Editor’s Note: WFNY is proud to introduce to our readership Gage Will (note: not Will Gage). Gage has been a strong voice in the Indians blogging community for years, and we are fortunate he has decided to write for us here. Please join me in welcoming him to our community.
Over the last 30 days, the Indians have won 20 of their last 29 games. This stretch of sustained success can be attributed to starting pitching, which- as we all have witnessed- has been dominant. On the other side of the equation, the offense has been a mixed bag.
The Jay Bruce Boost has diverted attention away from other offensive concerns like how Jose Ramirez’s struggles at the dish have flown under the radar. All hitters slump from time to time, even bat-control wizards like the Indians’ beloved J-Ram, but there are deeper issues related to his struggles.
Throughout the aforementioned 30-day stretch, Jose has posted a measly wRC+ mark of 69, or roughly 30% below league average. Prior to this run, Jose had posted a wRC+ of 150, or a 50% difference from league average on the other side of the ledger. Sample size limits the ability to draw concrete conclusions, but there are certainly causes for concern.
The first step to take when examining differences in production is viewing the contrast between the expected outcome and the actual outcome on balls in play. Statcast’s expected weighted On Base Average (xwOBA) is handy for this matter. Derived from hit probability based on launch angle and exit velocity, xwOBA allows us to decipher whether the hitter has been unfortunate or there has been a significant decline in quality of contact. Jose’s xwOBA in 2017 hovered at 0.358 on July 22, but he has only managed a 0.285 mark in that category since. This 20% free fall indicates that his quality of contact has seen a significant decline.
Given that we know the quality of contact is down, we can make an inference that exit velocity is down. The question turns into a problem of why rather than a problem of what.
When examining the quality of contact, plate discipline offers extensive insight. Though Jose’s walk and strikeout percentages have remained constant through this stretch, his eye has not been as sharp. He is swinging at fewer strikes, and this has impaired production.
When Jose is at his best, he is identifying strikes and capitalizing on them. Recent lack of success in this department leads me to believe he isn’t seeing the ball as well, which may seem fairly obvious. But how often do you see Jose look this silly?
Usually, Jose can mask being fooled on a pitch with his exceptional bat control. This time, however, he couldn’t recoup that damage. You can see how far he is out on his front foot prior to the ball even getting to home plate. Perhaps he was just fooled, but that seems to be happening far more often as of late.
A random selection of performance over an arbitrary 30-day period is not going to be indicative of a concrete issue in approach, but it is definitely a trend worth monitoring. As you watch Jose Ramirez plate appearances in the near future, keep an eye out for him taking pitches in the zone, and curse him under your breath if you must. The Indians would benefit greatly from peak J-Ram in the variance-riddled postseason, so let’s hope for a little more aggression on pitches in the zone and a little luck for good measure.