I’ve written about Jose Ramirez a couple of times since the tailend of last year, and there were a lot of notable things that I enjoyed about his game. There’s something fun about a high contact guy who runs the bases well, which is primarily what many, including myself, expected Ramirez to continue to be. With mixed results prior to 2016, many also wondered if we should expect legitimate production from the Cleveland third sacker heading into a new campaign. But not only has Jose Ramirez continued to perform at a high level, but as Eno Sarris noted at the beginning of May, he’s changed our perception of him as well, with his increased launch angle contributing in a variety of ways.
Ramirez did a lot in 2016 that kind of led us to believe that we knew what to expect from him heading into this 2017 season, assuming that he continued to perform at a level that was consistent with what he turned in last year. His final numbers at the end of the year featured the following:
That’s obviously an extraordinarily small picture of his 2016, but even so, there’s still a lot to like about that. Despite having one of the lowest walk rates among qualifying third basemen, he posted the highest contact rate among that same group. Even if the contact wasn’t particularly hard, his ability to run the bases (6.9 UBR led the position) helped to contribute to that .363 on-base clip, as well as the 22 swipes he posted.
High-contact, high-OBP, and some speed on the bases. Even if he didn’t stack up against the elite at the hot corner, there’s still value in a skill set like that. When you factor in the versatility that he brought to the mix last year, something that isn’t quite as prevalent this season, you can understand why he was an intriguing option heading into the new season.
All Ramirez has done is take that intrigue and turn it into more legitimacy than anyone could have expected:
He’s still reaching base a high rate, while maintaining a similar approach in terms of Swing%. The contact rate is still there and even if the strikeout rate is up a touch, the walk rate has come with it. One additional note is that his park-adjusted offense, by virtue of wRC+, has increased from 122 to 129. What’s particularly interesting there is that ISO. A 53 point rise in ISO is pretty significant, with Ramirez already four shy of the 11 homers he hit last year and one short of his triple total from 2016. This was an element that Eno focused on in the piece linked above, with launch angle playing a heavy role in the evolution of Jose Ramirez in 2017.
The ball is definitely finding its way into the air more often. Combine the increased hard hit rate with the increase in balls in the air, and the ISO is easily explainable. It’s also probably important to note that the increase in power is primarily taking place when Ramirez is swinging lefty, where he has an ISO of .252, against a .119 mark from the right-handed batter’s box. Last year, the trend was opposite, with his higher ISO coming against left-handed pitching in 2016. Nonetheless, the results this year make this heatmap into not much of a surprise:
Another thing that this graph contributes to is Ramirez’s decrease in Oppo%. His percentage of contact to the opposite field against right-handed pitching is just 20.0% this season, as opposed to the 30.4% mark that he posted last year. Interestingly enough, his Oppo% against left-handed pitching has actually increased about three percent, currently sitting at 26.3%.
Is it possible that Ramirez is a different hitter depending on the batter’s box in which he stands?
Not necessarily. The power is coming from the left-handed box. That’s the largest difference. But he’s still making really strong contact that shows improvement from last year, with his Hard% against left-handed pitching showing an increase of almost 10%. The evolution of Ramirez from 2016 to 2017 is really one that has taken place across the board, regardless of his handedness in a particular plate appearance.
Ramirez has remained the steady on-base presence that he was last year. He’s still swinging at a decent rate while making high contact. What he’s doing differently this year is making harder contact and generating far more balls in the air. With that combination, he’s finding his way into the ISO column more often. He’s gone from a high-contact, speed type to a high-contact, speed type with legitimate power at the plate.
Given that this is a change that has only been in development for really the first two months of the season, though, it’ll be interesting to see how it continues to evolve as the season wears on. Expect us to revisit Ramirez, his power, and his splits before the season comes to a close.