Behind the Box Score: Ramirez stays hot

CLEVELAND – Sports tend to be unpredictable, especially in baseball where a Rookie of the Year can undergo a sophomore slump in a matter of one season.

The talk of the Indians offseason revolved around predictability, particularly two words: Jose Ramirez and regression.

With a .312/.363/.462 slash line and .333 BABIP in 2016, many people expected the 24-year-old to fall back to Earth at some point.

That is, everyone except manager Terry Francona and Ramirez himself.

“I just think Jose has gone under the radar a bit, and he just seems like he’s getting better,” said Francona. “Because he knows the league and he understands the way guys pitch him, you’ve seen him generate more power.”

Not only has Ramirez matched his past production with .304/.360/.533 averages in 2017, but his uptick in power (11 home runs, .893 OPS) from both sides of the plate also make him one of the best hitters in the game.

“It’s not just because of strength, but it’s because he’s a good hitter, and he’s using his legs, he’s getting in good hitter’s counts,” Francona said. “There’s a lot he can do at the plate. You can bunt, you can hit and run, he hits the gap, he puts the ball in play and he hits the ball out of the ballpark. He pretty much does it all.”

Ramirez furthered his hitting terror in the month of June by going 3-for-5 with two home runs, four RBIs and ten total bases on Saturday afternoon at Target Field. He now has multi-hit efforts in each of his last four games, a stretch in which he is hitting .611 (11-for-18) with five doubles and a trio of long balls.

How has he been able to continue his elite level of performance that many thought was unsustainable?

“He’s a good hitter,” said Francona. “There’s value in the fact that you can move him around (in the lineup). It doesn’t throw him. He just likes to hit and play baseball.”

In addition to the boost in power, all aspects of Ramirez’s skill set have been sustained or improved this season, mainly because he does everything so well. The biggest strides made from last year have been his elevated hard-hit rate (26.8% to 34%), fly ball rate (36.3% to 38.1%), line drive rate (22.8% to 24.3%) and home run to fly ball rate (6% to 11.7%), all unprecedented figures for a player that keeps getting better.

The offseason buzz might not have considered positive regression as a possibility for the 5-foot-9 stature of Ramirez.

“Jose got here quick, but there was a couple hiccups where he had to go back. You never want to see a guy like Brantley be hurt, but if not for that, I mean Jose took that and ran with it,” Francona said of Ramirez breaking into the big leagues in 2013 at the age of 20. “You never know. Because he had been sent down a few times. I know a lot of people thought he was maybe a utility player. He’s a middle of the order bat.”

Since his MLB debut, Ramirez has played four different positions while gradually increasing his weighted runs created on a year-to-year basis, particularly since earning an everyday role in place of Michael Brantley (shoulder) to start the 2016 campaign…

Fangraphs

Analytics aside, Ramirez has shown the ability to make steady strides on both sides of the ball throughout his four-year tenure in the big leagues. If he can continue this torrid run, his recent $26-million extension might prove to be the biggest bargain over the next five years and beyond.

“I’m just focusing on playing the game day-by-day,” said Ramirez through the Tribe’s translator, Anna Bolton. “I’m putting in the work in my free time. Thank God I’m getting good results.”

John Alfes has covered the Indians for IBI since August of 2016. Follow him on Twitter @JohnAlfes for breaking news and in-depth coverage all season long.

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