A Deep Dive Into Jose Ramirez Early Season Struggles
By Mike Kurland/ @Mike_Kurland on Twitter
What’s the deal with Jose Ramirez? This has been and will continue to be a hot topic of discussion until he gets going. But the question remains, will he come around? He is off to a sluggish start. That is actually putting it mildly as he’s actually off to a TERRIBLE start.
As if you needed to be reminded, he was often the third pick overall pick during draft season. Right about now, there is some serious buyers remorse going on for fantasy owners. Well before we panic, or continue to panic I should say, let’s take a deeper look into what’s going on.
The Disappointing Start
So far in 2019 he’s currently hitting a putrid triple slash of .145/.200/.232. He has only 8 runs, 1 home run and 3 RBI. He does have 5 stolen bases so at least he’s providing some type of value to owners in Roto or category leagues. These numbers are lackluster at best and are definitely a reason for concern in themselves. If his name wasn’t Jose Ramirez he’d be benched or even dropped by now. But it is Jose Ramirez we are talking about and he demands and has earned the respect and patience from fantasy owners by now. He needs to get going because patience is wearing thin as panic and concern are setting in.
Before you overreact, let’s dive deeper into Ramirez and see what we can find some reasons for his short comings and maybe even if there may be some positives to take away from it.
A Deeper Dive and Reason for Concern
The very first thing that stands out after seeing the initial stat line is the higher K-rate and far lower walk rate that he has to start the year. His walk rate is a lowly 5.3% and his K-rate is 14.7%. That K-rate is still very good, just not good for his standards. He has a career walk rate of 10% and it was as high as 15.2% just last season. Every projection system had him no lower 10.7% for a walk rate on the year. Also, the K-rate is currently a career high for him at the moment. I see a ton of positive regression coming his way in these departments if he just simply reverts to career averages.
The next issue is his BABIP. It is only .155. His BABIP was .252 last season and was still lower than his career average but even if he just gets it back around .250 it’ll be a nice run he puts up to get there and it will bring a lot of concerns to an end. With his speed a BABIP of closer to his career average of a .288 BABIP isn’t out of the question either. I’d expect and even be happy just for it to return to .250 in the mean time.
His contact percentages have also taken a small hit. He has a small increase in soft contact rate and that increase has come at the loss of some medium contact. A bigger concern may be his power production going forward. The bigger reason for concerns to his power production are due to changes in his pull rate.
In 2017 he had a pull rate of 46.3% and in 2018 he had a pull rate of 50%. That is a big reason behind his home run gains. Since the second half of 2018, however, he changed his approach for some reason to more of an all fields approach and has not been pulling the ball as much. This has lead to a pull rate of only 30.5% to start the year. He doesn’t possess the power to hit 30 plus home runs if he continues to not pull the ball more. A lot of those home runs will turn to doubles more than likely.
Another oddity is his batting average vs fastballs. He cannot seem to hit a fastball right now. He currently has a batting average of .033 against fastballs. The guy has crushed fastballs in the past and just last year he hit them real well to a tune of a .281 batting average and a slugging percentage of .651. I expect him to turn his woes vs fastballs around for sure. Below is a chart showing his batting averages from fastballs, off speed and breaking pitches over the years. You can clearly see so far this year is the anomaly in batting average in fastballs. At only 26 years old I doubt he just forgot how to hit a fastball. On the flip side, if he improved his approach to breaking stuff and it sustains you could see solid gains sooner than later.
We discussed his stats already and some people are chalking it up to a slow start to the year just like last year. Well, unfortunately, this slow start trumps last years by a wide margin so far. Although we aren’t quite through April yet, it’s likely trending towards him having an even worse first month of the season than last year.
Alright, that hurt a bit. A lot of reasons to worry from diving deep but let’s go ahead and see what the statcast data looks like.
Once you begin to look at his statcast data things look a lot more encouraging. One of the bigger things that stick out is his expected batting average (xBA) and expected slugging percentage (xSLG) compared to his actual numbers at the moment. His actual BA and SLG% are only .144 and .232 as previously mentioned. Well his xBA is .217 and xSLG is .409. These imply he’s had some bad luck among other issues and he is performing better than some of the stats may indicate.
Other data shows his barrel rate is 8.5% and is the exact same as last year at the moment. His exit velocity is currently a career high at 89.6 mph. This isn’t elite but still encouraging nonetheless. This goes back to his pull rate. If he pulled the ball more as he previously was in the last couple seasons, we’d see a few more home runs going forward more than likely. His launch angle has increased from 18 degrees to 22 degrees. This has led to an increased fly ball rate (FB%) and line drive rate (LD%) But it has also led to an increased rate of field fly balls (IFFB%).
Reasons for Optimism
Now this is the part where I tell you it’s going to all be okay….. right? I think things will be okay to a point. The statcast data suggests better things should be ahead for J-Ram and some of the numbers are even in-line with last years numbers. That is great considering what he did last year.
There are some changes in the batted ball profile but they go are basically in-line with the K-rate and walk rate issues and once they are corrected those will correct as well. I believe he will correct those rates. His history to this point suggests as much. He still has a good chase rate which shows he’s still not chasing much outside the zone. I don’t think in the midst of his prime he decided to suddenly stop the plate approach that has made him such an asset to our fantasy teams.
He’s putting hard contact on the ball. Some positive notes include his hard hit rate (HH%). It is up from last season and is currently 36.1%. He also improved his LD% to 22.4%. That’s a great line drive rate and if he sustains it, it should lead to a solid batting average. His GB% is also down compared to 2018. It is 33.4% and that’s a career low for him. So with his GB% dipping, it only makes sense that his FB% increased. It has increased to 45.9% so far on the young year. I really think these are all good indicators of things to turn around. Once he comes around on fastballs that will help him out as well.
Rest of Season Outlook
I approached this J-Ram breakdown with an open mind and honestly wasn’t sure what to find. I’m not bias towards finding a good or bad outcome here. I’m strictly trying to find cause for the slow start and some indicators which suggest there’s a chance he’s going to turn it around. Two of the bigger concerns I took away from the deep dive are his increased soft contact rates and his decrease in pull rate. They’re likely linked together. I don’t see anything that suggests the walk rates and K-rates won’t normalize and I definitely have zero worry about hit struggle with the fast balls at the moment.
With all this said, unless he makes the effort to go back to pulling the ball like he was doing for last couple years, it may prove difficult for him to put up power numbers close to last year. He may turn out to be closer to 2017 J-Ram vs 2018 J-Ram. The 39 home run season may become the anomaly and if he is closer to the 25 home run type it wouldn’t surprise me. It would put him in line with the 2017 version. The 2017 version of Ramirez was not bad at all and might have won you a league but he wasn’t a taken as a top three pick with potential number 1 overall upside that year as he was this year.
I think a return on investment may be difficult for Ramirez this year. You may want to begin tempering those expectations if you haven’t already done so. He could change his approach back to what made him great in the first place and any worry is for nothing. It’s still early and I wouldn’t panic. He should return to a solid player and at the end of the day I expect better days are ahead and you should too.