The Cleveland Indians are 4-2 since Michael Brantley returned to his normal slot in the lineup. They've scored at least four runs in all but one game (that hideous 2-1 mess of a loss to Texas) and have looked generally dominant. The lineup looks as it was "supposed to" last year, though having Edwin Encarnacion instead of Mike Napoli is certainly a nice change. But in this stretch, and looking back on the season this has been a problem too, there's a certain, glaring flaw. Jose Ramirez is batting fifth.
WHY IS JOSE RAMIREZ BATTING FIFTH!?!?!
There is almost literally no argument supporting placing Ramirez fifth in the lineup. Since moving there, he's hit .304/.360/.743, which is actually a step back from the previous 13 games where he batted third and logged a .500/.541/.911 line. He is performing better than Miguel Sano, who is twice his size and able to tear trees in two. He is performing better than any and everyone else in the lineup, and yet wallows two or three spots behind where he rightfully should be. It's a travesty, perhaps the crime of the century to rob fans of the electricity by fractions of an at-bat per game.
I don't accept the idea of slotting players in a lineup because of what they did a year or even two years ago. Baseball is a meritocracy — you are where you are for what you’re doing. Some foolish teams pay for what players have done, but that gives you Albert Pujols contracts. As good a player's manager as Terry Francona is, I expect more from him. Not to be caught by tradition and sentimentality. Even if he is a sweetie, he is the one who bumped Jason Kipnis out of the lead-off role last year despite Kip’s crushing it in 2015, and moved Carlos Santana all about the lineup for the good of the team. It just benefited the player, too. He’s even started batting Santana as low as sixth this season because of lack of production. It's plain he's not blind to current goings on with his team.He must see the production, and more importantly the lack of production from Francisco Lindor and Kipnis. And also the amazingness of Ramirez. It’s a strange blindness for such a brilliant man to suffer.
If it's archetypes we're talking, there are few batters more designed for batting second than Ramirez, in the traditional sense, than Ramirez. He has excellent bat control and contact skills, which in the old days would have been vital for the second part of the "get 'em on, get 'em over, get 'em in" offensive approach. He can steal bases, leading the team with nine. He can also hit home runs, doubles, whatever. Mike Trout bats second, is that not proof enough of batting your best guy there? I called Ramirez a jack of all trades, master of none a little while back. Seems to me I was the one who misjudged. He's masterful at baseball, that's for sure.
And another thing. If the two-hole is good enough for Erik Gonzalez when he's filling in for Ramirez, why can't the man himself have it? Gonzalez saw a pair of bases loaded situations when he was taking Ramirez's place, and squandered them like some kind of rookie. Think about it this way — on average, each slot you move down the lineup, you lose an average of seven plate appearances over a year. That's 21 plate appearances that Jose would lose, which would work out to six or seven hits, probably all doubles. Possibly to the opposite field, the most fun hit. That's the difference between a couple games won and lost, and a merely very good season versus an amazing one.
If I had my choice, Ramirez would lead off all the time, and the Indians would clone him and have him play every position except shortstop, and maybe center field now that Bradley Zimmer has proven to be some sort of super human. And maybe right field, because Lonnie Chisenhall is the best. Shoot, bat him third, like a team should with their best hitter. Put Encarnacion in front of him so there's more chance of base runners. I love Michael Brantley, he's the proto-Ramirez in terms of out of nowhere-ness and in terms of what Ramirez did last year — the classic Brantley batting line. But right now he's at best the fourth best hitter on the team. There's just a weird perception that surrounds him and Lindor, that makes it so even though they're being stunningly outhit by the only Indian that's starting the All-Star Game, they still bat first. They're supposed to be the good ones, not the guy who looks like he comes from Central Casting for "anonymous baseball player". They’re just not doing it
It's stupid to complain about batting order. Two innings in and it barely matters. Such are the small issues of a first place team. But seriously, why is he hitting fifth? He's probably the best offensive player in the entire division right now. He's perfect as a leadoff hitter, number two, cleanup, any of that jazz, and he gets superseded by what I can only assume is reputation. He's plainly a better man than I, since he's accepted it without complaint and just continues to destroy baseballs and aid the team. But someone's gotta be indignant about a perceived, definitely nonexistent slight.
Eventually Jose will probably cool off, and Lindor or Brantley or someone will go on an ungodly tear and make a case for themselves as the team's best offensive player. But right now it's Ramirez, and he should hit as often as possible. Lineups should be fluid, and flow towards more, better hitters. Right now that means Ramirez, and right now he is everything an offensive centerpiece should be.
But seriously, fifth?