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Something’s not right with José Ramírez

It’s a little thing, but it’s off nonetheless

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

As frustrating as the Indians have been at times, as snake-bit as some of their stars seem to have been, it’s amazing to think how decently they’re doing so far. They had the best start of Terry Francona’s Tribe career, a couple sweeps of some decent teams, and your fair share of heartrending collapses. Perhaps more than just a fair share. But despite all that, things aren’t completely dreadful.

Except for José Ramírez. Yes, he’s a slow starter — for his career he’s hit just .249/.312/.418 in April, though the last two years that looks more substantial at .296/.369/.551. Lines like that are more what we expect out of him. So this mess he’s shown us this season — the .464 OPS, the mere 9.0% walk rate, the one measly home run and just a handful of extra-base hits from a guy who led baseball in that stat the last two years, it’s rightfully distressing.

It’s fair to say that a hot streak like we’ve seen him be capable of would wash all this away. A handful of 2-for-3’s and 3-for-4’s with a few walks can cure a lot of ailments. And he did post a 1.302 OPS the first half of May last year, then 1.079 the rest of the month. That could happen again, and we’d all feel better.

But right now, he is bad. It’s hard to find a real reason. As this chart shows:

José Ramírez types by year

Season Team FB% SL% CT% CB% CH%
Season Team FB% SL% CT% CB% CH%
2016 Indians 58.8% (92.0) 10.1% (84.3) 3.8% (88.0) 10.2% (77.6) 14.2% (83.4)
2017 Indians 54.5% (92.3) 13.0% (85.0) 4.3% (88.4) 11.5% (78.2) 15.2% (83.9)
2018 Indians 49.6% (92.8) 16.2% (84.3) 4.4% (88.5) 12.6% (79.2) 15.5% (84.2)
2019 Indians 52.3% (92.6) 20.5% (84.1) 1.9% (88.1) 13.3% (78.9) 10.9% (84.8)
Total - - - 56.5% (92.2) 12.5% (84.3) 4.0% (88.3) 10.7% (78.3) 14.3% (83.8)

He’s not being pitched that differently. If anything he’s getting more of what he likes, more fastballs than he did a year ago, though a number down from his career rates, and is seeing more sliders. He’s also seeing more balls in the zone than last year, 42.4% compared to 40.4%. He’s seeing pitches to hit, he’s just not hitting them well.

Take a look at these two videos of his swing. Both are in basically the same part of the zone, down and away-ish, on a pitch basically the same velocity, 91-92. On the left is a home run from 2018; on the right a flare single from this season.

At first blush they’re not that different, though he seems to be moving a bit quicker this year, a bit less smoothly than a season ago. But the more you watch the loop, the more you realize Ramírez isn’t getting his foot down at quite the same time this year. It appears that his timing might just be so subtly off so as to throw everything hideously out of whack. If you look just as the front foot full hits and the weight transfer begins, it’s a bit more easy to see.

Here’s 2018:

And this year:

See what I mean? The rotation of his core is a bit ahead of his lower body this year, he’s more bent over, and his knee is breaking too. The chain of events needed to blast a baseball are so precise, this small twitch can throw it all off.

It’s the small things that make the difference in this game. And maybe that’s not all of it. Perhaps it’s more just sequencing, of his not being in the right mindset, the right rhythm and getting caught out more this year looking for a different pitch. But that later load, and that later step, that is the difference between good weight transfer and a well-struck ball, and the Mendoza line.

A player finding his timing is just something that takes, well, time sometimes. Whether he’s dealing with new approaches by opposing pitchers, the negative impact of age, or just feeling a bit funky, players of Ramírez’s caliber don’t just get super terrible over a single offseason. The Indians aren’t in some deep hole that they’ll never escape from, but it would be nice to give the pitching staff a lift more consistently.