As José Ramírez goes, so go the Cleveland Indians.
OK, that’s not 100% true. Baseball isn’t exactly an individualistic sport, as winning requires contributions from multiple members of the roster.
That said, calling Ramírez the spark plug for the Indians’ offense is hardly hyperbole. This was hammered home by a slump he endured from late 2018 through last June, and the struggles Cleveland endured during it.
It's a skid he appeared to leave behind midway through last season. That’s the hope, at least. Considering the Indians are potentially heading into an abbreviated season, where winning (and winning early) is crucial, they’re going to need the Ramírez of old now more than ever.
There’s no understating the contributions Ramírez has provided Cleveland during his time with the team. Since 2016, he’s generated more runs (130 wRC+), had a higher offensive value (.371 wOBA) and collected more RBIs (347) than any other Indians player with at least 500 plate appearances. Ramírez has been worth 22.6 wins above replacement in that time-frame, second only to Francisco Lindor (23.2).
The production he’s generated has been remarkable. So, when you take that kind of production away, it’s a devastating blow to a team’s offense.
It’s a lesson Cleveland learned late in the 2018 season.
Midway through that August, Ramírez entered a brutal funk, one which ended up dragging into the first half of last year. From September of 2018 through June of 2019, his “best” monthly wRC+ was still 10% below league average. Ramírez’s wOBA ranged from .313 (slightly below average) to .248 (well below awful).
During this time, the Indians lurched into the 2018 postseason, were mercilessly swept from the ALDS, and then limped out of the gate in 2019.
Again, it takes more than one player to win in the majors. Still, the further you dig into Ramírez’s skid, the more you see how detrimental it was for Cleveland.
Going through Ramírez’s game logs from 2018, he started going cold around August 15. At the time, he was coming off two straight three-hit games, but his production began to nose dive soon after.
From that day forward, Ramírez notched 24 hits in 179 plate appearances, only eleven of which went for extra bases. He had just four multi-hit games, and drove in only 16 RBIs. Many of the offensive stats during his final 40 games remain difficult to look at, from his slash line (.166/.307/.290), to his wOBA (.271), to his wRC+ (64).
Before this offensive chill began, the Indians boasted a record of 69-51. From the months leading up to Ramírez’s funk to the days after it began, Cleveland saw a nearly 9% drop in winning percentage, going 22-20 to finish the season.
As we know, a fresh start in 2019 did little to help the cause.
Ramírez opened last season still frigid at the plate. It wasn’t until around June 15 that he began to heat up once again. In his 67 games before that, he slashed .202/.298/.302, seeing further dips in his wOBA (.264) and wRC+ (56).
The Indians as a whole were similarly lethargic during this time, going 35-33 to that point and finding themselves 11.0 games behind the division leading Minnesota Twins.
Overall, from August 15 through June 14 of last year, Ramírez slashed .188/.302/.298 and boasted a wRC+ which fell 41% below league average. During this time, Cleveland went 57-53, just a hair above .500.
From June 15 onward -- when Ramírez triumphantly ended his funk with a .312/.358/.667 slash line and a 157 wRC+ -- the Indians went 58-36, a winning percentage increase of 19.1%.
Obviously, Ramírez wasn’t solely responsible for the turnaround, nor was he entirely to blame for the struggles the team endured before it. Likewise, it needs to be noted that he was sidelined from late August until the final week of the 2019 season recovering from a broken hamate bone.
Still, despite the many factors that go into a team’s overall success, it’s not hard to see the correlation between Ramírez’s production and how the Indians are playing as a whole.
The Indians endured Ramírez’s slump for 110 games, i.e. longer than the 82-game season length MLB is proposing for the year ahead. During said skid, they were a barely above average ball club.
As you can see, it’d be ideal if Ramírez has left those struggles in the rear-view for good, especially if the Indians hope to contend in this abbreviated campaign.
No one player will individually determine how a team’s season goes. That said, when you take a closer look at Ramírez’s funk, how the Indians performed before, during and after it, you can see why he might be an exception.
That’ll be especially true when there are less games to work with than usual.