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June 8, 2010

One-Hoppers

A Battered Ram

by Ben Lindbergh

In Baseball Prospectus 2010, we led off Aramis Ramirez’s player comment with the line, “A penchant for nagging injuries and a lack of great athleticism have always inspired questions as to how well Ramirez will age, but as he’s moved into his thirties, his bat has remained remarkably consistent,” and closed with “Only 32, he’ll continue to put up cookie-cutter seasons into the foreseeable future.” Is it too late to add a “Jinx!” at the end?

Like any player’s, Ramirez’s baseball future was truly foreseeable only up until the first pitch of the season was thrown, but given his recent history, perhaps we can be excused for expecting more of the same:

PECOTA’s weighted-mean forecast (.296 TAv) called for more straight line to come, but 197 plate appearances into his season, Ramirez has done his best impression of the Flair Flop. His triple-slash sits at .169/.234/.287, and he’s already 3.2 WARP in the hole. So what’s eating Aramis? An easy answer isn’t forthcoming.

Ramirez’s miniscule .189 BABIP isn’t doing him any favors; his expected BABIP, according to Chris Dutton’s calculator, is .266. Give Ramirez a .266 BABIP, and he becomes a good deal less woeful, but an artificial BABIP boost doesn’t bring us all the way to an explanation of what ails him.

Ramirez’s approach at the plate doesn’t seem to have changed significantly; only his results have suffered. His 8.1 BB% is almost identical to last year’s (8.2%), he’s seeing almost exactly as many pitches per plate appearance (4.12) as he had to this point last season (4.20), and he’s chasing fewer balls out of the zone than he did in 2009. Cubs fans would have preferred to see a change in approach to a change in ability; brace yourself, because the truth might hurt. Check out Ramirez’ results by pitch type, courtesy of Trip Somers’ Pitch F/X tool:

First, 2009:

And now, thus far in 2010:

The problem appears to be as simple as it is serious; regardless of whether the blame lies with a hidden injury or a precipitously steep aging curve, Ramirez has (at least temporarily) lost the ability to hit a baseball with a bat. The 32-year-old’s whiff rate on every pitch type has climbed steeply since last season, culminating in an unsightly 25.1% strikeout rate, nearly 10 percentage points above his career mark. One can certainly survive with a K rate that high (Alfonso Soriano says “Come on in, the water’s fine!”), but without a corresponding increase in walk rate, Ramirez has found himself in the unenviable position of both not putting any balls into play, and not having any success when he does.

According to FanGraphs’ pitch-type run values, Ramirez has been the worst fastball hitter in the majors this season (from a results-oriented perspective, at least). It’s also worth mentioning that Ramirez’s batted balls have been airborne much more often than usual; the exact figures differ based on the data source (and how), but according to our numbers from MLBAM, Ramirez’s FB% has risen from 33.5% last season (a customary figure for him) to 48.2% in 2010. The fact that he’s not putting anything on the ground goes a long way toward explaining his low BABIP, and the fact that his HR/FB% has fallen to less than half of its career level (without any increased tendency toward popups) suggests that he’s simply not hitting the ball hard enough to succeed.

Ramirez’s struggles haven’t been helped by the bruised hand from which he’s currently suffering, but our resident injury expert assures me that the problem has not been plaguing him all season. Nor can we blame the dislocated shoulder that kept him out of action for two months in 2009, since Ramirez showed no ill effects upon returning from that injury last July. Unwilling to leave any alternative avenues of baseball analysis unexplored, I looked to the heavens for an answer. Ramirez was born on June 25th, which makes him a Cancer (of the non-clubhouse kind). His horoscope for June, courtesy of the Universal Psychic Guild, may contain the answers we seek:

“Your 10th house of career, social ambition and networking is in the cosmic spotlight in June, with Uranus and Jupiter both spending the month in your career zone. If you hate your job and you’re so ready to switch gears, this is the time to do so. If you don’t have your c.v. up and running, this is the time to go on job interviews and make other people aware that you are looking for something more challenging and exciting.”

So after all that legwork, it turns out that Aramis has simply been trying to signal his interest in pursuing another line of work (and if he keeps it up, he might just get his wish). Anyone know of a good homeopathic remedy for the inability to hit a heater?

Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

Related Content:  Aramis Ramirez

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