Alexei Ramirez has been MVP-caliber in 2014
BY JOHN GROCHOWSKI For Sun-Times Media May 27, 2014 11:21PM
Updated: June 29, 2014 6:17AM
Through Monday, the White Sox are the third-highest-scoring team in the American League with 253 runs, five behind the Athletics and three behind the Blue Jays. On a per-game basis, the Sox are at 4.77 runs, fourth in the AL and well ahead of the league average of 4.37.
That’s an enormous step up from 2013, when the Sox were last in the AL at 3.96 runs per game, compared with the league average of 4.33. Rookie Jose Abreu (when healthy) has made a big difference, but the Sox have spread it around. Adam Dunn has stepped up from a .762 OPS last season to .863, Dayan Viciedo from .731 to .799, Conor Gillaspie from .695 to .855 and Tyler Flowers from .603 to .771.
And then there’s Alexei Ramirez, who has been one of the most valuable players in the AL.
Fifty-three games is a small sample, and players off to great starts often play somewhere closer to their career norms for the rest of the season. Still, Ramirez has made an even bigger leap than his rise from a .284 batting average in 2013 to .320 through Monday would indicate.
His batting average last season was above the AL average of .256, but it was an empty .284. With only 26 walks in 687 plate appearances leading to a .313 on-base percentage and six home runs leading to a .380 slugging percentage, his OPS was .693. Adjusted for ballpark and normalized to league average on a 100-point scale, it was an 87 OPS-plus.
In 2014, Ramirez’s walk rate is up from 3.9 percent of plate appearances to 5.1 percent. With seven homers, the proportion of his hits that have gone for extra bases is up from 7 percent to 7.8 percent. His OBP is up to .355, his slugging percentage to .483, his OPS to .838 and his OPS-plus to 128. Instead of offensive production 13 percent below the league average, he has been 28 percent above it.
More worrisome is that Ramirez’s line-drive percentage has declined, according to FanGraphs.com. Last season, 22.1 percent of his batted balls were liners. This season, his liners are down to 16.1 percent, his lowest since 15.7 percent in 2009.
His batting average on balls in play is .333, a huge jump over his career-high .309 last season. There’s a strong chance element in BABiP, and very high percentages usually don’t hold up over the long haul.
Still, by wins above replacement, Ramirez’s 2.3 WAR is far ahead of the Twins’ Eduardo Escobar at 1.4 to top AL shortstops. Ramirez is fourth in the AL at any position, trailing only the Athletics’ Josh Donaldson (3.9), the Angels’ Mike Trout (3.1) and the Tigers’ Ian Kinsler (2.5).
It’s unfamiliar territory for Ramirez, whose highest full-season WAR was 5.6 in 2010 and who was at 2.2 for 2013. But he has given the Sox All-Star production so far in 2014.