It’s easy to overlook a player like Jose Ramirez of the Indians. He’s not a prolific power hitter, and seems like a part of the Indians success while not garnering headlines like Aaron Judge or Cody Bellinger this year. Yet, at the All-Star break, Ramirez finds himself ranked 14th overall, according to the ESPN Player Rater. While the rankings on ESPN can be flawed, his present status means the perception of Ramirez being a valuable “real-life” player over a fantasy one is misguided.
Taking a five part look at his season to this point along with how it translates to the future may change one’s mind. At a time when many power hitters carry an average detrimental to a fantasy team, Ramirez not only provides across all five traditional statistical categories, his stock is pointing up without much fanfare. How does he fly below the radar and what does his recent increase in power mean for the second half along with 2018?
1. Statistics through the first half
Many focus on the tremendous first half turned in by the ultra-talented Astros middle infield with Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa. But did you know Jose Ramirez owns the same weighted on-base percentage as Altuve and Correa? They’re all tied for sixth among all qualified hitters with a .409 rate. Ramirez also appears in the top-10 in on-base plus slugging percentage (.988) and weighted runs created plus (157).
Through 86 games, Ramirez scored 62 runs, hit 17 home runs, drove in 48 runs and stole 10 bases with a .332/.388/.601 slash line. He’s already matched last season’s stolen base total and hit six more home runs at the break. Since Correa is a top prospect, it’s assumed his breakout commiserates with his start to the season. Altuve’s done this before, so there’s not much questioning about the results. Should Ramirez enter this conversation, especially in regards to the power?
2. Power surge
Most players show a notable change in approach when undergoing a power spike. For instance, when Matt Carpenter made his leap to power hitter, he traded contact for power and increased his pull percentage making it easy to identify. Regarding Ramirez, his over 110 percent increase in isolated power does not imitate any of the traditional underlying factors which hint at a spike in power.
Ramirez ranks 12th in baseball in contact (87.1 percent), and he’s tied for the 12th lowest swinging strike percentage at 5.6 percent. In spite of this, he’s on pace for 32 home runs this season. While this may not translate or hold for a whole season, and Ramirez showed no signs of this in the minors, he will not turn 25 until September. This may be a part of his development, which computers nor scouts could predict. He’s more than doubled his home run per fly ball percentage, up from six percent last year to 15.6 percent in the first half and only traded two percent of ground balls for fly balls. Even with the increase in power, Ramirez swings at 2.1 fewer pitches outside the strike zone. Some regression may come, but he’s not selling out for power.
3. Last statistical year
When a player shows a tremendous half of a season, taking a look at his last 365 days of production can provide a more accurate portrayal of a skill set. Ramirez appeared in 160 games over the last year with 104 runs, 24 home runs, 90 RBI and 22 stolen bases with a weighted runs created plus of 147, home run per fly ball percentage of 12 percent and weighted on-base of .393, all which fall in line with his first half.
Currently he’s pacing towards 115 runs, 32 home runs, 89 RBI and 19 stolen bases. Last season, only Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Altuve and Paul Goldschmidt scored at least 100 runs with 20 or more home runs, at least 90 RBI and 20 or more stolen bases. All of them were prohibitive first round picks in 2017 preseason drafts and Ramirez lasted until pick 95.5 in NFBC preseason ADP. Food for thought.
4. Roster flexibility
During a season in which injuries ravage many fantasy owners, Ramirez also proves valuable due to his eligibility. He can be used at second base, third base, middle infield and corner infield, depending on league criteria. This year, Ramirez appeared at second base 17 times and third 69 times, meaning he should carry both positions next season, as well. Having a player as productive as he’s been along with being able to move him around lineups to maximize roster spots means he could be worth more than his current 14th overall rank in fantasy.
5. Real life and fantasy MVP?
Not only should Ramirez receive more acclaim by the fantasy community, he could be in the conversation regarding the American League Most Valuable Player award. Yes, you read this correctly. Look up and down the Indians roster. Francisco Lindor has played well at times but not nearly as well as last year. Same goes for Edwin Encarnacion, who has proven to be streaky during his first season with Cleveland. Jason Kipnis has been hurt and is back on the disabled list, Michael Brantley has bounced back but not to the production level of Ramirez. The rest of the roster features players used in platoon roles, with Carlos Santana cratering in terms of average this year after a career year in 2016.
Elite contact along with the power spike, hitting for average, scoring and driving runs with production across the board makes Ramirez an underappreciated asset. Some may perceive him as a sell high candidate, but his age, underlying statistical support and power trending up makes him a buy for the second half.
In terms of fantasy, drafting a player in 15-team leagues in round six who’s currently in the top-15 overall makes for quite a bargain. He will not prove to be the bargain Aaron Judge will be, but in regards to all five categories, Ramirez should be considered a stud. No longer a poor man’s Michael Brantley, his ceiling looks to be much higher moving forward. He may not be a second round pick next year, but he could be.
Statistical Credits: Fangraphs.com, MLB.com