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José Ramírez getting better, still not great

It’s been a long, slow climb back to effectiveness for José Ramírez, and it’s not over yet

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Miami Marlins v Cleveland Indians Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images

José Ramírez laced a rocket to deep right-center field to conclude his night at the dish on Wednesday, making that slight swell in your heart happen again that says, “He’s coming around. I feel it.”

That swat, a 100.6 mph, 28-degree fly with a .710 xAVG, landed safely into the glove of Miami Marlins center fielder Isaac Galloway, 395 feet away.

Just a matter of bad luck, it seems. If it seems to you as if Ramírez is having more and more of those moments, you are right.

The 26-year-old slugger is among the most unlucky players in baseball in terms of those expected (x) statistics. Ramírez sits 5th in the game among qualified hitters with a -.090 difference between his xwOBA and actual wOBA, in between fellow frustrated bats Gary Sanchez and Franmil Reyes.

For the record, only three Indians hitters have outperformed their xwOBAs so far, and only slightly: Carlos Santana (+.019), Jake Bauers (+.015) and Leonys Martin (+.009). Jason Kipnis sits just nine spots back on the bad list (-.066). All but Santana reside below 200th in xwOBA out of 294 total qualifiers.

Unsurprisingly, Ramírez holds the sixth biggest negative distinction between his SLG and xSLG, and the eighth-most unfortunate difference in his AVG and xAVG.

Of course it is not uncommon for stars to have long stretches of poor luck, and it makes it easy to say that things just aren’t going José’s way. Unfortunately that isn’t completely the case here.

That hopefully soon-to-be-regressing wOBA does not really have a great point to regress to - an xwOBA of .341. That mark places he and Jay Bruce just between James McCann and Dexter Fowler, not exactly the boppers previously mentioned.

Hey, speaking of Jay Bruce!

That one was 107.2 mph, José’s third-highest exit velocity of the year, with a .660 xAVG.

How about the night before?

Only a .480 xAVG, but that’s a barrel, my friends. Definitely some bad luck.

While folks would not be sounding the Early May alarm about José’s slugging his expected .447 at this point, it is still only the 126th-best xSLG. The paltry .253 xAVG is tied for 148th among expected numbers.

Moral of the story: José Ramírez’s numbers do not match the amount of quality contact he has made, but any worries about a drop off are still statistically sound.

As LGT’s Merritt Rohlfing looked into last week, Ramírez is not being pitched to much differently.

As far as what he can control, Ramírez has an incrementally higher barrel-rate than last year (8.6%/8.5%) and a higher line drive-rate (26.9%/23.4%) in the small sample size. Ramírez is chasing a tiny bit more (24.4%/21.5%), but he’s also making less contact on chases (67.2%/76.4%).

In the case of chasing, whiffing is generally, actually good. Mike Petriello did a nice dive into that idea in 2017, and Eno Sarris touched upon it a bit Wednesday, as well. Essentially, today’s whiff-happy climate aligns nicely with pitch selection, and the idea of contact at any cost can have a rather negative effect outside the zone.

Thanks to Statcast’s new hitting signatures, you can see that not much about José’s contact profile has changed much since last year either. He is driving the ball with almost the same EV, at nearly the same launch angle as a year ago.

José Ramírez is making contact with a similar profile to last year, they just haven’t fallen.
Baseball Savant

What still does stand out is the 25.8% of batted balls to the opposite field. That and his .218 wOBA against the shift, which is the cause of that approach in the first place.

So it would seem as if all the concerns about Ramírez looking to beat the shift by hitting the ball the opposite way is the only tangible approach that has held him back. Everything else about his approach indicates that he is replicating that which drove his success, minus some bad luck.

That obviously brings a nice bit of optimism to the situation. The problem is that luck does not regress, it’s purely unpredictable, if even a thing at all.

Should José attempt to keep beating the shift by circumventing it? Probably not, especially with Francisco Lindor back in tow.

The shift is meant to stifle hitters like Ramírez, but it should not prevent him from being successful altogether. If he were to abandon the full-field approach, the xwOBA would likely tick up, and with a little regression, a breakthrough should be near.