(Photo: Ken Blaze, USA TODAY Sports)
2020 season age: 27 – Throws: Right – Bats: Switch – Contract: $6.250 million (Year 3 of a 4 year deal with 2 club option years)
2019 in review: The first half of 2019 for Ramirez was a lot like his second half of 2018. He looked like he forgot how to hit like an All-Star, MVP level player. He still managed to take some walks but his first half OPS was .652 as he fought to go the other away against the shift, resulting in a lot of weak popups. In the second half he got back to trying to pull the ball with authority, shift be damned and it led to more line drives and a 1.105 OPS. Unfortatuntly in August he suffered a broke hammate bone and missed almost a month. He came back for two games at the end of September, hit a grand slam and a three run homer in his first two at bats but then didn’t play after that as his wrist was still too sore. Overall Ramirez managed a 104 wRC+ with 23 homers and 24 steals.
Beyond the stats: Ramirez really struggled trying to combat the shift in the first half of 2019, which started in the second half of 2018. He had a 48.7% fly ball rate in the first half but trimmed that to 42.3% in the second half. His line drive rate in the first half was 19.2% and rose to 23.2% in the second half. He brought up his pull rate up 6% in the second half. The common misconception was that Ramirez was trying to pull the ball too much, but in reality he was trying not to and when he finally got back to trying to pull it, he got back to being the MVP candidate he has been. His launch angle by month is evidence going from 18, to 24, 23 and then in the second half it dropped to 17.
Offensive impact: There’s nothing Ramirez can’t do offensively. He hits right handers a little better than lefties, but is above average offensively against both types. He has 30 homer power, 30 steal potential. In 2018 he walked more than he struck out. In 2019 that reversed some but he still posted a solid OBP. A lot of people look at Francisco Lindor as the Indians leader, and he is, but Jose Ramirez has finished in the Top 3 of MVP voting twice. He is the Indians best offensive player and hitter.
Defensive impact: Ramirez did not come up in the minors as a third basemen. He was a second basemen and played some shortstop. He played third base in 2013 down the stretch of the season in September and then moved to shortstop. He broke into the lineup in left field, where that didn’t go great, but the bat was needed. He’s really settled in at third base now. He hasn’t been gold gove caliber, and Oakland’s Matt Chapman is going to have a hold on that title for a while, but he’s an above average defender, grading out as about average in Statcast’s Outs Above Average and +4 in DRS at third base in 2019. He can get the job done at third and second base no matter what. Third base has probably saved him some wear and tear over the years though as it’s more of a reactionary position rather than needing the range and covering second base.
2020 role: Whenever the season gets going, Ramirez will be written in pen into the lineup anywhere between second or fourth (hopefully not fifth!) and he’ll be counted on along with Lindor, Franmil Reyes and Carlos Santana to produce a large chunk of the Indians offense while the back half of the lineup tries to be average or develop some. If he finally got away from worrying about the shift and doing what he does best with a great eye at the plate, he’ll be the MVP candidate the Indians need.
Fantasy impact: If your fellow league mates are worried about Ramirez’s overall numbers and first half stats from 2019, take advantage and snag Ramirez. However, what I’ve seen from the fantasy industry and drafts is that most aren’t fading him. That’s OK. He’s still worthy of a first round pick or at least at the turn of your drafts or one of your highest paid hitters. It’s reasonable to hope for a 30/30 pace type season and expect 20/20 with a good average and good on-base. The only downside in 2020 is that he will only have third base eligibility going in and won’t get second base back barring something happening with Cesar Hernandez, the Indians new second basemen. But third base has a lot of good options to draft and Jose is right up there with all of them. The power/steals with a more than playable batting average is hard to come by.