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José Ramírez found plenty of home run pitches in 2020

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He is good

Chicago White Sox v Cleveland Indians Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images

A fun game with José Ramírez is to go to Baseball Reference’s game logs and just randomly select stretches of 10 games to just see how good he was this year. For example, from Sept. 13 to 23, he posted a .400/.455/.950 line. From Aug. 24 to Sept. 4, when he was in a bit of a lull, he still popped .250/.348/.500. Even just the first ten games of the year, he was incredible with a .333/.429/.556, and we should have known something was coming. Cleveland needed someone to do some heavy lifting on offense this year. It came as only a bit of a surprise that the smallest among them turned into a goliath on the field.

There are few things more amazing and fun to watch in all of baseball than Ramírez on a sustained hot streak. It’s mind-bending how good he can be when it all falls into place. Players get hot all the time, and good players beat up on bad pitching because it’s their job, but it’s a rare thing to see a player so completely and utterly dominate the opposition, no matter who they face. Like few others, at his best Ramírez has the ability to go nuclear and put a team on his back, dragging them kicking and screaming into wins. The Cleveland Indians were dreadful offensively in 2020, ranking 27th in wRC+ and OPS, and with just 248 runs scored all year, they ranked behind cellar dwellers and rebuild projects like the Tigers, Royals, or Orioles. Ramírez would have stood out among his teammates if he were merely alright at the plate. Fortunately for us, and for Cleveland, he was so much more.

Ramírez had a disappointing, miserable 2019, simple as that. For half the season he seemed like a different person, posting a .652 OPS before the break. it took a Herculean effort in the final months eked that OPS over .800 and gave him at least a decent 105 wRC+ to go home with. That needed forgetting, and the way he just blitzed out of the gate was a wonderful mind wipe. It may have been just 60 games, but he took full advantage of it and made sure Cleveland had the opportunity to at least try for something in the postseason.

Thanks to wins above replacement, we have an idea of where Ramírez actually dragged this team. At 3.4 fWAR, he was a main reason they had home field advantage in the playoffs since they tied with the White Sox but had the tiebreaker. His hitting .324/.419/.595 against those same White Sox is a reason they won the tiebreaker. If not for that, the team might have found itself in Oakland for the Wild Card series. Maybe it would have been better to not have to face the Yankees. But for how outplayed they were, it was probably a bit nice to fly across the country after a miserable loss either. Who’s to say?

It was an ebb and flow kind of a season for the third baseman. After that big burst to open the year, his OPS was a mere .700 in August. He was strong to open September, but barely even thought of as a fringe candidate. Something happened though, whether luck, something clicking, or him just deciding to become some sort of demigod, but in the middle of September, he erupted. Remember when we were all worried about Cleveland losing eight games in a row? It seemed impossible to come back from. They were still a playoff team, but basically on a technicality, and who knows how much further they could fall? Over that same stretch, Ramírez hit .348/.400/.652, which evidently wasn’t enough. “Enough”, evidently, is something more like .436/.522/1.103, which Ramírez hit from September 17th through the end of the season. That is a slugging percentage, not an OPS.

When a team has roughly five and a half decent major league hitters, when your second best hitter would barely crack the top seven in the lineup of your eventual Wild Card Series opponent, sometimes a player has to do the work of two men. It can’t go on forever, even Barry Bonds “only” slugged .863 at his very best, but for a few games or weeks, a good player can transcend. This is what Ramírez is capable of, more so than any Cleveland player I can rightly remember. For that stretch to end the year, like he has so many times before, Ramírez was impossible to get out. Superstars make themselves known. He was shouting from the mountaintops, and hopefully people noticed.

FanGraphs’ 60-game split tool they built for this puts this into great context. Ramirez posted a 163 wRC+ this year. He was worth 3.4 fWAR. Prorated to a whole season, that’s nearly a Mike Trout kind of run, something near-impossible for mere mortals. Ramírez is so electrifying when he clicks, this year ranks as his 110th best 60-game stretch. His best? A block of games from mid-May to mid-July of 2018 when he posted a 193 wRC+, earned himself 4.6 fWAR, hit .320/.429/.680, and swiped 15 bases to boot. He didn’t quite get to those heights, but this whole season is a perfect example of what Ramirez can do for a team, despite its best efforts to resist him.

Ramírez might not be the “face of baseball” type of player like Francisco Lindor. The camera isn’t naturally drawn to him, though his presence is that of a man twice his size. I don’t know what he’s like in the clubhouse, though it sounds like he’s a cool guy to be around. I just know that this year, when the team was struggling, he refused to accept it, grabbed them all by the collar, and dragged them to within spitting distance of a division crown. He drove in four runs in the postseason, going 3-for-7 with three doubles, and did all he could to help the team survive and advance. The results, the captivating nature of his entire game, he was everything for the Indians this year. Marvelous, otherworldly, transcendent, heroic, there’s a million words you could use to describe what Jose Ramirez is at his best, and in 2020, we have to use each and every one.