Alexei adapting to the batting order


Jul 20, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez (10) hits a RBI single against the Atlanta Braves during the third inning at US Cellular Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Alexei Ramirez was shifted to the No. 3 spot in the batting order two weeks back after spending most of the year mixed between the back of the line and in the No. 2 spot after Jeff Keppinger’s early struggles. The decision seemed to come about by some combination of desperation in the wake of the Alex Rios trade, a desire to take advantage of Gordon Beckham’s newly found on-base skills and a realization that neither the fate of the world nor the AL Central really depended on the decision.

In that time–12 games–Ramirez hit three home runs and three doubles, which was pretty remarkable since he had spent the last 115 games rarely doing something as imposing to opposing outfielders as making them backpeddle. Naturally, out of this confusing and nonsensical development came questions about what had changed.

Since the only visible change had been where he hits in the order, that was offered up. Couldn’t hurt to try it, right?

Turns out Ramirez was very open to entertaining such a notion.

"“I feel really good in there,” Ramirez said. “For me, that’s a special place to hit. You have the opportunity to expand. You can hit far. You can move the runner. You can bring run. You can single. You can do a little bit of everything, which I like.”"

After this statement, Ramirez went 0-4 on Tuesday night and didn’t hit a ball out of the infield, so–/brushes off hands–that’s that!

“Players aren’t stratomatic cards” is a platitude that has to be repeated in saber-friendly writing circles because for the most part, when in doubt, that’s the safe way to analyze them rather than try to apply consistent meaning to lineup positioning and roles. Players tend to be themselves, then managers assign them to the role that’s appropriate. Morphing into the spot one’s assigned to is more of an Alex Mack thing.

Yet here is Ramirez, a professional baseball player, saying he switches up his plate approach in response to where he’s placed and blamed the No. 2 spot for a lack of power earlier. He hasn’t had much to say about his hitting, but it’s been consistent.

Career-wise, Ramirez hits .280/.322/.397 from No. 2 hole, which is less power than his career numbers, but that’s where the plurality of his plate appearances have come from (38%). When he hit for the most power, he was an unproven rookie buried at the bottom of the order. Apparently he feels most free to swing for the fences from the No. 8 spot, if we’re to chase that ghost. In his second-biggest power year, 2010, he found the plurality of his opportunities in the No. 2 hole again and slugged just fine (.157 ISO), but again, really loved the No. 8 spot (seven home runs in 171 plate appearances).

More to the point, when Ramirez was really an interesting hitter, he pulled the ball with authority. It’s only called “pull-happy” if you stink at it and roll over everything. But Alexei was good.

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He certainly didn’t have opposite-field power of any kind. Throughout this season from the No. 2 hole, he’s been weakly spraying the ball all over the field.

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Now, he’s been pulling the ball again. For 11 games.

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The thing I can get past, beyond sample size reservations, with the idea that Ramirez is adjusting to his spot in the lineup is that…does it depend on Alexei being stupid? Or White Sox leadership just being stupid? His slap-hitting ways in the No. 2 spot resulted in a lower on-base percentage than his all-or-nothing style as a rookie. Would he be blind to its ineffectiveness? Would Robin Ventura keep forcing him into a role he’s fairly uncomfortable and ineffectual in if he actually felt he could be an effective No. 3 hitter the whole time?

Or is a power streak bringing in a little confirmation bias?

These moments of ranting hysteria, where I’m convinced the White Sox are screwing up or acting crazy, they come to me. I don’t have to seek them out, or theorize about their existence. It’s also probably not necessary to dive deep into every athlete quote and prove that the logic doesn’t hold water, but the worst case scenario they actually do and a player actually turns inevitable decline around.