The Indians Are Playing a Dangerous Game with José Ramírez
Considering his 2020 numbers, it’s quite remarkable that José Ramírez has been battling through a thumb injury for the bulk of the season.
As of Thursday, the Cleveland Indians third baseman is boasting an .821 OPS, a .353 wOBA and a wRC+ of 119. All above average numbers, solid production for anyone, even more so for a switch hitter with a sore left hand.
Of course, the cause for concern increased a bit this week, as a missed game due to his ailment was sandwiched between two contests he had to leave early. Despite this, the Indians are holding off on sending Ramírez to the IL, instead listing him as day-to-day while only giving him brief respites from the field.
In the words of Kevin Malone from The Office, “that is a dangerous game, friendo.”
Ramírez may be able to withstand the pain for now, but Cleveland letting one of its most productive hitters play through soreness is both risky and, frankly, unnecessary.
As far as the diagnosis goes, Ramírez’s injury isn’t incredibly serious. An MRI revealed a bruised left hand, certainly nothing which could be defined as season-ending.
However, despite the diagnosis, Cleveland’s management of Ramírez over the past few days has been suspect to say the least.
He made a sixth inning exit during Monday’s contest against the Kansas City Royals, which was followed by a day off on Tuesday. However, he returned to the lineup Wednesday night, only to be removed once again in the seventh after the Royals put a righty on the mound.
Essentially, Ramírez is currently a situational hitter for Cleveland. The Indians seem only willing to put him at the plate if he can bat right-handed and put less pressure on his injury.
What’s the point in this approach? Why put Ramírez in the lineup if he’s struggling through an ailment which, while not major, is being defined by interim manager Sandy Alomar Jr. as “nagging?”
Per FanGraphs, the Indians entered Thursday with a 99.7% chance of making the postseason, odds which sure look favorable. Barring an absolute catastrophic collapse, Cleveland won’t have to worry about a tight race to the finish line.
So, I ask again, what’s the point in playing Ramírez right now? Why would the Indians put him in the lineup and give him sporadic rest when his injury isn’t getting any better?
If Ramírez is, at best, a situational hitter for Cleveland, he shouldn’t be playing. Full stop. The Indians can afford to put him on the IL for a breather, and do so with enough time to ensure he gets in a few at-bats before the playoffs come around.
In taking this approach, the Indians could avoid causing serious damage with one of their most reliable hitters, a player whose struggles in the previous two postseasons significantly drained their entire offense.
While Ramírez was a solid contributor during Cleveland’s 2016 World Series run, he all but vanished in the following two Octobers. Just take a look at his numbers from the 2017 and 2018 postseasons.
2017 -- .100/.182/.100, .143 wOBA, -27 wRC+
2018 -- .000/.083/.000, .057 wOBA, -82 wRC+
Collectively, across Ramírez’s last 34 playoff plate appearances, he has two hits, three walks and ten strikeouts. Cleveland won just two of these eight games, failing to score more than three runs in the final six.
Asking it one more time for those in the back -- why would the Indians risk bringing a damaged Ramírez into the 2020 postseason?
Why would a team all but guaranteed a playoff berth feel the need to keep letting one of its stars play through pain?
Sure, I’ve seen the arguments, the claims that Ramírez at 50% is better than many players at 100%. Still, wouldn’t Cleveland rather ensure he’s back to full strength instead of leaning on how reliable he can be at half-speed? Especially in a postseason which could end after two losses?
Bottom line -- the Indians need to give Ramírez a longer breather than just one game. They shouldn’t be swapping him in and out of the lineup on a day-to-day basis, no matter how badly he wants to play.
The regular season outcome is a near certainty. Cleveland will be playing October baseball.
One would think it doesn’t want to do so after having willingly pushed one of the best players on the roster through a hand injury.
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