The Cleveland offense has been largely unimpressive this season. By most metrics, they’re near the bottom of the overall team rankings. Their 85 wRC+ as a team, for instance, ranks 27th in the game, and their team OBP of .295 is tied for second-last in baseball. The two bats that were expected to do well in that lineup have done just that as Jose Ramirez has been his usual excellent self that we’ve come to know over the years, and Franmil Reyes was doing his usual slugging and even showing new levels of power before he landed on the injured list with an oblique injury. Other than those two, there hasn’t been much else for fans to get excited for.
However, one of the few offensive bright spots has been the team’s other Ramirez: Harold Ramirez. In a move with little fanfare, the team claimed him off waivers from the Marlins back in February. It was a move that couldn’t possibly hurt, as Cleveland was already short on outfielders coming into the season, and they didn’t need to commit much to Ramirez, as he still had a minor league option remaining. There was always a possibility that he would see some playing time with Cleveland, but the team probably saw him as AAA depth or a bench bat in an ideal world. Of course, plans often change quickly in this game. Various circumstances—namely injuries and underperformance elsewhere in the lineup—forced Ramirez to start getting more of a look back in May.
He’s been playing well enough with a .270/.315/.426 slash line—good enough for an exactly average 100 wRC+—production that the team will certainly take considering their offensive woes this year. He’s been playing even better lately, with a .296/.354/.423 line since May 22nd. Ramirez got his first taste of the bigs in 2019 with the Marlins, where he had mixed results but ultimately did show promise with a 93 wRC+ in his first go in the Majors. After missing pretty much all of 2020 with COVID and then a hamstring injury, it looked like his career was maybe stalling out. But now, with Cleveland and just 26-years-old, Ramirez could finally be rounding into form, as once upon a time, he was a pretty well-regarded prospect. So, what’s going in his profile that is causing his sudden surge at the plate and makes him look like an intriguing player? Let’s take a look.
As the title of this post suggests, Ramirez is crushing the ball. I mean, it’s actually pretty ridiculous. Now, it does need to be said that Ramirez has just a bit over 100 plate appearances so far this season, so it’s not a large sample size. Still, what he’s done so far in such a small sample has been impressive. Let’s start first by looking at maximum exit velocity as it is, after all, one of the first stats to matter over the course of a long season. With a ball hit 114.5 miles-per-hour as his top exit velocity mark this season, it’s good enough for him to land in the 94th percentile, which is right up there with some of the game’s best hitters. Here’s a look at that batted ball, which actually came in his first plate appearance with Cleveland. It is a ripped double into the gap that is hit so hard that it ends up being a close play at second base:
That is an improvement over where it was in 2019, but even going back to that season, a strong max exit velocity isn’t something all that new for him. His max exit velocity in 2019 was 113 miles-per-hour, which landed him in the 89th percentile that year–that’s good too! If there’s one thing that Ramirez has shown during his limited time at the Major League level, it’s been his strong max exit velocities, important because it is often a good indicator of power.
This also trickles down to the rest of his batted-ball profile. For instance, Ramirez shines when looking at 90th percentile exit velocity, too—the importance of which can be read about here. Ramirez showed good results here back in 2019 and has continued to show those skills so far in 2021:
Like max exit velocity, Ramirez has shown improvement here this year, up about two miles-per-hour from 2019. His early 90th percentile exit velocity mark also ranks among the best in baseball. Also, when looking at the surface-level Statcast metrics, we see substantial improvement from 2019:
Not only are those much better than his last run of extended playing time, but they also rank quite well across the league. These marks will surely come down to earth a bit with more batted balls, but right now, his average exit velocity mark sits in the top ten, his hard-hit rate in the top-twenty, and a barrel rate well above the league average rate of around six percent.
