Calling any professional athlete — or anyone in general — "fearless" is almost never a foolproof assessment. No matter what kind of face someone puts on, we really cannot know if they are scared out of their mind doing whatever it is they are being stoic about. But when it comes to watching Jose Ramirez at the plate and rounding the bases, fearless is the first term that comes to mind.
The first thing that many Cleveland Indians fans associate with Jose Ramirez is his helmet flying off while hustling around the bases, or more recently, or his fiery orange-red hair. Both of those qualities of Ramirez are superficial, but they perfectly encapsulate how Ramirez plays the game: Always full-speed, always like he’s literally on fire, and always without fear.
Defining what it looks to play without fear is tricky, but let’s break it down into some categories that Ramirez easily fits into.
He swings at balls outside the zone and makes great contact
If you are a batter at the plate who is scared or not completely confident in yourself, you may hesitate to swing at pitches outside of the zone. And rightfully so — if you are most batters, you would probably swing and miss and bring shame to your family. But not Jose Ramirez.
Among qualified batters in the American League, only the Detroit Tigers’ Jose Iglesias has made better contact outside the strike zone than Jose Ramirez’s 83.8 O-Contact%. That does not mean he is wildly swinging at pitches outside of the zone, either. Ramirez ranks 57th among the same group of batters, taking aim at 27.4 percent of balls not in the strike zone.
Although his contact on balls in the zone is a bit low compared to elite contact players (89.9%), he still ranks third in overall contact rate at 87.8 percent. All of this has added up to Ramirez’s strikeout rate continuing to drop as his career progresses. He whiffed in 13.2 percent of his plate appearances in his 2014 rookie campaign, and it has steadily dropped in the year-and-a-half since to the 10.8 percent it sits at in 2016.
If being an elite contact hitter that does not strike out a lot sounds familiar to you, it should. Michael Brantley is better at both of these things that Ramirez, of course, but the two are shaping up to be very similar hitters. Ramirez may never reach Brantley’s elite-level sub-nine percent strikeout rates, but he is already walking as much — if not more than —Brantley has in many of his best seasons, and he is already making better contact outside of the zone (83.5% career compared to Brantley’s 82%).
He hits best in high-leverage situations
Ramirez’s clutchiness, clutchosity, gritasticness, or whatever you want to call it has already been widely discussed every time he comes up to bat with a runner on base and, like clockwork, he manages to get them home with one swing of the bat.
Our own Angry Hamster does not have the power numbers to keep up with the typical "clutch hitters" like David Ortiz and Jose Altuve, but few players put the ball in play as often as Ramirez does with runners in scoring position. In fact, in 2016, only Yunel Escobar has a higher batting average with runners ready to score for the Los Angeles Angels than Jose Ramirez does for the Tribe. Ramirez’s full slash with RISP sits at .384/.433/.488 (151 wRC+, 12th in AL).
Ramirez also has one of the lowest strikeout rates with runners in scoring position, sitting 15th among qualified American League batters at 11.2 percent. Among those same batters, when wood does meet leather, Ramirez has the seventh-highest line drive percentage at 27.3 percent.
The biggest curiosity of Ramirez’s ability to hit with runners in scoring position is that his percent of hard-hit balls sits at just 16.7 percent, last among those same AL batters. However, he is ranked fourth in medium-hit balls 62.8 percent.
Whether or not "clutch" is a real skill, it is hard to argue with the results so far for Ramirez in 2016: When someone is on base, he becomes an elite hitter.
He’ll put the ball anywhere in the field
A good job of shifting can reduce once-great hitters to puddles of nothing. Once teams figured out that Ryan Howard could not hit a ball to opposite field to save a drowning puppy, they effectively nullified him by putting every available fielder in their entire organization on his pull side.
There is no such thing as shifting in the world of facing Jose Ramirez. His spray chart shows a switch-hitter who can put the ball anywhere, no matter which side of the plate he is on, or the handedness of the pitcher.
Take, for example, his chart against right-handed batters, whom Ramirez exclusively bats left-handed against:
Now, what about against left-handed pitchers?
If percentages are more your thing, they paint the same exact picture: Jose Ramirez puts the ball everywhere. According to FanGraphs, 37.1 percent of his hits this season have been pulled, 31.4 percent have been hit to center, and 31.4 percent have been opposite field hits.
Please, tell me how you are going to shift against that. I’ll wait.
You’re not, that’s how.
He is just as fearless on the basepaths
Does this one even need explaining? Words do not do justice to how much effort Jose Ramirez puts out on the basepaths, and how fearless he attacks the ground with each step. So I’ll let video do the talking.
Majestic. Fast. Fearless.