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Harold Ramirez is the rough-hewn diamond Cleveland needed to find

Any rebuild or retooling needs a lucky break. Harold Ramirez may be just that

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Cleveland Indians v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

We’ve crossed the 162 game threshold for Harold Ramirez.

As of this past weekend, he’s played a full season of games across his three years as a major leaguer, dealing with moving teams, losing his job, and a pandemic-shortened 60-game season. Like with so many other players, it almost feels right to throw last year out. Still, we’re looking at a guy who’s 27, is on a heck of a hot streak right now, and who seems like he’s settling into a role as an everyday guy for Cleveland. What might that look like going forward?

I think we can all agree, right off the bat, that stardom isn’t likely to be in the cards for Ramirez. While he’s having a great month, hitting .280/.337/.507 over the last four weeks, he’s going to be inherently limited because he doesn’t walk very much — just 3.9% of the time for his career and just 2.9% this year — and he doesn’t always hit the ball in the right direction. While he does own a 52.2% hard-hit rate according to Statcast, these well-struck balls are too often headed into the ground. Like Yandy Díaz before him, Ramirez loves killing worms. That’s not a death knell, of course. You're not doomed if you post a 4.9-degree launch angle if you keep hitting it hard, but you’re limited by what the infield picks up, and at the mercy of swings in BABIP.

The trend on that is in the right direction though. In addition to hitting the ball hard more consistently, he’s also hitting it in the air more often, albeit by just .9 degrees. Specifically, his ground ball rate has nudged down to 53.7% of batted balls, all of that pushing into fly ball rates, which has led to his nearly doubling his home run rate from 2019, from 2.5 to 4.4%. Again, not world-beating, but it’s a start, and possibly if things go right, a trend.

There was an Athletic article a little while back about how Cleveland isn’t trying to turn every hitter into one specific archetype. In essence, they’re trying to find what players do well, and encourage that in some way. It’s the right approach, of course — no two players are the same and each needs to approach their at-bats in different ways. You have to assume that’s what every team is trying, but seeing it in black and white was encouraging. In Ramirez’s case, his positives are hitting the ball hard and not striking out. He doesn’t walk much, and he hits too many grounders, but those are things you can work with or deal with.

In an ideal world, he’d hit .350 with a .360 OBP and blast 45 home runs. Unfortunately, his greater flaws center around chasing balls out of the zone way too much, with his 39.2% chase rate more than 11 points higher than league average. He makes contact on those swings more than average but it still needs work.

That’s good news. He’s only got a year of baseball under his belt, so it’s going to take time for him to recognize what people are doing to him. Comfort is an underrated part of the game. I think that’s something we’re seeing more of from Amed Rosario or even Bobby Bradley. When you know you’re playing consistently, you have a chance to relax and work on the day-to-day ebbs and flows of your own game rather than trying to just collect three hits to force yourself into the lineup tomorrow. It stinks that it takes a stretch of doing just that to find that place in the lineup, but that’s the reality of a rebuilding team. Even one that hasn’t had a real major league outfield in half a decade.

I don’t think the dream here is the next Michael Brantley. After all, Ramirez is approaching the prime period of his career and has very little time otherwise in the majors to have honed his abilities. Cleveland doesn't need Brantley Mk. 2 out of him though, even if it would be nice. They need a solid, above-average player that increases their chances of winning every day. Now and again, maybe he’ll have a big game and win one by himself, but more than anything he should be one of the guys, someone in the back half of the lineup that makes trouble for pitchers. And you know what? That’s the cult hero kind of player that fans fall in love with.

Maybe I don’t like “Big Harold” as a nickname, but I sure do like a lot about Ramirez as a player. The parts are there, it’s just on him and the club to put it all together.