José Ramírez is in a slump — there’s no way around it. But there is still no reason to panic about the artist formerly known as The Angry Hamster.
In the month of July, Ramírez is slashing .179/.304/.282 with just two extra-base hits in 46 plate appearances. That’s bad by any measurement, but especially bad when you look at José’s full portfolio of being a baseball-killing machine.
Fresh off an MVP bid in 2020 and his third All-Star appearance last week, the 28-year-old has consistently been Cleveland’s best offensive player for half a decade now, enjoying wRC+’s north of 140 on multiple occasions and still a decent chance of mashing 40 home runs before this season is over.
The biggest concern about a slump is that it could manifest itself into the Great GOAT Drought of 2018-2019, in which Ramírez carried an extended slump that ended his 2018 season and carried over into 2019. Over an 11-month stretch that began with a seven-game hitless streak on July 22, 2018 and unofficially ended with a two-hit game against Detroit on June 21, 2019, he slashed a pedestrian .205/.326/.348 with 14 home runs and a 79 wRC+.
The result in 2019 was his worst offensive season since he started getting regular playing time — a .255/.327/.479 slash (105 wRC+) in 129 games. And his numbers were only that high because he surged in the final months of the season as he started pulling the ball again and hitting for the signature power that carried him to 39 homers in 2018 and 29 in 2017.
Unlike in that slump-filled calendar year, Ramírez isn’t in the process of finding himself, of trying to become a new hitter who “uses the whole field” instead of just doing what he does best. I’d argue this season, even during this recent slump, he’s still himself. He has just been unlucky.
In 2019 (which, again, included a hot-as-the-sun streak at the end of the season to save his season totals), he ranked in the 32nd percentile for hard-hit rate, 60th percentile in expected slugging, and barreled the ball in the 34th percentile. This season, those same percentiles sit-in in the 79th, 86th, and 70th range. The difference now is that his BABIP has cratered to .242, which would be his worst since 2016. Like seemingly everyone else on this accursed baseball team: he’s hitting the ball hard, but the hits aren’t falling.
July is a convenient jumping-off point to say that someone is slumping, but it also doesn’t tell the whole story — no three-week span of stats ever does. Ramírez, like every other major-league player, goes through these ups and downs. Looking at his 15-game rolling wOBA, this recent slump won’t even register as a blip if and when he surges again.
Unless we’re in for another streak ala 2018-2019 (and based on his contact numbers I don’t believe we are), then the Rule of José Ramírez states that he’s about to figure it out and getting rolling again.
There is at least some evidence that he’s pressing, but not enough to doom him for another 12-month stretch. His pull rate has jumped to a career-high 58.9% (up from 52% last year). But based on what we’ve learned about José in the past, I’d be more worried if his pull rate was dropping, not increasing.
Even more telling could be the rate at which he’s chasing pitches. His outside-swing rate, one of the biggest indicators of his big slump, has slowly risen during the year. But like his slumping wOBA, it’ll be nothing but a blip when he gets things straightened out.
Combine pulling the ball more, swinging at more pitches that could have been balls, and watching all your hard work result in bad BABIP outs and you can see how the frustration could set in.
José Ramírez has been here before, he’ll probably be back to it again in the future, but we know he knows how to work out of it.