Part of the reason why his barrel rate maybe looks a bit weaker compared to the outstanding hard-hit metrics has to do with his distribution of batted balls. Looking at said batted ball profile, what stands out the most is that he has a high 54.4% groundball rate. This isn’t anything new for Ramirez. In 2019, he had a groundball rate of 57.4%, and even going back to the minor leagues, he constantly had groundball rates greater than 50%. That won’t help out much in terms of barrel rate, but it also leads to a profile with little room for error. Meaning, to get the most success with a high-groundball profile, a hitter would have to maximize the damage done on the other batted ball types.
Fortunately, this is exactly what Ramirez is doing. While Ramirez is crushing the ball generally, he’s also crushing the better-batted ball types. Have a favorite stat used to judge how well a hitter is doing on those batted balls? Chances are that Ramirez is towards the top of the leaderboard. How about average exit velocity on fly balls and line drives? Well, Ramirez is towards the top of the leaderboard there:
For some additional context, that places Ramirez in the same company as hitters such as Juan Soto, Nelson Cruz, Matt Olson, Mike Trout, and Ronald Acuna— pretty good company to keep. It’s a similar story with hard-hit rate on fly balls and line drives:
Again, Ramirez ranks similarly, and he’s sandwiched between Cruz and Soto on the leaderboard again. Perhaps most encouraging, though, is how Ramirez stacks up when it comes to average fly ball distance:
At 337 feet of average distance, Ramirez is in Jesse Winker, Aaron Judge, and Max Muncy territory, and it is yet another favorable ranking for him. Of course, these are all great things, and what makes it so great is that these stats tend to correlate well with other stats such as HR/FB%, ISO, wOBA, and xwOBA, for instance.
Now, this is where we get into those expected stats. It’s scary to think about, but it seems like Ramirez has even gotten unlucky so far when it comes to his results on fly balls and line drives, with one of the top-15 largest differences between wOBA and xwOBA and SLG and xSLG on those batted-ball types:
Based on how well Ramirez has hit the ball so far, he probably should have a better slash line than his current one suggests. Now it’s definitely not that simple, but when looking at how well he’s done on the batted-ball side, it’s hard not to be impressed with how Ramirez grades out. Even if things do come down a bit as we get a larger sample (and they likely will), this is still definitely a positive mark for him and an overall improvement from where he was in 2019. He should probably be on many more radars just based on this excellent batted-ball profile on its own.
And it’s not as if he’s a one-trick pony either. There are other things about his profile that are quite nice as well. First, he’s shown the ability to spray the ball all over the field., which his spray chart helps show:
You’ll notice from this spray chart that there are indeed a good amount of batted balls to each direction, but more specifically, a good amount of extra-base hits to the opposite field as well—notably, a few doubles went to the opposite field (Ramirez is right-handed), and each of his three home runs has gone to the three directions:
Ramirez has shown some pop to all fields so far this season, which is quite an encouraging sign and has been a big part of his early-season success, as it doesn’t look like he needs to rely so much on leaning to one side to do well.
With a good ability to spray the ball and strong hard-hit skills, Ramirez seems like a tougher out than maybe would be expected. He’s not a hitter that would seem like a logical candidate to shift on—and he hasn’t been. He hasn’t seen a single shift so far this year and was shifted against just seven times in 2019. Additionally, Ramirez is quite fast, especially for someone his size. The team lists him at 232 pounds, and even then, his sprint speed ranks in the 89th percentile. While that may not exactly mean he’s a huge stolen base threat (he’s on pace for about eleven stolen bases when prorated to 600 plate appearances), it does mean that the opportunity is there for him to beat out more groundballs for infield hits than the average runner, a positive considering he has a high groundball rate. For what it’s worth, Ramirez does have a 12.7% infield hit rate this year, which is among the top-25 in the game, and he had a similarly high 12.1% rate in 2019. Here are some examples of Ramirez running hard and beating out some plays in the infield this year:
So, what downsides does Ramirez then have? It’s certainly hard to complain about what he’s done on the batted-ball side so far, but there are still some things about his profile that stand out as being things to monitor going forward. The groundballs are a big one. We would like to see fewer of them for obvious reasons, especially considering how well he’s been hitting his non-grounders, but that’s probably not likely to change considering his track record. Another thing that is not likely to change is his plate discipline profile. Ramirez is kind of a free swinger. Now, that’s not an inherently bad thing. Some players are quite successful with a free-swinging profile. However, it’s sort of like a double-edged sword. For instance, Ramirez has excellent contact ability:
Ramirez is going to put more balls in play than the average hitter, which is good because, as we know, he hits the ball very well. The downside is, though, that he may not always be swinging at the best pitches. Ramirez’s chase rate is about ten percent higher than the league average, which, combined with a high-swing profile, won’t lead to many walks. With just a 3.4% walk rate, it’s one of the 15-lowest in the game. His walk rate wasn’t much better in 2019 either, at just 4.0%, so I wouldn’t expect this to suddenly change much going forward. Again, hitters can make this work, but it is a lot tougher, and his ultimate ceiling may be lower because of it. Additionally, with a high chase rate, he could be pitched a bit differently going forward, especially so if he continues to crush the ball as much as he is.
