There are many ways to quantify and qualify the dazzling 2017 season Jose Ramirez had. As great as it’s been to see Francisco Lindor realize his talent, is there anything more awesome and exciting than seeing a relative unknown morph into a god of baseball? It happens more than we think, from former 13th-round pick Albert Pujols to John Smoltz in round 22, baseball seems to allow for this unlikely leap. Maybe it’s the number of players, maybe it’s how unlike other sports small changes can yield major results, but it’s a theme. Ramirez is just the Indians’ own result. He was great this year, a blast to watch.
He also happened to have the greatest single month of baseball in Cleveland history.
Entering September 2017, Ramirez was hitting .303/.357/.529 (130 wRC+) with 20 home runs and 43 doubles. He had comfortably solidified his place as one of the Indians’ best players after a surprise breakout 2016 where he hit .312/.363/.462 (121 wRC+). If he’d maintained that track, you can’t call that anything but a wonderful encore season and quite the harbinger of an excellent career. But then he ate some nuclear waste or exposed himself to gamma rays or something and exploded in September.
Only one player in Tribe history tops the 1.361 OPS Ramirez had in September. Shoeless Joe Jackson posted a 1.361 OPS in May 1913, though his .505/.579/.784 line, while still stupid good, is weighted a bit differently than that of Ramirez. His .407/.465/.895 September line was much more power-based. Where Jackson blasted one home run (or lined it into a pile of hay in the outfield a goat was eating, and the fielder couldn’t get it), Ramirez hit nine that month along with 13 doubles to Jackson’s 10. It was a different time of course. Offense came in different ways, like Jackson hitting seven of his 17 triples. But the major split in BABIP (.527 for Jackson against .347 for Ramirez) makes Ramirez’s pop a bit more. Sure, home runs aren’t included, but even with the non-homers he was a bit less lucky. You could convince yourself it’s a bit more real, which only makes it more impressive. He wasn’t just playing unconscious baseball, he was merely using all his skills and abilities to their absolute maximum.
A team that has called Cleveland home has played over 780 months of baseball since 1913. Doing some dirty math and multiplying that by 9 (number of players in each game) times that number gives us over 7,000 player-months of baseball. It’s a rough number, but it gives you an idea of the august company Ramirez finds himself in. An Indians player has crested 1.300 for a full month thirteen times. Along with Ramirez and Jackson, it includes three months by Albert Belle and Jim Thome each and once each for Manny Ramirez, Tris Speaker and Travis Hafner. These guys were massive power providers. And then there’s the diminutive Ramirez. The more you look, the more impressive it is.
Ramirez’s was best by many measures, deserving of praise and chronicling. But for me, personally, Belle’s September 1995 is has to be my favorite. But then, he’s my favorite. He knocked 17 home runs that month and posted a .313/.420/.929 line. That’s good for a 139 tOPS+, meaning he performed 39 percent better than his own 1995 average which was already an insane .317/.401/690 (173 wRC+). He also did this after hitting another 14 dingers that August when he should have won MVP. Most of these months of domination were powered by a sky-high on-base percentage — Thome was over .500 all three of his, as was Tris Speaker, Jackson and Belle himself in May 1994 — but that .929 slugging percentage is ridiculous. I barely do that in video games. He was locked in all year and took it to a level unheard of as Autumn approached.
I never thought Ramirez would top last June when he leapt from solid player to MVP candidate. Hitting .367/.405/.661 for a whole month was special, everything a guy on a hot streak is supposed to look like. That was supposed to luck or his most locked in possible or something. He wasn’t that kind of player usually, he was just seeing the ball well. Surely it was unrepeatable. Color me the fool. Once September hit, all he did was inscribe himself in Tribe lore alongside some if the franchise’s greatest players. He turned 25 in the middle of the month, making him the youngest Indian to complete this kind of feat. That’s pretty neat. Sure would be great for all baseball fans (and Cleveland, too) if this was just a hint of things to come.
Here’s that chart of all these monstrous months, though, courtesy of the best website ever, Baseball Reference.
Best months in Indians history by OPS
|1||Shoeless Joe Jackson||May||1913||27||1||27||114||97||24||49||10||7||23||4||16||5||.505||.579||.784||1.362|