After recently detailing the absolute bargain that the Cleveland Indians have in the contract of Jose Ramirez, we’ll take a moment to look forward to the upcoming season, touching on several aspects of his game that make him a lock to continue being a productive  player, while recognizing the haters who hate on the hate-worthy traits, namely his “vertical challenged” frame that have many doubting a repeat of 2017.

Making Room for the 5’9″ Offensive Force

You’d think that the season that Ramirez had and the dominance of Houston Astros’ 2B Jose Altuve would put to rest the so-called inability of short players to be as dominant as both of those players were. Of course, Joe Morgan (5’7″), Kirby Puckett (5’8″), and Hack Wilson (5’6″) couldn’t stop future players from having to endure the label of “too small”, even with their resumes. In an era with genetically-engineered (and some not so genetic), athletic monsters, it is easy to look over players like Ramirez and assume that he’ll just be a slap-hitting speedster; however, the 2017 season showed us a few things:

  1. The bat is alive. His 56 doubles led MLB. He makes contact, as evidenced by his career K-rate of just 10.9% (his BB-rate is 7.5%). While the contact isn’t always hard (more on that later), it is consistent.
  2. Speaking of contact, his contact-speed combination has always been a part of his game, but it was the 14.1% FB-HR rate that led to the huge power spike. Ramirez finished 3rd in the American League in slugging (.583), 4th in OPS (.957), and 2nd in total bases (341). That 14.1% was a drastic increase from his previous career-high, 6.1%, which was done in a smaller sample size.
  3. Even though his quality of contact rates were not better than average (based on FanGraphs definition of the stat), we still observed this type of production in Ramirez’s age-24 season. As he continues to mature and build strength (to the frame that he does have), could those numbers increase or was it just a “juiced” ball. After all, the exit velocity didn’t change, even with those drastically inflated numbers.

There wasn’t ever any doubt that Ramirez was going to be a full-time player again in 2018. It isn’t as if he was going to slide back into a super-utility role, as Houston appears to be doing with Marwin Gonzalez after his breakout 2017, but is it fair to expect anything close to the production that we witnessed last year?

Here are some things to keep in mind as the season approaches when it comes to projections and expectations for Ramirez:

  • Baseball Prospectus’ annual predicted Ramirez to fall from his 6.3 WARP from 2017 to a 1.9 WARP in both the 2018 and 2019 season
  • FanGraphs had Ramirez at a 6.6 fWAR in 2017, but, using their projections for 2018, we see a more positive expectation than that of BP –
    • Depth Charts: 4.8 WAR
    • Steamer: 4.7 WAR
    • ZiPS: 4.9
  • Baseball Reference even has a projection that puts Ramirez a little ahead of his 2016 breakout statistics but not really on par with 2017:

So, as a fan of the Cleveland Indians, what should you expect? Ramirez could be an All-Star without hitting 20 home runs. He has solid speed and the aforementioned contact skills that make him a perfect lineup piece for the Tribe, even if he doesn’t explode for fantasy purposes again. His versatility isn’t going to come into play as much, barring another injury, but he has the skills to handle the keystone and the outfield if necessary. Even if Ramirez WERE a super-utility type, he’d be on the field in the mold of Ben Zobrist (in his prime). Fortunately, there are many reasons to continue getting excited about Ramirez. Using the similarity scores from Baseball Reference (on the bottom of each player’s page on the site), you can see that Jose Ramirez, through his age-24 season, has similar production to guys like Gary Sheffield, Paul MolitorRyne Sandberg, and Carlos Beltran. While I would taper expectations in the power category, Ramirez should team with Francisco Lindor and Edwin Encarnacion to form one of the best – if not THE best – trio of producers in a lineup in MLB.

Featured image courtesy of Erik Drost, via Flickr.