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Indians’ Ramirez off to a better start than Chipper Jones

Steamer tosses out interesting player comparisons every season, but the one that I found most interesting this year the one it gave for Jose Ramirez. According to the projection system, the player that he is most like is Chipper Jones.

Comparing a 25-year-old to a first-ballot Hall of Famer is high praise, though it is important to note that Steamer comparisons aren’t designed to say that a player will have the same kind of career. I don’t have the full details but my understanding is that it takes what a player has done, their age, and their position, and then suggests which past player produced at the level we might expect of them.

How do their careers compare up to this point?

Data courtesy of Fangraphs.

I’ve listed them side-by-side to make comparisons easier. For the bottom columns I’ve aligned Jones’s age 26 season with the projections for Ramirez next season. The first thing that jumps out at me is that Steamer is right — these are very similar careers from the onset. Jose Ramirez has been a better overall player so far, but with more playing time.

Steamer’s built-in regression suggests that another season like 2018 isn’t in the works for Ramirez, though 5.8 WAR easily earns him another trip to the All-Star game. It would make only the truly crazy among us angry. I will say that I think the model is discounting his improved walk rate far too much; even when Ramirez fell into a deep, dark slump at the end of the season he continued to draw walks at his usual rate.

Meanwhile, Jones at age 26 proved beyond a doubt that he would become an elite player. In his eleven-year peak that followed, Jones averaged 142 games played, 30 HRs, and a .315/.417/.565 slash line. His average fWAR? 5.67. Keep in mind that the worst season he had in this span was 2004, when he “only” posted 3.2 fWAR.

Jones’ calling card was his alarming consistency year-to-year. He never grew old, which allowed him to become one of the greatest third basemen and switch-hitters that the game has ever seen. He was also our last-best hope to hit .400, finishing 2008 with a .363 average and hitting .390 as late as Independence Day.

Can Jose Ramirez tap into the same remarkable consistency? It’s too early to tell. His aforementioned slump cooled off what might have been the greatest single season by a third baseman in history. But should we put that much stock into one 6-week stretch of misery? Again, the peripheral hitting numbers suggest that Ramirez suffered from an abnormally low BABIP and that the changes he made at the plate might have had more to do with how hit approach a ball at which he planned to swing rather than his entire approach at the plate. We’ve suggested before that Ramirez might have tried to hit the ball out too often, and as we know, swinging for the fences every time means you rarely clear them. Unless you’re Barry Bonds circa 2004. A more positive sign is the improvement shown by Ramirez each season.

One advantage Ramirez holds over Jones is his versatility. Ramirez already proved himself a capable left fielder in addition to an excellent second baseman. Depending on the (additional) moves that the Indians choose to make this off-season he may find himself manning the middle across from Francisco Lindor for the foreseeable future. Jones played third base almost exclusively, with the exception of a few dozen games at short in his youth and a stretch in left field due to the Braves’ acquisition of Vinny Castilla. Positional flexibility is clearly valuable, though the extent to which that makes a player intrinsically more valuable vs. the value he provides to a team’s roster construction is debatable.

Another thing to keep in mind when we consider this comparison: Chipper Jones was destined to be a superstar. The Braves took him with the first overall pick in the 1990 draft and based on the scouting report the Mariners filed on him during his Senior year of high school this would probably have been a unanimous decision. Meanwhile, Jose Ramirez entered professional baseball as a non-prospect. According to Joe Posnanski, only one scout in all of baseball wanted to sign him — and did so for $50,000. By the time Ramirez reached Akron, some people started to take notice. Keith Law, for example, left him just off of his top-100 prospects list in 2013, and Baseball Prospectus listed him as the 6th-best player on the Indians farm.

That is still not the type of player from whom you anticipate MVP-caliber play.

To me, Steamer got it absolutely right. Both players show promise at a young age in the Major Leagues. They both switch hit, play the same position, and represent an cornerstone for their franchises moving forward. Now the question is whether the end of their stories will look similar despite their drastically different roots.

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