You have to admit, though, that Ramirez, (aka -- "The Cuban Missile") is an interesting case. Here's a guy who has the skinny frame of a high school basketball player making the jump to the NBA, but who had the power in his first MLB season last year to post 21 homers and a .475 slugging percentage. Now that he's changed positions from second base to shortstop, fantasy owners in all formats are presented with a player who has immediate eligibility at both positions in most leagues.
He presents quite an intriguing case to be drafted, especially when you take an extended look at shortstop depth. There's obviously the "Power Three" of Hanley Ramirez (SS, FLA), Jose Reyes (SS, NYM) and Jimmy Rollins (SS, PHI). The second tier lags a bit behind, though I'm not sure most owners are in agreement on who represents that tier. Rafael Furcal (SS, LAD) was deadly early last season, but now he has back concerns and the Dodgers plan on sitting him at least once a week. Derek Jeter (SS, NYY) would be so enticing if he wasn't losing so much power and speed. Stephen Drew (SS, ARI) and Troy Tulowitzki (SS, COL) are fascinating young players, but we know they don't run a lot (sometimes a requirement of shortstops in fantasy leagues), and we're not yet sure of their power ceilings.
That brings us to Alexei Ramirez, who can possibly trump all of the suspected second-tier players. In fact, is it possible Ramirez can turn the "Power Three" into the "Power Four"?
2008 Stats: .290 AVG, 65 runs, 21 home runs, 77 RBIs, 13 steals, .792 OPS
The first thing fantasy owners should ask themselves when considering drafting Ramirez is whether or not his 2009 season is at least repeatable. In other words, were his very good 2008 numbers genuine?
A quick look right off the bat suggests his .290 batting average wasn't a matter of just dumb luck. Ramirez maintained a .296 BABIP (batting average on balls in play), which is relatively low for a player who approached .300. That suggests his batting average has room to grow if more of the balls he puts in play fall in between defenders. That presents a tricky proposition, though. Ramirez can't just count on luck; he needs to show a more discerning eye at the plate.
We might as well tackle Ramirez's most obvious flaw. He drew just 18 walks in 509 plate appearances last season. That's an astounding number that is responsible for him producing just a .317 on-base percentage, one reason why he batted primarily in the 7-9 spots in Chicago's batting order. Ramirez drew just two walks in his first 108 plate appearances (he got a third walk as a consequence of getting hit by a pitch), and he took just nine more walks -- not including one intentional walk and two more hit by pitches -- in his next 341 plate appearances. It boggles the mind that a player can be so incredibly aggressive.
Despite his pent-up aggression, Ramirez showed a more relaxed eye toward the end of the season. He drew seven free passes in his final 60 plate appearances, including a walk in back-to-back games from Sept. 27-28, the first time he had accomplished that feat in his career. His batting average wasn't better for it (he hit .208 in those 60 plate appearances), but that's inconsequential. Ramirez will need to display that sort of plate discipline if he wishes to grow as a hitter. A pitcher who knows a batter is going to try to chop as much wood as Paul Bunyan understands he can take advantage of that hitter by delivering pitches out of the strike zone.
Here's a quick stat to take home, one that shows the difference between working behind a count as opposed to ahead of one. Ramirez batted just .263 with a .280 on-base percentage and a .428 slugging percentage when presented with an 0-1 count (245-plate appearance sample size). When working with a 1-0 count, he upped his batting average slightly to .272, but increased his on-base percentage significantly to .333 and his slugging percentage to .457 (168-plate appearance sample size). Those stats don't tell the whole story, but they give a solid enough indication that patience is a virtue.
If there is good news from Ramirez swinging away as often as he did, it's that he made contact with the ball most of the time. He struck out just 61 times, a very impressive figure for a player who drew so few walks. His 12.7 strikeout percentage is far below even that of the ever-so-patient Derek Jeter, who struck out in a career-low 14.3 percent of his at-bats last season. That figure could decrease with a sharpened eye that's expected of a player who is more accustomed to big league pitching after one season.
Ramirez's power is obviously ripe for improvement, given that he's at the magical age of 27. Despite batting just .269 after the All-Star break, vs. .312 prior to the break, Ramirez doubled his homer output in the second half, from 7 to 14 in just 18 more at-bats. Only 8 of those 14 homers came at home (13 of his 21 homers overall were hit at The Cell), so it's not as if he took sole advantage of home property.
In fact, in the 27 games he played in September when he hit just .211, six of Ramirez's 20 hits went yard. It's difficult to explain this outside of a little luck. Perhaps Ramirez's comfort level led to him sit back on pitches he wanted to take deep. Maybe he consciously made a decision to up his home run total, in an effort to better pad his statistics. What we know is that his 36.6 fly ball percentage is on the low end of what we would normally expect from a 20-home run hitter. Aside from running into a massive amount of luck on the fly balls he hits, Ramirez will have to push his percentage to the 39-41 range if he realistically wants to approach 30 homer status. What's more likely is that he hits a few more flies and targets 25 home runs, although that may even be on the high end of his power ceiling.
One more thing to note: Even though Ramirez will likely begin the year in the bottom third of the batting order, he displayed the ability in '08 to bat in a much friendlier RBI spot in the future. In 119 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, Ramirez batted .380 and produced an outstanding 1.009 OPS, smacking seven homers and driving in 57 runners. Yes, that is a fairly small sample size, but it's still large enough to make Ramirez's prospective fantasy owners delighted if he gets a chance to bat toward the middle of the White Sox lineup.
After looking though his statistics from 2008, and considering his relatively young age of 27, it seems likely that Ramirez will be a valuable middle infielder this season. He probably won't reach the "Big Three" tier, but he should be a very comfortable option after that. If he shows a greater propensity to draw walks, thus increasing his on-base percentage and possibly his batting average, and he continues his power development, Ramirez could reach .300 and 25 homers this year. He'll likely run enough to steal at least 11 or 12 bags, but an increase on his lousy 59 steal percentage could reap a stolen base number in the upper teens. Instead of waiting on Furcal to stay healthy or for Jeter to regain some of his lost power, it is more sensible to take a possible 25/15 shortstop in Ramirez. Heck, he even can fill in at second base if your mind is set on Furcal or Jeter.
Kyle likes to deconstruct players, but he wants to know what you like as well. If you have any questions, comments or suggestion for future players to deconstruct, send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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