Sometime later this month, José Ramírez is going to cross the 30 wins above replacement threshold for his career, and if all goes well, will enter the top 25 all-time WAR leaders in Cleveland baseball history by the end of the season.
He’ll be just 29 and already have had a tremendous career. For a guy who was quite clearly a complete unknown coming into his first major league appearance in 2013, this is incredible. He is incredible. You could say that he’s going to be an all-time Cleveland baseball great by the time he ends his career here, but the fact of the matter is, he already is. And now, it looks like he’s beginning to peak.
We’ve already seen some incredible seasons from Ramírez. Last year was absurd, especially a September run where he hit .366/.453/.841 with 10 homers in 23 games to lift Cleveland to home-field advantage. Even before that though, the two-year run from 2017-2018 with a .294/.380/.567 slash along with averaging 47 doubles and 34 home runs over those two years along with borderline Gold Glove defense was otherworldly. I also don’t think we talk enough about his 2019. Despite the middling — literally league average — .806 OPS he put up on the season, he slashed .321/.356/.722 from July 1 on to salvage one of the most miserable extended slumps in baseball history.
I think we couldn’t quite give him his due because the guy playing next to him was such a shining paragon of baseball perfection, but Ramírez has been a better player than Franciso Lindor over the last several years. With the lights solely on him this season though, I think we’re going to be looking at some truly absurd numbers by the time they hit 162.
You could look at his .253/.343/.527 slash and be appreciative, but altogether unimpressed. Those numbers are a far cry from the slugging percentage over .600, and the OBP alone is 20 or so points lower than we’d like. His 134 rBat+ (Baseball Reference’s equivalent to wRC+) is his second-lowest since 2017 when he became a premier power hitter, and if you knock out that miserable 2019 it certainly isn’t encouraging at all. At least, not if you’re expecting him to have some kind of career year.
A couple of things play into believing that we are going to see something special out of Ramírez soon. First, we haven’t really had a true nuclear detonation of a run like he’s prone to get into. Stretches like last September, or that whole half a season in 2019, or his .336/.432/.757 run in May of 2018. It’s not that this is part of his game, per se, but it’s certainly something we’ve come to expect.
The other thing is, well, the literal “expected” stats that Baseball Savant gives us. Baseball being a game of sticking to your process as much as it is, you’re going to get unlucky but you have to play through it. Screaming liners that find gloves, deep bombs that find the deepest part of the park when the wind is blowing in and you’re playing in Detroit or Oakland, these things can be demoralizing. Seeing that you’re still hitting the ball hard, and the right way, that can help, and help us as watchers of the game to understand that just because the numbers aren’t there, a guy can still be performing.
When it comes to Ramírez, he’s not just performing, he’s annihilating. He’s posting a .302 expected batting average — a career-high and in the 94th percentile in baseball — which matches nicely with the .564 expected slugging percentage, also a career-high and also in the 94th percentile. Beyond that, he’s just killing the ball in every way shape, and form.
Between the last two seasons, his ground ball rate is a combined 30.9%, a career-low any way you slice it, and he’s pulling the ball 53% of the time. Again, if you took last year and this one so far as one season, it’s a career-high, and looking at just 2021 that statement holds true anyway. In 2021 we’re also seeing a career-high in line drive rate at 22.4% so far, which is great news since that’s the most likely to fall for a hit of any batted ball profile. Combine that with, again, a career-high 91.3 mph average exit velocity, the 49.1% hard-hit rate, and the 12.3% barrel rate — José is just mashing the ball right now.
That’s a lot of stats and percentage points, but in short, he’s going to explode sooner rather than later. He’s been marvelous for years and continues to be now. It goes without saying but watching what amounts to greatness every day is, well, great. It would have been cool for him to win that MVP last year, but it’s not like anyone really thinks about 2020 anyway, and it was a pretty strange season, so maybe he’ll just do that this season, instead.
I hate to say “we’re spoiled” just because we see him play every day — because we aren’t are we? It’s recognized that he’s been great. It’s really cool to think though, that he might just be getting started. With his batted ball profile, his preternatural ability to put bat-to-ball, a long career that sees him shift to first or the outfield and continue to crush is more than probable.
Whether it’s in Cleveland (please?) or elsewhere (ugh), this is a midpoint, or maybe just the second step in a wonderful career. However he finishes up, right now José is about to blast right the hell off.