We’re just six games into baseball’s first month, but your stereotypical angry and misguided Cleveland Indians fan, the proverbial “That Guy”, is already in midseason form. “That Guy” is ticked that the bullpen sucks while Greg Holland went to the Cardinals, he’s clamoring for Tyler Naquin to go back to Triple-A where he “belongs”, and he’s damn near ready to ignite a bag of dog poo on Josh Tomlin‘s porch. In fact, he’s already wondering if the Twins are a better team than the 2-4 Indians.
One of the things he’s been most aggressive about is former MVP runner-up Jose Ramirez. Less than 30 plate appearances into the season, That Guy’s finger is already pummeling the panic button with the fervor of a sugar-rushed child ringing the doorbell to a rich person’s mansion on Halloween.
That Guy: Jose Ramirez must have had a lucky 2017 season, yo! His clock struck midnight this winter and he turned back into a friggen pumpkin. Looks like we’re not gettin’ the studly numbers we thought he’d put up. The middle of the Tribe’s lineup is toast this year!
Always The Jake: Yeesh, reel it back a little and try to breathe. Jose Ramirez has started out cold, but there’s no reason to think he isn’t gonna be the monster he was last year.
That Guy: Cold? He’s an ice cube, yo. Been up to the plate 27 times and had one hit! I checked the stats, he’s got a .043 batting average. That’s unheard of, definitely chump status dude.
Always The Jake: Yeah, one hit in 27 plate appearances isn’t a good look to start the year. But also… it’s 27 plate appearances. You can’t project a player based on such a minuscule sample size. That’s the baseball equivalent of flipping a coin three times, getting all heads, then concluding that the coin is rigged.
That Guy: 27 is a lot more than three… can’t confuse me with your fancy statistical words, ya nerd.
Always The Jake: Gonna be hard to explain sample sizes to you right now, I guess. But let me explain this another way. What’s better, strikeouts or walks?
That Guy: Um, I know baseball, bro. Walks are definitely better.
Always The Jake: Well then, if you’re gonna make me play the small sample size game, would it chill you out a bit if I told you that Ramirez has only struck out once so far this season? That’s the third-lowest strikeout rate of any player in baseball with more than 20 plate appearances, which is pretty ridiculous.
That Guy: I guess that’s pretty good…
Always The Jake: It’s also worth pointing out that he’s walked four times. That doesn’t magically make his early-season batting line look good, but it does tie him with two other players for the second-best strikeout-to-walk ratio behind Bryce Harper. Ramirez is still showing the plate discipline and contact skills that made him an elite hitter last season.
That Guy: Okay, so he’s got a good eye at the plate. But if he’s not getting any hits, what does it matter?
Always The Jake: Base hits are more based on luck than you might think. Quality of contact, ability to spray the ball and speed down the first base line all have an impact on how likely a batted ball is to go for a hit, but ultimately an awful lot of it just depends on where the fielders are. Ramirez, unfortunately, has just been hitting a lot of balls straight into gloves.
That Guy: Well that’s bad yo, why doesn’t he just cut that out?
Always The Jake: Again, hitters don’t have as much control over where their hits go as you might think, and certainly they don’t have much control over how good the opposing fielders are. There’s a Statcast measure known as “wOBA minus xwOBA”. Without boring you too much with the details, it’s a measure of how valuable a player’s bat has been versus how valuable it should have been based on his quality of contact. So far this season (as of 8:45 on Thursday), 134 players have accumulated at least twenty at-bats. Ramirez has the fifth-largest negative gap between his wOBA and xwOBA among those players, meaning Statcast believes Ramirez has hit way better than his actual results indicate.
That Guy: So basically, Ramirez has been hitting the ball just as hard as he did last year?
Always The Jake: Well, not quite. His hard contact rate is about half of what it was last season, and the same goes for his line drive rate. But again, the caveat is that it’s a ridiculously small sample and we shouldn’t be making our season predictions for our boy Ramirez based on the fact that zero of his 21 batted balls in play have resulted in hits.
That Guy: Okay, okay, I get it. Maybe we should give it another six games before calling him a total bust.
Always The Jake: *sighs*