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October 9, 2015

The BP Wayback Machine

A Tip of the Cap to Aramis

by Baseball Prospectus

As the season comes to an end, so too does Aramis Ramirez's career. In honor of his retirement, and to look back at his long, successful career, let's review 19 years of BP Annual comments about him, as he grew into one of the most consistent hitters of this generation.

Year Comment
2015 Thirty-six years old, been dealing with multiple leg injuries over the past couple seasons, produced a .142 ISO that was his lowest since an 18-game stint with the Pirates in 1999. That's not to suggest Ramirez can't still swing the bat (we're not above noticing a .285 batting average), but the overall effectiveness has waned. Knee troubles in 2013 and a strained hamstring in 2014 have caused him to rely more on his upper half, forcing him to begin his swing earlier and giving him less time to identify quality pitches. The walk rate (4 percent) is horrendous and the swinging strike rate (10.8 percent) is his worst since 2003, way back when he was still in Pittsburgh, when it was just him and Tike Redman and Pokey Reese and Adam Hyzdu and Rob Mackowiak and Jeff Reboulet and Kevin Young and—whoops, just fell into the Pirates-nostalgia spiral. Back to Ramirez: Hopefully, he arrives to spring training fully healthy, because you get the feeling that otherwise we're going to be writing the post-retirement career retrospective in this space next winter.
2014 The risk when the Brewers signed Ramirez to a three-year, $36 million contract prior to the 2012 season wasn't that he'd stop hitting. Ramirez hasn't, as his .282 TAv marked his ninth season with at least a .280 mark in the past 10 years. But there was the question of when Ramirez's body, already notably slower and stiffer, would really begin to break down. It did in 2013, as Ramirez played fewer than 100 games for just the second time since 2000. Ramirez's contract is heavily backloaded, with $16 million due in 2014 (and beyond, thanks to options and deferred payments), and with his defense swiftly degrading, he'll have to hit and stay healthy to be worth that kind of scratch.
2013 Consistency, thy nickname is A-Ram. Over the last decade, Ramirez has posted a .294/.355/.526 line and averaged 28 home runs and 98 RBIs per season—numbers similar to those he put up last year, and virtually every season since his last year in Pittsburgh. Signed to a reasonable three-year deal to help fill the Prince Fielder power vacuum, Ramirez responded by pacing the National League with 80 extra-base hits (tying Braun) while showing better-than-expected agility and sure hands at the hot corner. He doesn’t strike out much for a power hitter, often shortening up with two strikes or when he needs to make contact to drive in a run, and despite a series of nagging injuries he continues to reach the 500-plate-appearance threshold. As Ramirez enters his mid-30s, it’s fair to wonder how long he’ll keep this up. But we’re not quite ready to bet against him.
2012 Cubs fans were ready to cut Ramirez loose in mid-June. The team was struggling and the third baseman was flirting with a .400 slugging percentage and looking old for his years. Recurring hamstring issues over the years have left Ramirez with a “doesn't hustle” label, and fed-up fans weren't cutting him any slack. Amazingly, his hitting .332/.391/.605 from June 24 on didn't win them back. Ramirez has very good contact skills for a hitter with so much power, and he's never struck out more than 100 times in a season. Contrary to his huge in-season fluctuations, he's been one of the most consistent players in baseball year-to-year, ending every season but one from age 26 to 33 between .294 and .304 TAv. The flourish to finish 2011 may have led Ramirez to decline a $16 million option and an arbitration offer, but he wasn't confident enough to turn down the $36 million in guaranteed—but highly backloaded—money the Brewers offered in a three-year deal, and the team got a relative bargain, as free-agent prices go.
2011 Between a bum thumb and whatever else, Ramirez was horrific in the first two months, hitting .168/.232/.285 before landing on the DL in early June. Once he came back, he was the A-Ram of old, bopping at a .287/.333/.557 clip. After the season, he said there was more than the thumb holding him back, and he played through a few nagging hurts at the end to boot. All of which brings home the nagging fear that, as he moves deeper into his 30s, he's not the four- or five-win player he was in his prime, and never will be again. His strikeout and walk rates hit low points not seen since his days as a young Pirate, and more disconcerting still has been the near-total disappearance of his range—like a mime, you can watch him for hours and still not be sure if he moved. His 2012 option is riding on a comeback, but if he simply manages a healthy season, the counting stats will prop up the reputation he earned in the Aughties.
2010 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. A dislocated shoulder kept him out of the lineup for two months and provided the first long, sour note of a disappointing season at Wrigley, but he returned as strong as ever, crushing lefties and holding his own against righties. A-Ram has been the best hitter on the winningest Cubs teams since Leo the Lip spent his days scowling in the home dugout, yet he never seems to be counted among the Cub greats. Only 32, he’ll continue to put up cookie-cutter seasons into the foreseeable future and change that perception.
2009 On a visceral level, A-Ram's seen as the bopper in a lineup where so many other players seem to come and go or run hot and cold. Last year's odd random development was his failure to hurt lefties (.239/.333/.388), when he has more usually smote them (.287/.352/.534 career, including 2008). Jeff Bagwell had odd interruptions like that as well, but it shouldn't persist, part of the reason why you can anticipate a continued good run, albeit one short of nearing 40 homers again, as Ramirez did during his age 26-28 peak.
