How Jose Ramirez isn’t a bigger story in baseball rignt now is utterly mind-blowing.
Three years, three consecutive leaps up the ladder of excellence from star to superstar and now he finds himself among the absolute elite of players. FanGraphs and Baseball Reference place him behind only Mike Trout by WAR, with Baseball Prospectus placing him third behind Mookie Betts. This year the power is through the roof too, as Ramirez has made yet another massive change to how he hits. Literally nobody in baseball is pulling the ball as much as he is.
This is surprising in part because of what he once was. His first big year he was a Michael Brantley clone, slugging .462 with a decent walk rate spraying the ball around the park, living off liners and ground balls. piled up doubles and a handful of homers just like Brantley in 2016, then added a bit of power in 2017. Of note, though, he’s steadily started pulling the ball more and more, from each side of the plate. This year it’s reached an incredible peak:
Jose Ramirez pulled batted ball rates
|Year||Pull%||Pull% as L||Pull% as R|
|Year||Pull%||Pull% as L||Pull% as R|
His pull rate this season is the highest by any player since Brian Dozier in 2016 when the Twins second baseman blasted 42 home runs. That’s more than just possible for Jose at this point between his elevated home run rate and his new batted ball profile. In addition to the pulling of the ball, he’s also hitting a fly ball 44.5 percent of the time after never cracking 40 percent in his career. In these ways he’s much like Dozier. But because of who he still is, he’s way, way better.
Usually a spike in fly ball rate plus an effort to just hit more home runs, as Jose is obviously doing, leads to a drop in contact rate. Which would be troubling because a strong contact rate is the very thing that made him a mini-Brantley a couple years back. Or part of it at least. This year his overall contact rate is 86.9 percent, a percentage point below his career average. So yeah, it did drop. It’s a wonder he’s survived. He’s making just as much contact, but he’s according to FanGraphs he’s making hard contact 39.6 percent of the time, five points better than his career high last year. He’s walking way more than ever at 13.7 percent too. It’s an incredible development.
This evolution, taken in pieces, makes a ton of sense in terms of the trends even if nobody could have ever predicted it in 2016. Or even last year. The walk rate is a bit of an absurd leap. And yeah, he had 91 extra-base hits last year, but the doubles more so than the home runs felt normal. Everyone hit a billion homers in 2017, so what if Jose did to? It was the new normal. While home run rate hasn’t cratered compared to the record 13.7 HR/FB% ratio of 2017, it’s back at 2016 levels at 12.6 percent. Things have taken a step back. Ramirez hasn’t though. He’s become one of the premier power threats in the game.
So what’s the end game here? Does he become like a tiny David Ortiz, yanking everything over the wall and just ignoring the opposite field altogether? It worked for Dozier for a while, though he’s fallen into the same Mystery Spot the rest of the Twins seem to have gotten lost in . And Ramirez does have contact and bat speed skills that Dozier never demonstrated. It’s that combination of contact and bat speed that allow Ramirez to do what he’s doing now, something few if any players really have. He’s still so young, still with his whole prime ahead of him, there’s no reason to change now. But some day in the future, that bat might slow down. It’d be neat if he just reverted to his 2016 form when that came around and his mid-30’s are just as incredible.
But that’s a wondering for another day. For now he’s more than pulling his own weight.