The storylines of the Cleveland Indians’ 2017 season are rich. A pitching staff that set the major league record for wins above replacement, the American League’s longest ever winning streak, and a team that won north of 100 games. The biggest story on an individual level, however, wasn’t Corey Kluber’s second Cy Young award. It wasn’t Francisco Lindor’s 33 homers. It was Jose Ramirez going full supernova.
The questions last year were comical, in hindsight. We theorized about Ramirez’s ability to replicate his meager all-star caliber 2016 campaign. The 2016 numbers, on the surface, seemed outrageous enough, totaling 46 doubles (8.14 percent of plate appearances) and eleven homers (1.95 percent) in 565 plate appearances. Through 1539 minor league plate appearances, he had only accrued 72 doubles (4.68 percent) and 13 homers (0.85 percent)! Doubling your extra base hit rate at the major league level warrants merited skepticism.
A freshly signed contract extension didn’t quell the production tick, either. In 2017, Ramirez upped his double output and doubled his home run rate, again. He has transformed himself, while early in his career, into a Roberto Alomar type, a hall of famer who donned a Cleveland Indians jersey for three seasons around the millennium.
Just four short years ago, we found Jose Ramirez listed on Baseball America’s Top 10 prospects. He was listed ninth, behind names such as Tyler Naquin, Cody Anderson, Dorssys Paulino, Ronny Rodriguez, and C.C. Lee. Not quite the gauntlet of sure fire prospects. The Ramirez skillset is a unique one, however. There was always the potential for breakout. Even so, I’m not sure his biggest proponents could’ve predicted the value he would provide prior to age 25. In order to pit him against a Hall of Fame player, as foolish as it may be, we must first contextualize each player’s value.
Contextualizing value is made easy by WAR. You can argue its merits until you’re blue in the face but as a baseline, it is the best available comparative tool. Roberto Alomar registered his first six WAR season in 1994. In his 609 games prior to that accomplishment, Alomar accumulated one WAR every 40.6 games. Jose Ramirez registered his first six WAR season in 2017. In his 332 games prior to that accomplishment, Ramirez accumulated one WAR every 44.86 games. These buildups to breakout campaigns were highlighted by average to slightly above average hitting skills mirrored by pristine glove work on the infield.
A commonality between the great Roberto Alomar and Jose Ramirez can be found in their respective strikeout rates. Each player hovered just south of the fifteen percent range in their age 20 debut campaigns, only to gravitate towards and settle in the eleven percent range with a couple years under their belt. The plate approach similarities are responsible for these similarities. Each hitter possesses tremendous bat control, whiffing at well below league average clips. This translates to plus contact rates and reduces the capacity for strikeouts.
Beyond general value and contact skills, a more noteworthy comparison between the two is the propensity for extra bases. Monitoring their ISO profiles through their age 24 seasons shows further similarities. While the Ramirez spike is much more impressive, it is important to note that it took place in the year of the “altered” ball, where league-wide ISO jumped nearly ten percent to an all-time high of 0.171. The result of the Ramirez ISO spike was 91 extra base hits, far exceeding any totals strung together by Alomar.
The two are not carbon copies by any measure, but their ascension to stardom is similar. Both undersized to some degree, with flashy leather best suited for second base, comparisons come naturally. While Ramirez is still writing his story, Alomar provides value goalposts for him from a long-term career perspective. Of course, any second basemen would love to be Roberto Alomar, but the first steps in Jose Ramirez’s career offer a foundation matched by few others. The bat control in itself is a skill to behold and not unlike the Hall of Famer that once patrolled the same spot on the Jacobs Field diamond.