Come on. Admit it. You can totally hear the Berlin song playing in your head. You’re welcome. Yet this morning we’re not going to talk about Maverick, Goose, and Iceman; we’re going to have a chat about Jose Ramirez. Watching Jose Ramirez play baseball is a fantastic experience. Short, stocky and a bit barrel-chested, Ramirez doesn’t exactly look like an elite baseball player at first glance. Yet anything beyond a cursory glance tells a different story. He holds himself with the swagger of someone who knows he’s the best player in the ballpark but also carries the chip on his shoulder of someone determined to prove it. His swing is both beautiful and violent. They’ve never made a helmet that could actually stay on his head once he gets a full head of steam going. He’s just incredibly fun to watch. That’s why it was such a disappointment when he struggled for much of last year. It sapped some of the fun right out of the 2019 season. The thing is though, it’s 2020 and the signs say that Jose Ramirez is back and it’s breathtaking.
Ramirez was a polarizing figure coming into the 2020 season. He was putrid for much of the first half of 2019 as he hit just .219 with five home runs over the season’s first 80 games. Then suddenly, like flipping a switch, Jose Ramirez came alive. Over the final 48 games of his season (Ramirez ended up missing 34 games in the second half with a broken hamate bone in his hand) he hit .321 with 18 HRs, 53 RBIs and a .431 wOBA. For just over a quarter of a season Ramirez hit at a 61 HR, 178 RBI full-season pace. What changed? Jose Ramirez remembered to be himself.
Ramirez has always been an extreme pull hitter with fly ball tendencies. It makes a ton of sense as Progressive Field (and many of the stadiums in the AL Central for that matter) are built to reward powerful pull hitters. During his 2018 MVP caliber season (where he hit 39 HRs and 38 2Bs) he had a 104 game stretch from the start of season where he hit an astounding .294 with 32 HRs, 27 2Bs, and 76 RBIs. He also pulled the ball 53.7% of the time and hit the ball in the air 45.3% of the time over that period. Over the remaining 58 games, though, Ramirez only hit .210 with 7 HRs while his Pull% dropped all the way down to 41.6%. The same thing happened in 2019 but in reverse. During his early-season struggles, throughout which reportedly Ramirez was trying to go the other way to beat the shift, he pulled the ball just 45.9% of time. When he caught fire and his production took off was right around the same time he ditched that approach and pulled the ball 53.5% of the time, right in line with his prior elite production. That’s too on-the-nose to be a coincidence.
So what does that have to do with 2020? Through three games Jose Ramirez is on fire including hitting 2 HRs on Sunday while overall hitting .417 with 5 RBIs and 4 Runs for the season. The key to his success so far? He’s pulled literally every one of his five hits and has pulled every ball he’s put in play but one. Now of course it’s just three games, it’s the smallest of sample sizes, and that pull rate is going to come back down, but we’ve seen the kind of damage Ramirez can do when he is trying to pull the ball and if this early series is any indication then we could be in for a one-of-a-kind season from Jose Ramirez.
Here’s how the other hitters fared on Sunday:
Nelson Cruz vs CWS – 4-5, 4 R, 2 HR, 2 2B, 7 RBI. If you want to talk about a hitter starting the season on fire look no further than Nelson Cruz. With his 3rd HR in two days, he’s up to 10 RBI already on the season. Barry Bonds is the oldest player to win an MVP award at 40 years old but if Cruz keeps hitting like this, in this stacked Minnesota lineup and we might see that record tied sooner rather than later.
Ozzie Albies vs NYM – 3-6, 3 R, HR, 2 2B, 3 RBI. Three extra-base hits are a recipe for a good Sunday as the Braves absolutely rolled the injury-riddled Mets pitching staff. He hit 42 doubles last year and you have to wonder if this year some of those doubles become home runs. A couple early bombs could be a sign.
Miguel Rojas vs PHI – 3-4, 3 R, HR, 3B, 4 RBI. So far getting Miguel Rojas out has been easier said than done for the Phillies as he has started the season hitting a blistering .700 and after adding a home run and a triple on Sunday, three of his seven hits have been extra-base hits. I don’t know if we can expect the counting stats to continue considering he’s mostly hitting in the back end of the Marlins order but he should hit for a decent average after hitting .284 last season.
