Filling the offensive void could start with Alexei, if he’s able


When there’s time later in the week, I hope to more explicitly calculate the offensive void left by removing A.J. Pierzynski‘s production from the lineup–and removing the damage a half-season of Brent Morel and Orlando Hudson wrought–but suffice it to say things should not looked at in terms as binary as “Tyler Flowers need to replace A.J. Pierzynski.”

It’d be nice if he did, but if that’s what the 2013 White Sox relied on, they’re in trouble. Hell, if the 2013 White Sox relied on A.J. Pierzynski himself to replicate the performance of 2012 A.J. Pierzynski, they would be in trouble. A more reasonable request might be to hope for Alexei Ramirez to not be terrible at the plate. At least that’s something that’s been done before.

It’s been hard for scribes around these parts to communicate in traditional terms that Alexei was awful at the plate last season. Sure, fans know that he was the mascot for the offensive hopelessness of the end of the season, but in terms of total production, his .261 batting average was only a career-low by four points, and his insane efficiency with runners in scoring position gave him a 73 RBI total that fits right along with his career averages. He didn’t hit home runs, but home runs are regularly dismissed as an unclassifiable ticket, an he even was an effective base-stealer.

The only raw, old-school total that can be cited to the masses is his 59 runs scored. Ramirez’s previous low total was 65 in 2008, but that came in 112 less trips to the plate. Ramirez stopped walking or effectively getting on base–so he couldn’t be driven in, and he wasn’t driving himself in.

Alexei has never been  for whom patience came to naturally. For his career, he’s only walked in 5.3% of his plate appearances, but has only vacillated wildly around that figure. The two times he finished under that mark, the South Side was treated to displays of his pull power to left field. He homered more (21) than he walked (17) in 509 plate appearances in his rookie season, and he still only walked 27 times in 2010 while smashing 18 home runs. The years in between, he forced patience on himself for the sake of a decent on-base percentage, and lost some of the power that aggressiveness afforded.

But in 2012 he was worse than ever in both regards, and while he’s been contrite about it, it would seem the language barrier prevents him from giving much insight.

"“I’m preparing myself really hard for this coming year because I do feel that I could have done more last year,” Ramirez said."

Everyone likes–or demands, in some cases–self-flagellation from struggling athletes, although this quote from Alexei was just confusing.

"“”I feel like 2007. I feel like I just arrived,” Ramirez said. “I feel like a rookie. I feel strong and I feel hungry to keep doing what I did when I got here and continue doing it this coming year.”"

Since his rookie season was in 2008. He’s either misremembering or actually commenting on his performance during his last year in Cuba. I imagine he yanked a lot of fastballs in 2007, though.  Looking at FanGraphs pitch values can be problematic, because it’s just raw end-results without taking account sequencing, and can vary year-to-year the same way batting performance as a whole can. But when the results are just screaming at you like the way Alexei Ramirez being in the worst in baseball against fastballs over the past two years is.

There are plenty of hitters who make a living on that list, and Alex Rios still being fourth due to just how awful his 2011 was shows how small of a sample two years can be–a great season can be swallowed up with an extreme result. But looking at Texas Leaguers spray charts of Alexei versus four-seam fastballs…

…We have even distribution with home runs pulled to left from 2008-10.

…followed by a bit more skewing to right field from 2011 on…

…and if we drill down to 2012, we see Alexei hardly getting out and around any fastballs at all.

Bat speed tends to travel in one direction, especially for those who have seen 30th birthday candles lit, extinguished, and thrown away.

While there’s not enough here to convict, Alexei’s slow creep away from being able to pull fastballs for power is enough to bring him in for questioning on suspicion of bat speed loss. No doubt a renewed focus and dedication to his craft could produce an Adam Dunn-like improvement, and a nagging wrist ailment last season could have been the culprit, but at this point, there’s reason to be pessimistic about how much Ramirez is going to be able to help Tyler Flowers and Jeff Keppinger make people forget about A.J. Pierzynski. He might have to resort to stepping on people.

Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan