Jose Ramirez for AL MVP?
OK. OK. Hold on. Did Mike Trout retire? Are Jose Altuve and Josh Donaldson ineligible?
Saying the Cleveland Indians’ spark plug in the middle of their lineup should win the award in the American League based on his contributions to this point is absolutely a stretch. But it’s certainly not out of the question to believe Ramirez has been one of the league’s most valuable position players.
It’s not about winning the award. The real question is, where does he rank among his peers in 2016 production? Is he a top 25 player? Higher? Lower?
Let’s examine Ramirez’s season up to this point and attempt to figure out just where he should fall among his peers based on value this season.
WINS ABOVE REPLACEMENT
Let’s start with Wins Above Replacement (WAR).
Even an all-inclusive stat like WAR should never be the only determinant for assigning value to a player. Even though it’s getting better, we still don’t have a perfect way to grade players defensively over one season — even a year doesn’t always provide the most accurate of sample sizes on defense — but WAR is still one of the best ways to grade how good a player has been in several areas.
Fangraphs.com ranks Ramirez 23rd in the AL in WAR (3.2), while Baseball-Reference’s version of WAR isn’t much different (3.1).
Here are some of the players Ramirez currently ranks ahead of in Fangraphs.com’s WAR (fWAR): Edwin Encarnacion, Nelson Cruz, Chris Davis, Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Beltran, Mark Trumbo, Salvador Perez, Mike Napoli, Todd Frazier.
As of Tuesday, two Indians ranked ahead of Ramirez in WAR: Francisco Lindor (7th-4.9) and Jason Kipnis (11th-4.3).
If we stopped our search for value there, it would appear the young infielder would be a fringe top 20 most valuable player in 2016, with two teammates holding better MVP resumes. But Wins Above Replacement should only be viewed as part of the equation — even if it’s a rather large portion.
WIN PROBABILITY ADDED
Win Probability Added (WPA) is defined as a statistic which attempts to measure a player’s contribution to a win by figuring the factor by which each specific play made by that player has altered the outcome of a game.
The advanced stat only measures how a player’s plate appearance increases or decreases his club’s chance to win the game. The pitcher gets the positive or negative on the other side of the ball.
For example, let’s look at two of Ramirez’s biggest recent hits: His game-tying solo homer in the ninth inning on Friday and his go-ahead two-run shot in the eighth inning on Sunday.
First, here is how Ramirez’s blast to right field off Toronto closer Roberto Osuna altered Friday’s win probability (courtesy of Baseball-Reference).
Toronto went from an 87 percent chance of victory to 41 percent, a difference of 46 percent, credited to Ramirez on the game-tying round-tripper. Of course, one batter later, Tyler Naquin provided one of the most memorable plays in Progressive Field history, a walk-off, inside-the-park home run.
Now, here is Ramirez’s go-ahead home run to the left field porch on Sunday.
The round-tripper provided a 58 percent swing, giving Cleveland an 83 percent chance of victory after the blast.
In each game, Ramirez’s clutch hit was the game’s biggest swing in win probability. If coming through in crucial situations is one factor you use to determine how much value a player provides, these two hits are pretty big indicators of Ramirez’s impact.
Entering Tuesday’s set of games, Ramirez ranked fifth in the American League in WPA, trailing just four players.
Granted, WPA only gives us half of the equation. Value comes in many shapes and sizes — offense, defense, base running — and this is only giving us the impact created by offensive situations. And to create high WPA swings, you also need opportunities. But if you’re seeking the best argument for a Ramirez MVP vote, WPA might be your best bet.
RUNNERS IN SCORING POSITION
One of Ramirez’s calling cards this season has been his ability to hit with runners in scoring position.
While it still hasn’t been proven to actually be a definable skill — you know, as opposed to some fun with small sample sizes — hitting well with RISP has been at the center of a great deal of the switch-hitter’s value this season.
There are currently only two AL hitters with higher batting averages with runners in position to score than Ramirez (.381) — Yunel Escobar (.416) and Jose Altuve (.405).
With RISP, Ramirez is 30-for-105 in 2016 with nine doubles, one homer and 45 RBI. And it has been his high contact rate, combined with his ability to spray the ball to all fields, which appears to have made him a dynamic force in those situations.
An often overlooked part of value is the portion created on the base paths.
Taking extra bases, creating scoring opportunities for teammates and creating headaches for opposing pitchers can be just as important as the work put in to get on base. And when it comes to that category, a pair of Indians teammates are leading the charge in the AL.
Rajai Davis is the league’s best baserunner, at least according to Fangraphs.com’s baserunning metric. That doesn’t come as a shock. Davis leads the league with 33 steals. But who ranks second? Jose Ramirez, of course.
Ramirez’s 20 steals has him currently tied with Mike Trout and Mookie Betts for fourth in the American League. Most of that damage has come recently, as Ramirez has stolen nine bases over the past 15 games.
His defensive value to the Indians has been more valuable than just his overall numbers with the glove.
Ramirez has played four different positions in 2016, spending time at third base, left field, shortstop and second base. Second, his natural position, is rated his best spot in very limited duty this season (two defensive runs saved), but since taking over the third base job on an every day basis earlier this month, the 23-year-old’s defense has improved at the hot corner.
Take this play, for instance:
In 541 1/3 innings at third base this season, Ramirez has broken even in defensive runs saved and is ever-so-slightly above 0.0 in UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) at the position. And in just over 375 innings in left field, Ramirez was charged with one defensive run allowed (-7.6 UZR/150).
What he’s brought on defense really doesn’t really greatly positively or negatively impact his value from a league-wide scale. But his versatility, particularly earlier in the season when playing a lot of left field, has been key for the Indians’ first-place standing in the AL Central.
Yea, who cares about all this mumbo jumbo? What’s his batting average? How many ribbies does he have?
OK. Fine. So maybe you aren’t into some of the advanced stats. That’s fine. Here is where Ramirez currently ranks in some of the traditional stats.
- Average: 8th (.307)
- On-Base Percentage: 14th (.361)
- Home Runs: T-86th (10)
- RBI: 42nd (57)
- Doubles: 6th (31)
- Runs: 25th (69)
- Hits: 26th (130)
- SB: T-4th (20)
The traditional stats might not make him an obvious candidate as one of the league’s most valuable players, but Ramirez certainly has more than made up for some of his lower counting totals by picking the best possible times to provide his production.
When contributions happen can certainly be factored into value, and his RISP numbers, WPA, baserunning and WAR suggest he’s worthy of being listed as one of the AL’s top 20 position players — probably somewhere in that 15-20 range at this point — in 2016.
And when you think about it, Ramirez putting himself in that position is a testament to what he’s given his club this season.