Trevor Story vs TEX – 2-2, 2 R, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 2 BB. It’s good to see Story get going after starting the season one for nine. He has already been walked four times this season which is a trend we’ll have to monitor early on in the season to see if Story is trying to be more patient with both Arenado and Blackmon hitting behind him.
Dansby Swanson vs NYM – 3-5, 2 R, HR, 2B, 5 RBI. YES. Last season Swanson had the incredible Statcast numbers but not the results and this led many folks in the industry to predict a breakout season for him in 2020. After hitting a homer and a double on Sunday he’s gotten off to a .417 with a homer and six RBI start that has us wondering if that breakout prediction could be correct.
Marcell Ozuna vs NYM – 2-4, 2 R, HR, 2B, 2 RBI, BB. There are a lot of Braves on this list today as they hung 14 on the Mets. With a HR and a double yesterday that makes all four of Ozuna’s hits on the season of the extra-base variety and that’s an encouraging initial sign that his power bump from last year might be the new norm.
Mike Trout vs OAK – 2-3, R, HR, 4 RBI. Is Trout Gonna Trout the hitter version of Aces Gonna Ace? Now that we know Trout is going to play the season, everyone who got him after the fifth pick in their drafts have to laughing all the way to the bank.
Willson Contreras @ MIL – 2-4, 2 R, HR, 2B, 2 RBI. There were many who suspected coming into the season that Contreras couldn’t sustain his excellent 2019 numbers but a double and a home run yesterday give him a good start at proving everyone wrong and the Cubs are going to need his production if they’re going to make manager David Ross’s debut season a successful one.
Bryce Harper @ MIA – 1-4, R, HR, 3 RBI, BB. Nice to see Harper hit one out as he had only one hit in the previous two games. Hopefully this gets him going so he can help Philadelphia right the ship after losing two of three to the Marlins.
Ian Happ @ MIL – 2-4, R, HR, 3 RBI. If one thing should grab your attention in Chicago, it’s that Ian Happ is getting everyday playing time so far and he is capitalizing on it. After adding a home run and a single on Sunday, Happ is hitting .300 with two HRs and five RBI. Rumors are he spent the quarantine period gaining a ton of muscle and working on his hitting, This could be the beginning of the post-hype breakout we’ve been waiting for.
Gleyber Torres vs WSH – 3-4, R, HR, 2 RBI. Torres has been doing his part so far but it’s sign of just how much the Yankees lineup is struggling right now that despite hitting third in the Yankees lineup and getting on base at a .364 clip, his home run on Sunday provided every counting stat he has so far on the season.
Anthony Santander vs BOS – 1-5, 2 R, HR, 2 RBI, BB. Our own Nic Bucher wrote a fantastic Going Deep piece last week on Santander and why he’s a hitter to keep an eye on this season. With a home run on Sunday he’s making Nic look clairvoyant.
Jesus Aguilar vs PHI – 2-3, 2 R, HR, RBI, 2 BB. A feel-good breakout story in 2018, everything fell apart for Aguilar in 2019. With 2 HRs already for the currently-in-first-place Marlins, could this the start of a comeback season for Aguilar?
Brian Anderson vs PHI – 1-4, 2 R, HR, 3 RBI. Boy and I thought there were a lot of Braves on this list today. Anderson was a popular breakout candidate coming into the season and his Sunday home run and three RBI definitely helped make that look like a good call.
Corey Dickerson vs PHI – 2-5, 2 R, HR, RBI. This one goes out there to all the Dickerson fanboys/fangirls out there (full disclosure: I’m one of them). While he missed a large chunk of 2019 thanks to various injuries, when Dickerson played he was excellent, hitting .304 with 12 HRs and 59 RBI in 279 Plate Appearances. So far, he has picked up right where he left off, hitting a homer on Sunday and .308 on the year while batting third in the Marlins lineup. If you’re currently hunting for someone to hold down the fort until Juan Soto gets back or are dealing with injuries in the outfield Dickerson could be a great option.
Ji-Man Choi @ TOR – 1-4, R, HR, RBI, BB. Saving the best for last, the baseball internet went bonkers when the Ji-Man hit this tater. Why, do you ask? Because he hit it right-handed. One of the biggest things that has always held Choi back from becoming a full-on legitimate fantasy option is that he was mired in a platoon as the Marlins would only let the switch hitter bat lefty. If he can start getting right-handed at-bats against LHP as well? That could be a game-changer.
(Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)