Aggressive Alexei Ramirez

When the White Sox inked Cuban star Alexei Ramirez to a four-year, $4.75 million deal last offseason, the club anticipated that the wiry right-handed batter would hit the ground running. Though Cuban imports have historically been less of a known quantity, Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA system spit out a .298/.344/.459 projection for Ramirez, and scouts liked what they saw as well. In a “Scouts View” piece ran in September of 2007, Baseball America talked to a talent evaluator who ranked Ramirez’s hit tool and speed as 60 on the 20-to-80 scouting scale (20 being poorest, 50 being major league average and 80 being superhuman). With a thin 6-3, 185 pound frame and a similar swing, Ramirez was often compared with Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano.

In his first big league season, “The Cuban Missile” turned in a .290/.317/.475 line, posting a .336 wOBA that was very close to the AL average. On the positive side, the then-26 year-old (27 as of late September) ranked 5th among qualified second baseman with a .185 Isolated Power. Playing at U.S. Cellular Field certainly won’t hurt a righty trying to pull the ball: Ramirez showed no discernable home/away split in ’08, but The Cell has boosted HR production by 28 percent from 2006-2008, per The Bill James Handbook. Alexei also made frequent contact, striking out just 12.7% of the time.

While Ramirez did show some pop and put the bat on the ball, he was also among the least patient hitters in the league. Ramirez walked just 3.6% of the time. Among all qualified hitters, only Yuniesky Betancourt, A.J. Pierzynski and Bengie Molina drew a free pass less often. In terms of swinging at pitches thrown outside of the strike zone, Chicago’s new middle infielder ranked behind only Vladimir Guerrero among batters with at least 500 AB. While the Angels’ notorious bad-ball hitter paced the majors with a 45.5 Outside-Swing%, Ramirez was right on his tail with a 42.7% mark. Overall, Alexei swung at 59.9% of his total pitches seen, again ranking behind only Vlad (60.3%).

Pitchers soon became privy to Ramirez’s free-swinging tendencies, rarely offering him a fastball. In fact, he saw a heater less than any other batter in the game with at least 500 AB, with just 47% of his total pitches seen being fastballs. Rather than giving Ramirez’s quick wrists and bat control the opportunity to do damage, opposing hurlers fed him a steady diet of sliders (24.4%, 4th among all batters with 500 AB). Ramirez also saw the second-highest proportion of curveballs (12%) and the 20th-highest frequency of changeups (12.8%).

While Ramirez is certainly an interesting player with some power and contact skills, it’s difficult to say just how much of an asset he will become (overall, Alexei was worth just 1.1 Value Wins in ’08, as his league-average bat was coupled with poor fielding numbers: his -9.2 UZR/150 at 2B does not bode well for a transition to shortstop). Ramirez is already 27- not old by any means, but in the age range where “what you see is what you get”, and his less-than-discerning eye is troublesome.

There’s some method to Ramirez’s hacking madness, in that he does frequently put the bat on the ball, but such an approach could lead him prone to seeing an even steadier stream of curves and sliders. Such a trend becomes apparent when you look at Ramirez’s percentage of fastballs seen by month:

April: 51.9%
May: 52.8%
June: 49.7%
July: 47.7%
Aug.: 42.5%
Sept.: 43.9%

“The Cuban Missile” produced a decent rookie season, and perhaps one could argue that he’ll improve a little as he becomes more acclimated to the majors. However, his lack of restraint at the dish might keep him from becoming more than an exciting, frustrating, overall average player.




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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.


8 Responses to “Aggressive Alexei Ramirez”

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  1. Looking at his swing and miss numbers his worst pitch is the changeup with a 22% swing and a miss. His biggest problem is low and inside which is where he has his biggest zone of swing and miss looking at his pitches plot.

    For fantasy he remains a great choice since Chicago is relatively slow to the party for realizing a players limitations in OBP and defense.