2008 Given that he once had a reputation as an erratic performer, it's ironic that Ramirez has developed into one of the most consistent hitters in baseball. Even more shocking is the fact that he was 18 fielding runs above average at the hot corner last year, a positive result not unique to our system; David Pinto's Probabilistic Model of Range (PMR) listed Ramirez as the fourth-best defensive third baseman in baseball in 2007. Ramirez's defensive issues had always been more a lack of concentration than a lack of ability, and some observers insist he was simply more engaged in the field last year. On the other hand, players can have fluke seasons with the glove just as with the stick, and this could have been the fielding equivalent of Brady Anderson's 1996. In either event, he's one of the more underappreciated stars of the NL.
2007 Ramirez cleaned up this offseason with a $75-million deal that will keep him in Wrigleyville until at least 2011. Make no mistake, this should be a better deal than, Juan Pierre`s Dodger contract, but Ramirez and his former teammate make an interesting comparison. Players with either no power (like Pierre) or no speed (like Ramirez) don`t tend to age as well as players who have some of each. Of the four PECOTA comparables above, only Tony Perez aged gracefully, and Perez`s did it after moving to first base following an age-28 season in 1970 was arguably his best. Still, Ramirez has a decent chance to hold his value as well as Perez did. He`s worked on his defense, he has good strikezone coverage, and his three-year run with the Cubs has been remarkable for its consistency at the plate.
2006 Life in a major market and exposure on a super station have done wonders for Ramirez`s defensive rep just as he`s begun to lose his defensive value. He used to start a good number of DPs from third, but whether it`s a matter of getting older or having Todd Walker on the pivot, that isn`t the case these days. Although he`s apparently never going to become a particularly patient hitter--Ramirez has drawn more than 40 unintentional walks once in his career--he`s still putting runs on the board, and should continue to be one for the next two or three years, or, almost to the end of his Cubs contract.
2005 It was Adrian Beltre's breakout season that received the attention, but Ramirez had a huge year too. The key to Ramirez's development is that he's making contact more frequently—36 home runs to 62 strikeouts is one of the more impressive ratios in all of baseball. He may be the rare example of a player who is better when he attacks early in the at-bat: More than half his home runs came when the count was 0-0, 1-0, or 1-1. Like Beltre, Ramirez is younger than he appears in the rearview mirror, having reached the majors at age 21, so there's good reason to believe that the improvement he's demonstrated is going to stick. PECOTA, which foresaw a breakout for him last year, now seems to think that he's overshot the mark slightly. Still, he's probably the Cubs' most valuable position player heading into next year, in spite of his indifferent defense.
2004 Ramirez is not a superstar, and likely will never be, but average players have their value, especially when the alternatives are dim; Ramirez's acquisition was in fact one of Jim Hendry 's best moves. The rap on his defense is that he makes the tough plays but muffs the easy ones, and his 33 errors did nothing to disprove that. He showed flashes of plate discipline while in the minor leagues, and PECOTA seems to think that a breakout is in store. That Ramirez cut down on his strikeouts after becoming a Cub is a good sign.
2003 Bothered by an ankle sprain for much of the season, Ramirez’s poor performance in 2002, in a season when he should have had been establishing himself as a star, helped sink the Pirates’ ship. While Ramirez has one of the strongest arms in the game, his overall defense leaves something to be desired. Off-season reports from winter ball said Ramirez had lost the extra pounds he put on during 2002; a svelte, healthy, and productive Ramirez is critical to Pittsburgh’s hope of impersonating a bona fide major league team in 2003.
2002 They finally had no choice but to let him play, probably because Ed Sprague’s agent doesn’t have call waiting. Ramirez’s season offered just a taste of his skills; he drew far more walks in the minors, so if the Pirates haven’t ruined his batting eye, he could be the second-best third baseman in the league very shortly. And he’s just 24 years old. Littlefield’s first long-term contract discussion should be with Ramirez's agent; let’s hope he does have call waiting.
2001 He got a second chance to claim the third-base job last April, but the Pirates persisted in their impatience and demoted him after a slow start. He got a third chance in August, began to hit and separated his shoulder, effectively ending his season. Aramis Ramirez could certainly stand a little luck, because the Pirates are disinclined to use him, even though he has been their best third-base option since mid-’98. He’s a future star if the Pirates just give him a chance.
2000 He obliterated Triple-A pitching at age 21 in his first extended trial, making the Bucs' failure to deal Ed Sprague in July all the more perplexing. The knock on Ramirez is his defense. He made 42 errors this year, but most scouts believe his troubles are fixable and that a move to left field won't be necessary. Regardless of where he plays, he's a potential superstar with the stick. If the Pirates don't start him at third base in April, all Pirate fans should report to the Fort Pitt Bridge.
1999 So now people are calling in to local sports-gab stations, complaining about how Ramirez "didn't do nothing" this year. Never mind the fact that he still can't walk into a bar and get himself a drink (except on the Strip), or that he was two months removed from A-ball when he was called up in May. Between adjusting to defending 3b on turf and adjusting to major-league pitchers, he held his own, and he still looks like a star in the making if he can handle the inevitable struggles of an early call-up.
1998 When players this young make adjustments at the plate and draw walks like Ramirez did, you have to take notice. Only 19, Ramirez drew a mind-boggling 81 walks while slugging .454 in the high-A Carolina League, and he got better as the season progressed, hitting .330 in the second half after he stopped swinging at everything in his ZIP code. Already better than whatever the Pirates throw out there in April. Should be in the majors no later than April 1999.

Related Content:  Cubs,  Aramis Ramirez,  Pirates,  Brewers

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