Jose Ramirez Is Back, And So Are The Indians

On June 2nd, the Cleveland Indians dropped to one game below the .500 mark (falling to 29-30), which meant that the Twins had extended their first place lead to a sizable 11.5 games. The Twins’ odds of winning the AL Central had risen to 94.8 percent (according to FanGraphs), and the Indians’ odds had dwindled to just 5.2 percent. Things were not looking good in Cleveland.

Corey Kluber was (and still is) sidelined on the 60-day injured list with a forearm injury, and superstar Jose Ramirez was in the midst of a big time slump. At the time, he was hitting .206/.308/.313 with 4 home runs and 17 runs driven in through 247 plate appearances. Right when you thought the Twins would be able to cruise their way to the finish line, the Indians caught fire.

No American League team has more wins than Cleveland does — 28 — dating back to June 3rd. The Indians have cut the Twins’ first place cushion to a mere three games, and they have tripled their odds of taking home the divisional crown (18.2 percent as of the morning of 7/22). Jose Ramirez has been a huge part of the reason why.

In the last calendar month (6/22 – 7/21), Ramirez has bumped up his offensive output by a significant margin…

  • PA: 88
  • HR: 5
  • RBI: 18
  • AVG: .321
  • OBP: .364
  • SLG: .630

Not a single Cleveland Indians’ hitter has produced more fWAR than Ramirez’s 1.0 during that span. Ramirez is gaining confidence, especially now that the results are starting to return where he wants them to be…

Ramirez may not have been able to continue his hit streak on Saturday, but he has now hit safely in 24 of his last 29 contests. Of the 33 games in which Ramirez has recorded an RBI this season, the Indians have won 30.

“Yeah, I’ve been feeling more confident,” Ramirez said. “And the [hard work] continues and the results are showing up. I feel really confident.”

Mandy Bell of MLB.com

Jose Ramirez, who ranked third in the majors (among the 140 qualified hitters — per FanGraphs) last season with a 38.3 pitch value against fastballs (behind only Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez), was struggling mightily early on in the season because he simply could not hit the fastball.

In 2019, his -11.0 pitch value against heaters through June 21st was the third worst in all of baseball (among the 159 qualified hitters), with only Maikel Franco and Starlin receiving lower marks. To put it simply, Ramirez went from one of the best fastball hitters, to one of the worst.

But since June 22nd, Ramirez has performed much better in that regard. He’s tied for the 69th highest fastball pitch value in the MLB (2.4; among the 184 qualified hitters) with Javier Baez. To go from a sub-2 percentile to a 60+ percentile is a major improvement.

As a result of being late on countless fastball, he was popping up the ball at a higher rate than last year, as conveyed below…

Launch angle charts via Baseball Savant

In 2019, balls hit at a launch angle greater than 36 degrees have a hit probability of less than 20% (< .200 AVG). The red shaded area, which depicts the coordinates of where the batter got hits, does not include a hit at a launch angle above 25 degrees for Jose Ramirez. That’s an excessive amount of wasted at bats (virtually no chance of reaching safely).

All video via Baseball Savant

From June 22nd on, Ramirez has been popping up less frequently and he is optimizing a line-drive heavy approach (the mode of the data set below is 10 degrees). It makes sense to do this because batted balls hit at a launch angle of 10 degrees have a hit probability of over 70% this season (according to Baseball Savant).

In other words, Ramirez has simultaneously increased his line drive rate and decreased the rate in which he pops up (as well as flies out)…

Source: FanGraphs3/28 – 6/216/22 – 7/21Change
LD%18.223.0+4.8
GB%33.132.4-0.7
FB%48.744.6-4.1
IFFB%12.26.1-6.1

Jose Ramirez accomplished this by altering the timing of his leg kick. In recent weeks, he lowered his front foot much sooner, which enabled him more time to balance, get set, and make sound contact. His swing is much smoother now that he has sorted out his timing.

May (top); July (bottom)

Ramirez was letting the ball travel way too long during much of the beginning of the 2019 campaign. On many occasions, he was late to the baseball, which led to a number of things…

  1. More contact the other way
  2. More pop ups
  3. More weaker contact

Number one was a massive problem because Ramirez doesn’t fare well when he goes the other way…

  • Career wRC+ as a lefty when he pulls the ball: 187
  • Career wRC+ as a lefty when he sends the ball the other way: 59

Devan Fink, a writer at FanGraphs, questioned what might be motivating Ramirez to hit the ball the other way at a higher rate during early April…

Why would Ramírez start trying to hit the ball the other way, especially if that’s not what works for him? One answer could be that he began trying too hard to beat the shift. Ramírez is a switch-hitter, and he was shifted at a drastically different rate when he batted right-handed (6.3% of the time) versus left-handed (53.0% of the time). If Ramírez was truly getting in his head and trying too hard to beat the shift, then we’d expect to see his pull percentage drop even further for when he hit lefty versus when he hit righty. And that’s exactly what happened. While Ramírez did see his pull-rate drop by not-insignificant 9.2 points as a right-handed hitter from prior to the slump to during it, his pull-rate dropped by 19.2 points (!) as a lefty.

This argument above could potentially explain why Ramirez was trying to stay back on so many pitches (especially heaters). Thus, the later he swings, the higher chance it travels to the opposite field.

Numbers two and three are problematic because pop ups and weak contact does not translate into good results.

But now that Jose Ramirez is dropping his front foot earlier, he’s been able to tap into more of his elite bat control and bat speed, which is why he has increased his line drive rate, as well as his average exit velocity and pull rate…

3/28 – 6/216/22 – 7/21 Change
Average exit velocity (Statcast)88.191.3+3.2
Pull% (FanGraphs)46.052.7+6.7

The Indians, who have won seven of their last eight games, have propelled themselves to within three games of the Twins. If they are going to triumph over Minnesota, you can bet Jose Ramirez will have a lot to do with it.

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