Jose Ramirez's Breakout Season Has Helped Make the Indians a Playoff Threat
When the Cleveland Indians lost Michael Brantley for the beginning of, and eventually the entire 2016 season, there was a void in the Indians' offense. The Indians already were lacking offensively, and losing their best offensive player spelled trouble.
But in Brantley's absence, Jose Ramirez has stepped up in a breakout season for the Indians, proving to be one the the better hitters this season on the Indians' roster. He's in the midst of an 27-game on-base streak.
Last season, Brantley hit .310/.379/.480 with a .368 wOBA and 134 wRC+ as he posted 3.7 fWAR, regressing a bit from his 6-WAR season in 2014 -- but an impressive season nonetheless. However, without Brantley, many wondered where the Indians' offense would come from.
Francisco Lindor was expected regress a bit, as was Jason Kipnis, but with just under a week left in August, the Indians rank fifth in baseball in wRC+ and wOBA and fourth in runs scored.
And that is, in part, due to Ramirez stepping up in Brantley's absence. Ramirez was expected to be a utility man for the Indians this season, playing some in the outfield as well until Brantley returned, but instead, Ramirez has become one of the team's top hitters.
In fact, Ramirez has already basically equaled Brantley's ZiPS projections coming into the season, and that was before his go-ahead two-run homer against the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday.
Brantley projection: .301 AVG, 123 wRC+, 8.6 BB%, 9.0 K%, .150 ISO
Jose Ramirez 2016: .311 AVG, 124 wRC+, 7.5 BB%, 10.9 K%, .146 ISO
â€” August Fagerstrom (@AugustFG_) August 20, 2016
Ramirez played in left field early on for the Indians but has quickly taken over the starting third baseman role with Juan Uribe's departure. On the season, Ramirez is hitting .310/.365/.451 with a .355 wOBA and 122 wRC+, posting a 3.3 fWAR, just 0.4 less than Brantley's 2015 total.
Last season, Ramirez hit .219/.291/.340 with a .280 wOBA and 73 wRC+, but he's experienced a break out season this year, with some newfound power and an all-around, well-rounded game.
Ramirez has experienced a power surge at the plate, with a .150 ISO, a career high, as well as a .461 slugging percentage, also a career high, to go along with 10 home runs and 57 RBI.
At the plate, Ramirez is swinging more, a 43.9 swing rate, up from 40.3 percent last year, and hitting more line drives, an uptick of 8.3 percent in his line drive percentage, all leading to his surge in production at the plate.
He's also pulling the ball less and using all parts of the field with his opposite field percentage up 4.2 percent, per FanGraphs.
More importantly for the Indians, Ramirez has been doing it with runners on base, runners in scoring position, and two outs. Ramirez has been the most-clutch player on the Indians' roster, and the 17th most-clutch player in the MLB with a 1.11 FanGraphs' Clutch Rating, and he continued his clutch hitting Sunday, with a two-out two-run homer against Brett Cecil to give the Indians a 3-2 lead.
The Indians' third baseman is hitting .381/.427/.495 with runners in scoring position, .353/.394/.491 with runners on base, and .407/.448/.574 with runners on base and two outs. Ramirez is ninth in the MLB and fourth in the American League, behind the likes of David Ortiz, Mike Trout and Anthony Rizzo in Win Probability Added.
Finally, just like Brantley, Ramirez hasn't just done it at the plate but also added value in the field and on the basepaths. Ramirez is second in the American league, behind teammate Rajai Davis, in FanGraphs' base running stat (BsR) with 20 stolen bases in 26 attempts. And in the field, Ramirez as a 0.1 UZR at third and a -1.9 UZR in left.
Ramirez is also still a year away from arbitration, so the Indians and their front office have to be sitting pretty, knowing Ramirez, along with Lindor and Kipnis, will make up three-fourths of their infield for years to come.
As for this year, there is some reason to expect some late-season regression from Ramirez with his BABIP at a career-high .333, but with an increased line drive and hard hit percentage, there's reason to believe much of his improvement is here to stay.
Ramirez's best season has helped Cleveland jump out to a seven-game lead in the AL Central.
And if Ramirez can continue his hot-hitting, at the plate, especially with runners on base and in scoring position, the Indians will have a bat in the middle of their lineup that no pitcher will want to face come September and October. Their 15.5% chance to win the World Series is second in the Majors.