Nothing has gone right for Cleveland this year. Before the year began, no team was more assured of a playoff spot than them, but a day after Memorial Day, their odds of winning the division had fallen to just 8.2 percent from 88.6. That’s bananas considering three teams in that division haven’t been above a 0.5 percent chance of winning the division at any time. At 26-27, Cleveland is closer to the last place Royals than they are the first place Twins!
There’s still time to recover, but the gap in the standings isn’t the biggest obstacle. They’ve endured injuries to Corey Kluber and Mike Clevinger. Their big offseason acquisition of Carlos González, a hitter who hadn’t been good since 2016, turned out to not be any good. Most concerning of all, José Ramírez still hasn’t put things together.
Ramírez is coming off a season in which he hit 39 homers, stole 34 bases, slashed .270/.387/.552, and finished third in AL MVP voting. An 8.0 fWAR season is impressive enough on its own, but it’s remarkable considering he was completely lost for the final month and a half of the season. Since August 21, he’s hit .187/.303/.293 for a 62 wRC+. That’s over 380 plate appearances across 87 games, so we’ve seen one of the best hitters in baseball hit like Jeff Mathis for half a season.
The perplexing thing about Ramírez’s disappearance is that he seems like player who should come around with time. His .206 BABIP since August 21 should positively improve. His .320 xwOBA suggest he’s perfectly fine. He’s had to be unlucky to be this bad. Ramírez should be fine.
Though we’ve been saying that for a long while, and if it were just bad luck, things would have sorted themselves out by now. Ramírez’ problems won’t be solved by staying the course. The slump has festered into something that won’t be corrected by batted ball luck.
Pitchers are approaching Ramírez a little differently this year. He’s seeing more four seam fastballs than he has in the previous two years and fewer sinkers than ever.
Usually, this wouldn’t be a problem as Ramírez has destroyed fastballs in the past. Between 2016 and 2018, Ramírez averaged a 177 wRC+ against fastballs, but in 2019, he’s hardly done anything against fastballs. He’s slugging just .234 against four seamers and his wRC+ against the pitch is just 50.
He’s swinging and missing at four seamers more than ever. His swinging strike rate is still above average, but it has more than doubled against the fastball. He’s hitting a lot of fly balls and line drives, but a big chunk of those flies have been pop-ups.
If Ramírez can’t do anything against fastballs, that’s a pretty clear indication that something is out of whack. Ramírez has always been a good low-ball hitter, so pitchers are going to his happy zone less frequently. It could also be why they’re less inclined to throw him a sinker. Instead, they’re attacking him with heaters across the letters when they had mostly pitched him away before. Ramírez has been more than eager to offer at the high pitch even though he has poor results on pitches above the strike zone.
Until Ramírez can punish the fastballs across the letters or lay off them like he used to, it’s going to be hard for him to pull out of this slump. It’s a bit weird that a player who was so successful against a pitch should struggle so mightily against it so suddenly. He should make an adjustment. José Ramírez will be fine. Right?
Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.