Remember when Alexei Ramirez hit home runs? Or at all?
By James Fegan
In 2010, the Royals gave–I mean, just handed–490 plate appearances to Jason Kendall. In turn, Kendall slugged .297. That’s, of course, really, appallingly awful, but it came alongside a .256 batting average from the catcher’s position. Even crazier, Kendall only struck out 45 times all season. He made far too much contact to look overmatched at the plate upon casual observation and was good for a solid single per game. Hawk lavished praise upon the old veteran whenever he got the chance to see him and the Royals clearly didn’t feel a strong push to improve, either.
Did they notice? Did they bother to check and see that he just didn’t hit the ball hard anymore?
Alexei Ramirez isn’t slugging under .300 yet, but that’s kind of like setting a stack of papers by Lake Michigan and immediately boasting that they haven’t blown away yet. Ramirez has homered twice in his last 400 plate appearances, his on-base percentage and walk rate have collapsed–likely for related reasons–and three years after winning the Silver Slugger award, he’s one of the worst hitters (64 wRC+) in a lineup where that’s a bone-chilling distinction.
When Alexei Ramirez was a 26 year-old rookie in 2008. He hit 21 home runs in just 509 plate appearances. He didn’t seem likely to repeat the feat, his power obviously was more functional than huge and his total seemed inflated by how simple it can sometimes be for a right-handed hitter to yank a ball into the left field bullpen at U.S. Cellular Field. But he clearly had enough to turn-and-burn on mistakes and force some caution out of opposing pitchers. When he hit 48 home runs over the next three seasons, it fit in well enough with the common conception of his abilities. Maybe you didn’t realize it then, but these were very good days in terms of getting offensive production from the starting shortstop.
In that 2010 Silver Slugger season, FanGraphs’ pitch values rated Ramirez as below-average against fastballs. It’s a statistic with a fair amount of variation and doesn’t take sequencing into account. I don’t like to cite it until it starts reaching extreme conclusions. Which is what it did when it cited Ramirez as the third-worst fastball hitter in baseball in 2011. Or the very worst in 2012. There are enough stragglers this season that Ramirez is only 14th-worst, but there’s plenty of more compelling evidence these days.
From Texas Leaguers, this is Alexei’s spray chart against fastballs in 2008. Note all the success he has turning on heaters to left field.
Also from Texas Leaguers, here is Ramirez against four-seamers this season. I realize not everyone grew as fond of Alexei as I did over the past five-plus seasons, but this thing hurt for me to look at.
There’s no pull and no power. There’s only one ball that made it to the warning track in this picture. Ramirez cannot get around on high velocity anymore and he certainly was never going to thrive driving the ball to center and right field. It will also not surprise you to know that Ramirez’a walk rate has collapsed while pitchers pound the zone with fastballs they don’t think he can punish.
At age 31, it’s hard to come up with an explanation sunnier than that Ramirez has lost the bat speed that once made him a dynamic, or even capable offensive player.
The glove is clearly still there, but that’s not much comfort with $29.5 million owed to Ramirez in the next three seasons after this one. The White Sox’ perilous lack of infield depth simultaneously explains why locking up a productive middle infielder through his late 30’s seemed like the only sane option at the time and why Ramirez will likely remain a regular even after Carlos Sanchez arrives.
But like so many of the entrenched White Sox position players, things look bleak for Alexei going forward barring a late-career adjustment that would provoke a far happier post than this one. So yeah, maybe stop batting him second.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan