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Jose Ramirez’s breakout season wasn’t a fluke

The king of clutch, great hair, and snappy Twitter comebacks had his breakout season in 2016 and there is reason to believe he can repeat it.

MLB: World Series-Cleveland Indians at Chicago Cubs Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard to imagine the 2016 Cleveland Indians without Jose Ramirez. He consistently came through in the clutch, he hustled so hard that he couldn’t keep a helmet on his head to save his life, and got mid-game grooming sessions from star pitchers. By all accounts he was amazing, even if he still has @LetsGoTribe blocked on Twitter.

Anyone looking past Ramirez’s batting average in 2015 may have caught wind of his impending breakout. He walked in nine percent of his at-bats last season and struck out in just 11 percent — those kind of numbers do not usually add up to a .219/.291/.340 slash. Regression was looming. And when regression hit, it hit hard — in a good way, though. Not in a Josh Tomlin second-half of 2016 kind of way.

Ramirez blossomed into one of the Tribe’s best offensive players in 2016, and one of their most versatile on defense. With Michael Brantley on the shelf, Ramirez was thrown into left field and it was surprisingly not a total disaster. He had his fair share of mishaps, and ended his 48 games of left-field play with a -2 defensive runs saved. But still, considering someone like Matt Kemp can keep calling himself a left fielder every day, the Indians could have done a lot worse with Ramirez’s inexperience at the position.

When the Indians began to field an almost-complete outfield and Ramirez could play the infield again, he replaced Juan Uribe at third base. Not well enough to earn a Gold Glove, but enough to make Indians fans mostly forget about the third base as a major area of need. Once he took over the third base duties completely, on July 31, he did nothing but man the hot corner until the season ended.

As much fun as slightly-below-average defense is to talk about, Ramirez’s 2016 was all about the bat. Call it luck, call it skill, call it whatever you want, but Jose Ramirez was great this season with runners on base. Only three batters had a higher batting average than his .346 when runners were ready to score, and only a handful had more doubles.

Ramirez will never have 20 home run power, but his approach at the plate is phenomenal. In a way, he replaced Michael Brantley in the lineup as a guy who rarely misses, and even more rarely strikeouts. I will not pretend to be the first to make this comparison, but really, 2016 Jose Ramirez and 2015 Michael Brantley were almost identical in how they approached opposing pitchers.

Season O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone%
Brantley 24.8 % 62.5 % 42.8 % 83.6 % 96.5 % 92.6 % 47.7 %
Ramirez 28.0 % 59.6 % 43.8 % 81.6 % 92.5 % 89.0 % 50.1 %

One of the best things about existing in the same universe as Jose Ramirez this season was his helmet just refusing to stay on his head. While it was not the first time his helmet flew off, helmetless mania really began when he almost hit himself in the head sliding into second base. A lot of people loved Jose Ramirez before that, but in the ever-expanding lore of The Angry Hamster, that’s when he started getting a lot of attention.

The term “breakout season” gets thrown around a lot, but there is no mistaking Jose Ramirez’s 2016 season as a breakout. He played 152 games, the most in his career, and amassed 4.8 FanGraphs WAR, far above his previous high of 1.8 fWAR.

Only time will tell if being so good in the clutch is sustainable for Ramirez, but he finished the season with a very realistic BABIP of .333 and his Brantley-like approach at the plate should have Indians fans everywhere excited about Ramirez repeating what he did in 2016.

Ramirez may never be the team’s most valuable player, he may always be in Francisco Lindor’s shadow on the field, but no one is going to be able to ignore him if 2017 is anything remotely similar to 2016. And he’s always going to have one of the best personalities in baseball.

Just don’t ask him to do help with your math homework.