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Aramis Ramirez: Washed Up or Gearing Up?

If you drafted Aramis Ramirez in the 8th or 9th round as many did, you probably expected to get the kind of production we all saw in the second half of 2010: .276/.321/.526 with 15 HR and 51 RBI in 62 games. His slow start to 2010 is of course well documented, highlighted by an April that was legendary in its ineptitude: .152/.216/.283.

But given his solid track record, the dearth of available talent at third base, and the strong finish, a lot of people targeted him as their regular at the hot corner. And now you can hear the collective foot tapping as people are waiting for Aramis to show up to the party.

While Ramirez has thus far managed to avoid an April and May quite as bad as 2010, there have been several people across the Al-Gore-fantasy-baseball-dream-catcher that have suggested he’s off to the same slow start, he’s washed up, or both. His current .273/.336/.364 is about two-thirds Ramirez, but clearly isn’t the kind of power production that owners had in mind. So let’s investigate.

There are a couple interesting things to note early on in the 2011 year about Ramirez’s performance – his struggles versus lefties and his ground ball rate.

Historically, Ramirez has hit lefties very well. His career splits are as follows:

Righties: .283/.342/.494 with a 112 wRC+

Lefties: .289/.354/.551 with a 128 wRC+

His performance versus lefties is pretty important to his overall power production as his home runs per at bat versus lefties is about one every 15 while it’s one in almost 21 against right handers. So far in 2011, lefties are tying him up to the tune of .208/.310/.208 with a 25% K rate. Now this most certainly registers on the sound-the-alarm-of-small-sample-size public safety address as it’s a mere 29 plate appearances, but if you want to know why his numbers stink at a glance, you can start right here.

What may or may not be related is his GB/FB rate on pulled balls. Ramirez is very much a pull hitter. On his career, he’s maintained a 1.68 GB/FB ratio on balls that he has pulled, but so far in 2011, it sits at 2.60 and his fly ball rate on balls he pulls is down about 9%. Consider the following chart, which maps his 2010 home runs, courtesy of Hit Tracker

Just 2 of his 25 home runs in 2010 were right of center field and a good 70% of them were pulled. In fact, of his career 244 home runs, 175 of them have been pulled, which is good for 72%, so 2010 was no fluke. Until he starts to square up balls a little better instead of rolling them to the third baseman, we’re going to be waiting for the power to show up.

But on the topic of the “slow start,” if you look at the career of Ramirez, it seems that he doesn’t find his stride until June fairly consistently.

His career ISO is historically worst in May, starts to pick up in June and he seems to catch fire in July, which is very much what happened to him in 2010, just on a more dramatic scale. For example, consider his career wOBA, by month followed by the same chart juxtaposing his 2010.

So while 2010 was a dramatic slow start for Ramirez, it still rather followed the general trend of his career. That he’s started slowly in 2011 doesn’t mean that he’s been as bad, he’s just starting slow, well, “differently”.

Right now, Ramirez is carrying a .308 BABIP and batting .273 where his career BABIP is .288 and his career batting average is .282. His current expected BABIP is just .277, so perhaps he’s been a little fortunate with a lucky bounce or two, but it’s not anything to get too worked up about.

ZiPS predicts .271/.337/.448 the rest of the way out with 14 home runs and 62 RBI. That’s going to leave a lot of owners awfully irritated if they were expecting the standard 25 home runs and 90-100 RBI over a healthy season that Ramirez tends to produce. Looking at his career and the way he has historically improved, both with his ISO and wOBA over the summer, I’d have to expect a little something better and I’d actually call Ramirez a decent buy-low candidate if someone has just had it with the lack of production.

The difficult part is the patience as he may not really show up until the middle part of June. So if you’re an owner, you might want to stash him on your bench if you have the space and wait for the upward trend. Other savvy managers might want to ride out May and cross their fingers he doesn’t get hot quite yet as he might either be a real cheap acquisition, or better yet, free.