One thing everyone is aware of is that what a player does in April is probably not how they will do by September. 25 games out of 162 is a very small sample size. However, that doesn’t mean we haven’t learned anything about players during the first 3 weeks of the season. In “April Baseball”, I’ll take a look at some of the guys off to hot or cold starts and see if we can determine what we know about them so far and where they will end up. To start off, I’ll look at Alexei Ramirez.
Alexei Ramirez, SS (CWS) – 71 PA, .379/.423/.621, 4 HR, 14 RBI, 13 R, 3 SB, 194 wRC+, 0.9 WAR
Alexei Ramirez has been a huge surprise to start the season. It’s not just the huge AVG but he’s hitting for power, already racking up 4 HR when he had only 6 all of last season. For real baseball, Alexei ranks 8th in WAR to start the season while being 2nd on ESPN’s player rater for fantasy baseball. It’s pretty obvious Ramirez won’t end the season batting well above .300 or hitting 40 HR but he was initially projected for the neighborhood of 15 HR and a .285/.325/.415 line. The question now is: is it reasonable to expect him to do better than that?
I’ll start with power where the best answer is there’s no way to tell. Batters power tends to be one of the last things to stabilize any given season so data from the first 71 plate appearances won’t mean a whole lot. However, I can look at the previous data and say that expecting over 15 HR, even with the hot start, may be optimistic. Currently, Ramirez has a .242 ISO which is well above his career .129. Since his rookie year in 2008, Ramirez has only hit over 15 HR twice, getting 21 in 2008 and 18 in 2010. During the past 2 seasons, he combined for 15, seeing his ISO drop below .100 in each year. So far, Ramirez is benefiting from a 21.1% HR/FB, which is well above his 8.4% career average or the 13.8% he got in his rookie year. So it seems from a power perspective, he’s been more lucky than good so far.
The rest of the hitting numbers may not be entirely a fluke. Ramirez is benefiting from a .382 BABIP (career .297) which definitely plays into his .379 AVG. However, there are numbers to indicate Ramirez may not be purely lucky when it comes to his contact and OBP. Ramirez’s K% has been steadily dropping since 2010 when it was at 13.1% and in 2014 it is at 9.9%, down from 10.1% last season. This, along with his 7.0% BB% (which is a big increase from last year’s 3.9% and his career 5.1%) has led to him getting on base a lot more. And it’s not just that he’s getting more walks and striking out less, he seems to be a lot more patient at the plate. Here’s a graph measuring how well he’s laid off bad pitches.
And here is one showing his overall approach at the plate.
Finally, this is his whiff%
All three graphs show that this season, Ramirez has been more patience, more discriminant, and missing less than he has before – especially on offspeed pitches. To give hard numbers, Ramirez is swinging on pitches outside the zone 31.9% compared to 41.8% last season. His total swing% is down from 55.3% to 48.2% and his swinging strike% went from 6.4% to 5.3%. Now it’s entirely possible that Ramirez has just faced a lot of pitchers who don’t have the best offspeed pitches which could explain everything but the numbers in this paragraph are for all pitches. Seeing a drop off in overall swing% may indicate a better approach to the plate. It’s also worth noting that so far, Ramirez’s GB%, LD%, and FB% are all within a few percentage points of last year’s numbers, so not much has changed there.
So the point of this was to determine what is reasonable for Ramirez this season. I’ve already explained why I’m not counting on much extra power from his, putting his HRs around 15 or so. At his best, Ramirez had a .290/.317/.475 line. Except for the slugging, he’s coming off of a very similar season last year. I think there’s a chance he pushes close to a .300 AVG this year but, more importantly, he could end up with his best OBP of his career. For a guy who stole 50 bases during the past 2 seasons, having the extra opportunities could be a very nice addition to his game. Assuming you play in a fantasy league with people who understand regression and BABIP, I’d be holding on to Ramirez since no one will likely buy high enough for a guy who may end up with a career year at the plate.