Jose Ramirez broke out for the Indians last season. Long seen as just a placeholder for Francisco Lindor, Jose hit well enough all year to keep getting starts in a utility role, and eventually moving up to become the full-time third baseman for Cleveland. Ramirez derived the majority of his value from an elite contact rate, and excellent base-running, swiping 22 bags and hitting for an average well over .300. All in all, Jose was worth nearly five wins above replacement. There has been a lot of speculation as to whether he can repeat his huge breakout last year, if we may have already seen his peak, or maybe, he’s just getting started and there are even greater things to come.
Looking at Jose’s numbers from last season, I can see three areas for improvement. First off is defense. According to defensive runs above average, Jose was only worth 0.5 throughout the 2016 season. Jose is a shortstop by training; however, he spent most of the first half of the season bouncing around positions in a utility role, before landing at third base full-time. Considering this and the fact that he has rated out as a plus defender in past seasons, I think it is safe to project an improvement here with a more consistent role.
Second is his walk rate. Jose walked in 7.1% of his plate appearances in 2016. To compare, in 2015, as well as in his Triple-A career, his walk rate hung right around 9%, so there is possibly some room for improvement there as well.
The final area for improvement is Jose’s home-run hitting. Despite recording 60 XBHs last year, Jose only left the yard 11 times. It is very difficult to put up an MVP-quality season with lower-end HR numbers. Since 2011, there have been 29 positional-player seasons worth 7+ WAR, and every single one of them included over 20 HRs.
So what will Jose look like in 2017? It’s hard to tell, unless of course you decide to overreact to this week’s opening game, in which case…
WELCOME TO THE MVP RACE JOSE RAMIREZ
Jose batted four times in the opener, and he had one walk and one HR. THE TWO THINGS HE NEEDED TO GET BETTER AT!!! Now obviously this article is a bit tongue-in-cheek, and a sample size of one game means VERY little. The walk especially tells us just about nothing. You give me 4 PA in a major-league game and I might even luck into a walk. However, there is reason to take note of the home run.
Prior to 2017, Jose Ramirez had hit 19 home runs in the majors. His previous best exit velocity was 107.8 MPH on a HR. The longest HR of his career had traveled 437 feet. Jose’s HR in game number one left his bat at 109.3 MPH and traveled 447 feet.
So MAYBE this is a hint that Jose has added some power since last season. That would be a reason to get excited. If you take Jose’s 2016 numbers, then bump him to a 9% walk rate, 22 HRs, and plus defensive value, and even account for a few points of BABIP regression, he’s a 7-8 WAR player, and looks real similar on paper to Mookie Betts.
So, if we overact to opening day, this would make Jose a legitimate star and MVP candidate. His season will be extremely exciting to follow, although in the end probably overshadowed by Madison Bumgarner’s race to 60 dingers.