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What happened to Jose Ramirez in the ALCS?

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A force in the series against the Red Sox, the Indians' third baseman was a ghost against Toronto. Let's take a peek.

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

It's hard to find something to be upset about in Cleveland right now. The Indians are waiting for the National League to figure itself out so they can play host to the World Series. It’s all optimism in that clubhouse after offing the Toronto Blue Jays in five games. It was a close series, the lowest scoring ALCS in history, and every game a constant tightrope walk. The Indians got just enough offense each time they needed it. While it worked once, it’s not something to bank on.

Amid all the winning there was the conspicuous absence of Jose Ramirez. Usually in the middle of any Tribe rally or outburst, Ramirez was 1-for-17 with one RBI in the series. As good as others in the lineup have been, not to mention the pitching staff, beating whoever they face in the Classic demands Ramirez’s presence. Where’d he go?

Before we go further, I feel mentioning a piece I wrote a few weeks back is needed. I focused on Napoli and Ramirez, and who the Indians could easier suffer a slump. After two series, the answer is inconclusive. Ramirez hit .500 and scored four runs against Boston, while Napoli hit a vital home run in Game 3 of the ALCS to help Cleveland gain a chokehold on the series. I still maintain that if all other things are equal, Napoli on a hot streak is more helpful than Ramirez, because the ball goes further. That said, Santana (.250 OBP) and Kipnis (.100 OBP) didn’t get on base enough to at least give Ramirez the chance to work his magic. Lindor was a force, but that’s it. Even when given the shot, though, Ramirez didn’t get it done.

In going 1-for-17, Ramirez left seven men on base, three of them in scoring position. Only once did he cash one in, an RBI single that drove in Mike Napoli. So there’s a great chance, downright likely in fact and this is all for nothing, that it’s all just simple bad luck. Poor sequencing of hitting and a luckless stretch. After all, his BABIP in the series was .067. That in itself tells us the ball just found its way to fielders’ gloves. All year he had a .333 BABIP, which while higher than average and for some players possibly unsustainable, his method of hitting to all fields with grounders (creators of high BABIP) and line drives will give him a higher rate than most. But it’s still dependent on his finding holes in the defense.

He’s not getting pitched any differently, based on his heat maps, the first from all season and the second from the ALCS:

ALCS:

Which leads me to believe we may just be in "one of those things" territory. He struck out twice and didn’t walk once, but he was never a big walker in the regular season. One strikeout came from a rare lefty, and the other when Estrada dropped a murderous change up on him. He usually kills change ups, hitting .358 with three of his 11 homers off those, but when a change gets hung it gets blasted. This one was perfectly set up and executed. He didn’t stand a chance.

Where are the balls going then, making his numbers so low? Here’s Ramirez’s spray chart from this year when facing right-handed pitching, which he did all series save for two at-bats against JA Happ where he struck out and grounded out.

Now here’s the spray chart against righties in the series.

As is always the problem when looking at postseason performances, it’s a small sample size. And you could say the distribution of grounders and whatnot is somewhat similar to all his batted balls in the regular season. He does have a concerted drop in line drive rate. It’s fallen to 16.7% in October from 22.1% in the regular season. On the flip side of that, though, judging from that spray chart he has 14 balls in play in the ALCS. Three of those were rated as line drives. That works out to a 21.4% line drive rate, right in line with his season numbers. What this tells us is, there is either going to be continued bad luck, or possibly a reversion to what we saw this past summer from him.

This doesn’t take into account his work against lefties since he got out twice facing one in the ALCS, and regardless of who the Tribe faces next week he has to deal with either Jon Lester or Clayton Kershaw. If that’s not the two best left-handed starters in baseball, they’re on the short list. So Ramirez should be forgiven if he has a bad showing whatever day that is. But he had some bad luck and faced realistically one of the best defensive outfields in the AL, save for Bautista. His approach didn't ever seem to be poor, he's just not getting them to fall.

At the end of the day, the key to Ramirez really making an impact is going to be the guys in front of him as much as anything else. The Indians won the series against Toronto because there are bats in that lineup that can get the ball out of the yard. That is not Ramirez. He made his name in part by having absurd RISP numbers and driving in key runs. He’ll have chances, as he did in the ALCS. And as we saw in the Divisional round, even without guys in front he can have some impact. Maybe he'll steal a bunch of bases off Lester or something. As long as his glove holds, and it will be so vital in these final games, he’s a net positive. A bit more of his magic would be a boon, though.