clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Jose Ramirez or Mike Napoli -- whose bat is more important in the playoffs?

The hope for the Tribe is, everyone hits. But of these two polar opposite offensive keys, which could slump with less impact?

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Without the performance of Jose Ramirez and Mike Napoli this year, the Cleveland Indians would be splitting up for the winter come Monday. Ramirez has lessened the blow of losing Michael Brantley, added decent defense in left and strong defense at third, and Napoli has given bombs and national legitimacy,

Both Ramirez and Napoli have been central to this playoff appearance. While nobody would want either to fade in October, which one could the Indians less afford a bad run from?

It’s an interesting question because they’re such polar opposite players. Ramirez is a high contact hitter who goes gap to gap, closing in on a 50 double season. As said before, basically Brantley Jr. He also adds considerable value with his defense. Napoli plays a less demanding position defensively and isn’t that great at it anyway. His swapping with Carlos Santana on play time also drags his defensive stats down some, since DHing has a considerable defensive penalty attached to it for obvious reasons.Defense will hang around though, and the Indians will benefit from Ramirez at third. But they need to score runs. That’s where the big guy comes in. Napoli also hits the ball an incredible distance. This cannot be overlooked.

Judging from the numbers, both traditional and advanced, Ramirez is the more impactful hitter:

Napoli .242 .338 .473 116 1.2
Ramirez .311 .363 .463 121 4.5

He’s had a great year, that can’t be ignored. Again, Napoli does suffer in WAR calculations because of his bad defense. But even by wRC+ he's better, though not by as much as the average and WAR suggest. He’s the second best hitter on the team, behind Santana.

Another thing people point to is his insane numbers with runners in scoring position. To wit, he’s hitting .353 with RISP, .362 when there’s two outs in that situation, and he’s got good clutch numbers as well with a .366 batting average in high leverage situations. These are all great things. These are also things that can go away very quickly in the playoffs. One thing many playoff teams have in common is being good at baseball. In many phases of the game. In the AL, the Rangers and Red Sox both have excellent defenses (the Red Sox outfield with Betts, Bradley and Benintendi much more so than the Rangers, but Texas can really catch the ball on the dirt).

When he’s hitting with runners in scoring position, Ramirez has a .387 batting average on balls in play. That’s nearly 60 points higher than his season rate of .332. A player like him will probably have a higher BABIP, but that’s a big jump to .400. When it’s with 2 outs, that number jumps to .400, and .392 in high leverage situations in general. This doesn’t mean he’s all luck when he’s in these spots, though according to StatCast he does have a below average exit velocity this year at 89.10 mph. Average is 89.59. But sometimes we’ve seen him squeak a ball under the glvoe of a diving infielder, or bloop it in front of an outfielder. When facing a good defense, this stops. This can have a major impact on a player of Ramirez’s style. When ground balls turn into outs instead of hits, suddenly he’s not impacting the game.

All this is to say, betting on RISP batting in the postseason is a dangerous thing. He’s a great hitter in general, but despite what the Royals did the last two years blooping and small balling their way to a title, you can’t just hope for luck to keep going. That’s where Napoli comes in.

In a sense, he makes his own luck simply because there's a runner in scoring position whenever he’s in the batter’s box. He’s historically a better second half hitter, and he’s had moments in the postseason. Here’s where a bit of conjecture comes in though. It’s rare, outside of some spectacular players, that there will be good, consistent performances in October. You’ll have outsize madness, like Hideki Matsui in 2009 or David Ortiz in 2013, and you’ll have hideous nothings like Alex Rodriguez pre-2009. Neither is really a referendum on how good a player is, they just "sequenced poorly", or whatever jargon you want to use. But that’s why Napoli is so important. Despite his rate stats being worse than Ramirez, his ability to just blast a ball off a starting pitcher who’s well above 200 innings on the year and dealing with the cold of an October night could change a game. You can’t count on other guys always being on base in front of you, which means Ramirez may suffer.

There is one intangible to consider -- the two teams the Indians play on the way to the World Series are Napoli’s former teams. Not that this automatically means he’s going to turn into Babe Ruth and Ted Williams's mutated love child, but we’ve seen players work themselves up to dominate a former team for a game or two. That would change an entire series. It’s a big could/maybe/probably not, but it’s something.

So it boils down to, does Ramirez’s ability to just drop hits where the defenders ain't outweigh Napoli’s home run abilities? It’s hard to say. We’ve seen high contact teams win World Series, we’ve seen home run hitters win, and we’ve seen a blend of the two do it as well.

The lightning bolt of a sudden run is just so powerful though, so game changing, having Napoli continue to struggle as he has the last month could hurt. But consistent production is very nice as well. You just have to trust in the other guys as much as you do Ramirez. I know Napoli will strike out a lot, but he will swing really hard every time. The away parks the Indians will find themselves in have been very good to him in the past, and I think he could tilt a game or two. We’ll have to wait and see, but as far as I’m concerned, dingers over small ball, every day of the week.