When it comes to pitching him differently, it’s not exactly about him seeing more of one pitch type. Sure, pitchers could just try throwing him more breaking balls just for the sake of it, but so far, he has been hitting pretty much everything hard, and there hasn’t been one pitch type, in particular, that has caused him more trouble than another to this point, but again, it’s still a small sample. Rather, what pitchers can do is give him fewer good pitches to hit. Despite his high chase rate, Ramirez actually has one of the highest in-zone rates this season:
Some of this may be a product of his past track record. A pitcher would probably come into the year planning to pitch to Ramirez as if he’s still the 2019 version, rather than the new harder-hitting version he’s been this year. Ramirez has gotten a lot of pitches inside the strike zone so far, and for the most part, he’s hit them well. The expectation should then be that pitchers will adjust and give him more pitches that are not as good to hit. Ramirez will likely continue to chase them–he probably won’t suddenly stop chasing–which could then lead to not as good results. While Ramirez does hit the ball well in general, we can see that he hasn’t exactly been doing as well when he puts the ball in play when the pitch is in the zone compared to out of the zone.
Going further to look at Statcast’s attack zones, most of the damage Ramirez has done has come on pitches in the heart of the plate. That’s not unexpected—it’s a similar case for many hitters—but the difference is that Ramirez swings at pitches in the shadow and chase zones much more frequently than average (about ten percent more in each zone, according to his swing/take profile). So, it doesn’t look like Ramirez gets as strong results in the other zones of the plate as compared to the heart of the zone, but he still swings at those pitches at an above-average rate.
Pitchers can then try and take advantage of this by peppering him with more pitches in those locations to try and get less quality contact in those areas. It’s not a perfect exercise, but it is at least some sort of plan of attack for pitchers to try and attempt to quiet Ramirez’s hot bat. At the very least, I would expect Ramirez to get fewer pitches in the zone going forward, and it would be pretty interesting to see what Ramirez would look like if that does indeed happen.
Overall, Ramirez is a good story right now, especially for a team in dire need of offense. Since being called up to Cleveland in early May, he’s made quite the impression as he has shown outstanding hard-hit ability. He already has a firm place towards the top of the maximum exit velocity leaderboards and has been able to work around a groundball heavy profile by doing a lot of damage to line drives and fly balls, of which he is also towards the top of the league leaderboards. All of those are positive marks in his favor, and then his ability to spray and drive the ball all over the field along with plus speed makes him all the more intriguing. However, there are still some downsides to the profile, most notable that he doesn’t walk much at all, which comes from a higher chase rate, which leads to a possible way for pitchers to try and get more outs him.
It does remain to be seen if he can keep it going for an extended run, but all in all, there is a lot to like about what Ramirez has shown at the plate this season, and he is definitely worthy of some extra attention, as he is suddenly looking like one of the better hitters in Cleveland’s lineup.
Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)