One could make the case that José Ramírez was the 2022 Guardians MVP before the season even began.
What he did during the entirety of the regular season was impressive of course — and that’s really why he’s our MVP — but by agreeing to a long-term deal to stay in Cleveland before 2022’s delayed Opening Day, he set the tone for a young team that needed all the confidence they could get. For that reason alone, he was invaluable to this team from the start.
When there wasn’t constant dread over the impending MLB lockout, rumors circulated all offseason that Ramírez’s time in Cleveland could be coming to an end. He had two years left on the heavily discounted $26 million extension he signed in 2017 to avoid his arbitration years, and the Guardians have a history of making (admittedly great) trades when players still have some time left on their contracts. There were photoshops of him in Blue Jays hats made by excited Toronto fans. It was ugly, man. Real sicko stuff.
Ramírez put an end to that and signed another team-friendly deal on April 6 that would lock him into Cleveland through 2028 — a seven-year, $141 million deal (a five-year extension onto the existing contract) to make sure a perennial All-Star and MVP candidate plays the bulk of his career in Cleveland. The deal was finalized and announced by the team a week later. Shortly after signing the deal, he also signed off to help fund a $2.7 million renovation of a baseball and softball field in Cleveland, which will be dubbed “José Ramírez Field” when it opens in 2023.
Now, keep in mind, José didn’t have to take the extension. He had every right to scoff at being paid $14 million next year and no more than $25 million in any season given that he was already on an extremely affordable deal before that. His payday was coming, even as a 31-year-old hitting free agency after next season he would have commanded a huge contract on the open market.
But he didn’t. He wanted to let Cleveland know that he was all-in on the city and its baseball team, and that’s exactly what he did. Instead of the Guardians era opening with a year-plus of talk about when they would inevitably trade their next superstar, José Ramírez ensured that talk would only be about how they would build up around their superstar third baseman.
With an extension signed, how about his play on the field? Since becoming a full-timer in 2016, Ramírez has played in at least 152 games in five of his six full-length seasons. Even in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, he played in 58 of the Guardians’ 60 games. This year was no different, with a career-high 157 games under his belt.
Ramírez put up nearly identical production to last season, though he traded some contact for power. He finished with a .280/.355/.514 slash, 29 home runs, 20 stolen bases, a 139 wRC+, and was worth 6.2 fWAR. He started the year absolutely on fire, recording a hit in 12 straight games out of the gate — a stretch that included five multi-hit games, and four total home runs. By the end of April, he was slashing .342/.411/.722 with seven home runs and leading a young Guardians team only starting to figure themselves out.
One caveat to Ramírez’s overall line, however, is that most of his production comes from that scorching start to the season. He carried a 172 wRC+ through June, evened out in the middle months, and struggled to be a league-average hitter in September through the end of the regular season. We found out the reason why shortly after the Guardians were eliminated in the ALCS — Ramírez needed thumb surgery and wanted to put it off until the offseason. The story goes that he tore a ligament in the thumb sometime in early June, but opted to play through it after doctors laid out his options.
A rolling chart of his wOBA throughout the season shows his decline in crushing detail. By the end of the year, he was swinging at ghosts just trying to get something going.
There are also some worrying trends looking at his hard-hit data as he dropped to the 25th percentile compared to the 66th last year, but I’m willing to set the narrative as “hit hard despite an injury” as opposed to “didn’t hit hard.” The extra swings on pitches outside of the zone didn’t hurt him much overall either, as he still finished in the 95th percentile in strikeout rate and 94th percentile in whiff rate. The whole Guardians team could probably live with chasing fewer pitches, but their aggression is what helped get them to 92 wins anyway.
Even with the struggles down the stretch, Ramírez showed up in the postseason going 10-for-30 with a home run and a pair of doubles. Maybe not MVP numbers there, but after the rough time he had in September, it was great seeing him come back in a big way in October. His lone home run was a big one as it gave the Guardians a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the sixth against the Rays. Who knows what happens if he strikes out here and the Guards end up losing Game 1 of the three-game Wild Card series?
All of this to say — José Ramírez is incredible. Whether he’s out there hitting bombs or advocating for his friends to get long-term extensions, it’s clear that he is the heart and soul of the Guardians now and for as long as he’s in uniform. With a surgically repaired thumb and a full, normal offseason to work with, I expect big things out of him in 2023 and beyond.
On top of the prestige of being named Covering the Corner’s 2022 Guardians Most Valuable Player of the Year, Ramírez also went to his fourth All-Star Game this year, was a Gold Glove finalist at third base, and he’s probably going to win his fourth Silver Slugger when they are announced on Nov. 10.
Oh yeah, and he’s in Cleveland through at least 2028.
José Ramírez’s 2022 Stats
Total MVP points: 77
First-place MVP votes: 5
Second-place MVP votes: 3
Third-place MVP votes: 0
We’re reviewing (almost) all the Guardians players from 2022 now through November, starting with the top-10 MVPs as voted on by eight Covering the Corner staff members. Players were awarded points based on their one through 10 individual rankings and were ranked as such. You can find all the Year in Review posts here.