Jose Ramirez was really good for the Indians in 2017. Like, really, really good. He was probably the best player on a team that had Francisco Lindor. Mike Petriello of MLB.com listed him as the third best third baseman in baseball, he came in a hair behind Kris Bryant’s 6.7 fWAR in 2017 (he earned 6.6) and he also performed well at second base with Jason Kipnis out. The fact it came form nearly nowhere made it all the sweeter. He’s only just turned 25, too. What can we expect going forward?
According to Baseball Reference, there have been nine seasons since 1901 that saw a third baseman 25 or younger earn at least 6.9 bWAR and post an OPS over 140. Oddly, all these seasons have been since 2001, when Albert Pujols still played third, hit 37 home runs and 47 doubles and earned 6.6 WAR. Ramirez’s 2017 is right in the middle of the pack of these stunning seasons with his 6.9 bWAR (yes, it’s different than the fWAR I cited earlier, the two sites use different defensive stats) and 149 OPS+. Ramirez also gets a bit of a WAR bump defensively because he played 71 games at second base, which has a more generous positional adjustment than third does. That doesn’t take away from his ability though - he still had as many extra base hits as Giancarlo Stanton, produced more offense than Paul Goldschmidt, and was worth at least as many wins as Joey Votto.
So where does he go from here? On that list of nine players I mentioned earlier, one that stuck out was David Wright. At 24, Wright was already a star, having been worth 17.2 bWAR the last three years and hitting .314/.396/.534 in that stretch. That’s very close to the .318/.374/.583 line Ramirez posted in 2017. Wright did walk more than Ramirez; he worked an 11.4 percent walk rate in that early stretch of his career compared to a 16.8 percent strikeout rate. Ramirez has been a bit more league average at the walking thing - 8.1 percent in 2017, but he also only struck out 10.7 percent of the time. This is a smidge from the year prior. So while their offensive profiles aren’t identical, both hit a good amount of homers at 24 - 30 for Wright, 29 for Ramirez - while also lasering doubles in bunches, Wright with 42 and Ramirez with an impossibly high 57.
We all know what eventually happened to Wright, he suffered from general fall-apart as he approached 30 and will likely miss out on what looked like a booking in Cooperstown. But for several years there, he was incredible:
David Wright, 2006 - 2012
By certain measures, that age 24 season was the best we ever saw of David Wright. And there is a chance that 2017 is the best we’ll ever see of Jose Ramirez. It was a very, very great season, borderline historic. It’s the ninth highest WAR by a third baseman in Indians history, and the 35th highest by any Indian position player, ever. Since integration, it’s the 19th best ever among Cleveland baseball players. They’ve been around a long time and had a lot of great players. It’s august company.
Another comp that made some sense took a bit of delving, but I found out Danny Tartabull had a very similar start to his career. The gloves of the two players are a different story - Tartabull never topped 4.4 WAR because of his strange glove - but like Ramirez, he had his first full season at 23, was very good, and got better. It’s tough to compare a third baseman and an outfielder of course, but this makes sense to me:
We are of course focusing on those age 23 and 24 seasons. Neither of them gave us enough to judge any earlier seasons, whether Tartabull’s insane highs or Ramirez’s crazy lows. If he followed the Tartabull track, he’d be a bit worse, but still excellent. And have the glove that Tartabull didn’t. Here’s the same chart, but including Wright:
You can see where the injuries started taking the toll on Wright, and how the future could hold anything for Ramirez. Both of these players had very similar mid-20’s. This is a path that one could see out of Ramirez.
Some worry about regression out of Ramirez. And there probably will be some. He was just so incredible in 2017, a bit of a fade is possible. But he actually dropped his BABIP in 2017 to a more sustainable .319 from .333 in 2016, he swung out of the zone more than two percentage points less often, chasing only 25.4 percent of the time, and elevated both his fly ball rate (39.7 percent, up 3.6 points) and his hard hit rate (34 percent, up 7.2 percent). He got much better in all respects. Just because it was surprising doesn’t mean it’s not repeatable. And shoot, he’s bigger than Jose Altuve.