous big league stints, or is a regression in the cards for one of the breakout stars of last season?
Prior to 2016, Ramirez spent a good chunk of time at the Major League level in both 2014 and 2015, with plate appearance totals of 266 and 355, respectively. Neither appearance saw him justify consistent big league time, especially in a 2015 season where he hit only .219 and reached base at a paltry .291 clip. Of course, his .232 batting average on balls in play didn’t exactly help, but his park-adjusted offense still came in 27 points below league average.
The 2016 season represented an entirely different situation for Ramirez. His line featured marks of .312/.363/.462/.825. That batting average was tops among qualifying third basemen, while his OBP ranked fifth among that group. After a season in which he posted a wRC+ of 73, he was able to bring that figure all the way up to 122, which ranked 10th among that same group. While he’s not a tremendous power threat, he demonstrated an ability to consistently reach base while making things happen on the basepaths, where he recorded 22 steals on the season.
So what exactly should we be expecting from Ramirez moving forward?
There are aspects of Jose Ramirez’s game that are extremely encouraging. The lack of power notwithstanding, there’s always intrigue surrounding a guy with high on-base skills and can make things happen in the run game. The following represents Ramirez’s career figures in swing rate, contact rate, swinging strike rate, and hard contact rate:
The consistency is encouraging. His ability to make contact has always been well above league average, while that swing rate is well below league average. His swinging strike rate has always been low, with a 4.9% figure in 2016 that was the 23rd lowest among the 24 qualifying third basemen. That’s probably no surprise given that he posted a strikeout rate of only 10.0% in 2016. His ability to swing and make regular contact is undeniable at this point. It’s a matter of whether that will continue to translate to the type of success that it did this past season.
One interesting aspect is that Ramirez has been able to steadily increase his ability to make hard contact. His 26.8 Hard% last year was the highest of his career. Of course, the harder the contact, the more likely that Ramirez is generally able to reach base. Especially when he’s not putting the ball on the ground as much. Which is one aspect where Ramirez experienced a significant change that’ll be interesting to watch moving forward.
His groundball rate experienced a drop from 47.6% in 2015 to 40.9% in 2016. That coincided with a LD% that rose from 16.2% to 22.8% in those two years. That probably comes as no surprise, simply based off of the rise in BABIP from .232 to .333 across each year. While the swing and contact rates change, there was a notable difference in the pitch types that Ramirez hacked at:
I’m going to totally oversimplify this, but in swinging at hard pitches on a more regular basis, Ramirez was able to generate harder contact, as well as generate just a touch more lift in order to increase that linedrive contact. Aside from the general fact that a .232 BABIP was always going to even out over time, this certainly aided him in his success in 2016.
At the same time, it’ll be interesting to see if that contact type distribution remains similar as we head into 2017. As a guy that doesn’t tear the cover off the ball, Ramirez cannot afford to be driving the ball into the ground as regularly as he was, even if he does have speed that allows him to compensate for it from time to time. In terms of his overall expectations, there’s significant intrigue surrounding Jose Ramirez heading into the new season, primarily due to the skill set that he brings to the mix. As a high-contact, high-OBP guy who can add some swipes to the occasion, he’s going to experience a significant rise in ownership in drafts before the season. What happens there, though, will be extremely interesting to watch.