It seems like so long ago, but there was a time when Jose Ramirez was simply a more compact version of Michael Brantley. When he broke out in 2016 you could take his slash line that year (.312/.363/.462) slap Brantley’s name on it and no one would be the wiser. In fact it’s almost exactly what PECOTA expected from Brantley. If that had held up as Ramirez’s yearly output, all you’re looking at is a top five third baseman in the league. But Ramirez didn’t want to do that. He experienced the life of Brantley and evidently found it not to his liking. All those singles can be exhausting. It’s simply too tiring hustling to first, and ground balls up the middle are just passe. Plainly, Ramirez simply got sick of base hits.
It’s apostasy to say such a thing in front of some more old school types, but it’s evident Ramirez just doesn’t like hitting singles. Everything about his progression the last couple years just screams that. What’s one thing you have to do to get a lot of base hits? Swing the bat, right? Ramirez has steadily trended downward in his swing rate, now only offering at a pitch 40.2 percent of the time. Less than the famously patient Joey Votto, in fact the 18th lowest rate in baseball. He’s simply not up there to dink and dunk anymore, as evidenced by that league leading home run total.
So if he’s not chasing after singles, what’s he doing? Well, that’s quite obvious, isn’t it? He’s walking a whole ton, 14.1 percent of the time this year. That’s nearly twice his career high of a year ago. He’s hitting those home runs and a clutch of doubles to go along with them. Heck, 52 percent of his total hits are for extra bases. He’s only singled 40 times in 336 plate appearances. Hitting only a few singles is a sign of two things - being bad, or clobbering baseballs. Right now only 32 players out of a possible 74 have 45 or fewer singles in at least 300 plate appearances. Of those, only two - Ramirez and Aaron Judge — have an OPS over .900, along with Paul Goldschmidt at .899. Nobody can truthfully say they ever considered those three in the same sentence, except maybe “Jose Ramirez could sit comfortably on only a few players’ shoulders like a parrot…” and yet here they are. Ignoring dribblers and launching bombs.
Ramirez started doing two things this year that would make a Brantley man feel ill, and it’s a direct cause of all these non-singles. His fly ball rate leapt nearly five points to 44.3 percent this season, and he’s pulling the ball 56.3 percent of the time. That’s 10 percent higher than a year ago, and far from the player we saw two years ago. Which, incidentally, is a little upsetting to see because it makes you wonder just how great Brantley himself could be if he’d just stop hitting those damn grounders.
For such a small man, the amount of power Ramirez just doesn’t make sense. And now with all these walks he’s simply a compressed version of a prototypical power hitter. The way he’s improved in this so abruptly you have to wonder – what’s next? He’s already dropped his O-Swing rate to the 25th lowest in baseball, his contact rate is still top 20, and even on pitches in the zone he’s dropped his swing rate to 64.1 percent, his lowest since he became a regular player. He just doesn’t make bad decisions. In fact, if Statcast is correct he’s only chased on pitches out of the zone 3.9 percent of the time compared to 15.3 percent of the time last year. His sense of the plate and his own zone has reached insane levels.
Everything Ramirez does every day is amazing, both for its unexpectedness and for it’s simple excellence. I never thought he’d improve on his 2017, or his 2016 for that matter. And yet, he’s still not in his prime. That could be a lot of fun. If he can have his way, it’s nothing but dingers, doubles and walks for him. His end goal is obviously just strutting after every batted ball, no running. Singles simply muss the hair too much. And at the end of the day, that’s the real focus of his game.2