    He also was platooned in April and May, which probably affected his pitch seen. This also limited his final numbers as well.

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  2. Keith says:

    Why are the Sox “slow to the party for realizing a players limitations in OBP and defense”? Weren’t the ’05 Sox one of the best in overall DER? Oh that’s right, I forgot that mocking Kenny Williams and Ozzie Guillen for supposed ineptitude still rears it’s head every now and then…

    FWIW, I do understand the skepticism about the Sox moving Alexei Ramirez, but I find it equally skeptical that people are looking at Ramirez’ poor numbers at second and — without thinking about the context — concluding that he’s going to bomb at short. For one, second-base wasn’t his natural position and was basically learning on the fly. There are also some sample size issues at play — if somebody made offensive projections based on one season’s worth of data their work would likely be ridiculed. Yet folks don’t seem to be applying that same logic to defense. Finally, you’d think Guillen and KW (and/or the Sox scouts/organization as a whole) would get a bit of leeway seeing that they’ve had fantastic defensive shortstops for basically the last decade with Valentin and Uribe.

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  3. David Golebiewski says:

    Keith,

    While I’m veering a little off the fantasy side of things, I think you make some intelligent points on Ramirez’s defense. While the initial numbers on him do not reflect well, and players moving up the “defensive spectrum” (as Ramirez will do if he goes from 2B to SS) typically do not fare especiall well, we do have to pause and reflect on the sample sizes.

    Just as we wouldn’t make broad, sweeping conclusions based on one season of offense, we can’t really do the same in the field either. I don’t know that we have a whole lot of evidence to suggest the transition will work out, but I’m definitely not going to pretend like it’s impossible for Ramirez to rate well at short. We just don’t have enough to go on yet.

    Thanks for taking the time to read!

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  4. Jim says:

    This is a nice analysis of Alexei’s baseball value in the real world, but his fantasy and real world values seem to be drastically different.
    In fantasy, he had an excellent season last year, well above the average second baseman or shortstop. Even if he doesn’t improve next year, or his average goes down slightly, he will still be a great option for those who don’t get one of the top 3 shortstops or second basemen. But with a full season’s worth of at bats and some improvement, he could become a fantasy force. In fewer than 500 at bats last year, he had the 4th highest homerun total among second basemen and the 3rd highest among shortstops (correct me if I’m wrong) along with 13 stolen bases to boot. If he could improve his stole base %, he could probably swipe 20 bags. I agree that you can’t make sweeping conclusions about 1 season of stats, but there isn’t really anything suggesting he performed over his head last year.

    Also, you say that pitchers didn’t pitch him fastballs, but other than a slump in September, his numbers didn’t appear to change as the number of fastballs he saw went down. In fact, he had twice as many extra base hits in his 107 August at bats as he did in his 97 combined April and May at bats. So the “steady diet” (sorry, but how many times is that phrase going to be used?) of sliders and other offspeed pitches didn’t seem to affect his performace at all. There might be something I am overlooking here, but I really don’t see any correlation between decline in his production and decrease in the numbers of fastballs he saw. What’s to say he’s not a good hitter of offspeed pitches?

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  5. David Golebiewski says:

    Jim,

    I don’t claim that Ramirez has a weakness versus off-speed stuff. I simply brang up the trend, because I think it’s interesting and potentially something to keep an eye on.

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    • Jim says:

      I assume you’re talking to me? Definitely interesting….I guess I thought you were saying it was a cause for concern. Thanks for the clarification.

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  6. R M says:

    So, can we attribute Alexei’s slump to some bad luck (.186 BABIP) or is there something more concerning here? His contact % doesn’t seem to be a problem, but maybe there’s something I’m not seeing.

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  7. AJP says:

    Alexei seems to be a slow starter, if you look at his numbers last year in April they are very similar. This time through though he’s making his adjustments a bit faster and if he continues this pace, by the end of April he should be looking at least at a .250ish avg.

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