If Jose Ramirez’s goal is to prove his doubters wrong and be named an MVP, he picked the right year to go off. Unless he can outlast the likes of Mike Trout, or switch leagues and hope to beat out any number of great players over in the National League, 2017 was the year to go all-out as the perennial MVP went down with an injury early.
Ramirez did just that, posting career highs in wRC+ (148), on-base percentage (.374), slugging percentage (.583), batting average (.318), and of course WAR (6.6). Likes his infield mate Francisco Lindor, Ramirez came out hot with a 156 wRC+ through April, but he hit a rough patch in May when the balls were not falling where he wanted them to; he slashed just .258/.330/.398 for the month. After scorching months in June and July he hit a huge rut in August, slashing .235/.284/.402 for the month and effectively dashing his MVP hopes as Jose Altuve, Aaron Judge, and Mike Trout all surged. Then September happened.
Ramirez took over full-time second base duties to replace an injured Jason Kipnis in late August, and probably coincidentally, he tore the league apart a week later and throughout the rest of the regular season. Throughout the month of September, Ramirez racked up 35 hits, 13 doubles, nine home runs, and a triple for good measure for a .407/.465/.895 slash and incredible 244 wRC+. All of his in 101 plate appearances.
While he already had a career-high mark in home runs entering the final month of the season, the nine that he posted in September left him one shy of being a 30-home run hitter, but hitting 29 — nearly double how many he hit in his career prior to this season — isn’t too shabby, either.
The dingers were nice, but what Jose became known for in 2017 (besides losing his helmet) was his doubles. He reached second base an MLB-leading 56 times this season, and as a result scored 107 times, fourth in the American League. Ramirez’s 56 two-baggers has him in elite company — only 12 players have had more doubles in a season than Ramirez in MLB history, and only one other Indian, Tris Speaker with 59, has had more.
Ramirez accomplished this through something that we saw emerging in 2016 that flourished in 2017 — his ability to control the zone. Similar to peak Michael Brantley, Ramirez doesn’t miss the ball when the bat leaves his shoulder. He struck out just 10.7 percent of the time in 2017, which is only 0.7 percent higher than he whiffed in 2016, and he made contact 87.4 percent of the time. Ramirez was extremely selective when he chased outside of the zone (25.4 percent of the time), and when he did, he made solid contact 76.6 percent of the time. That’s a big part of what fueled his MVP bid, along with the emerging power. stroke.
Unfortunately for Ramirez, his bat vanished in the playoffs. Worse yet, the New York Yankees might have shown the world how to defeat the Angry Hamster, with a heavy dose of sliders. Not every team can throw sliders like the Yankees, who finished 2017 with the most effective sliders in baseball, but it’s a blueprint that’s out there now and Jose won’t have a chance to prove himself against this strategy until next April.
As for that MVP race, Ramirez’s slump in August might’ve done too much damage. That, and Aaron Judge being in New York and Jose Altuve being on such a great Houston Astros team will probably help one of them win out over Jose.
While he might not win the award for the league, Jose was undoubtedly the most valuable player to the Cleveladn Indians. His ability to shift flawlessly from third base to second base allowed the Indians to carry on without Jason Kipnis, to allow Giovanny Urshela and Yandy Diaz to split at-bats at third instead of forcing Erik Gonzalez to play every day at second.
Ramirez was great in 2017, and he’s only going to get better in 2018.