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Circling the Bases: Aramis Ramirez's Disappearing Power

Ray Flowers

Ray Flowers

The co-host of The Drive on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (Sirius 210, XM 87: M-F at 5-8 PM EDT), Ray Flowers has spent years squirreled away studying the inner workings of the fantasy game to the detriment of his personal life. You can follow Ray on Twitter (@BaseballGuys), he never sleeps, and you can also find more of his musings at BaseballGuys.com.

BREAKING DOWN: Aramis Ramirez
.296-1-17-12-0 in 162 at-bats

Third base has been a mess this year. Ryan Zimmerman and Evan Longoria have missed extended time, David Wright, Pablo Sandoval and Pedro Alvarez have also been on the DL, and Alex Rodriguez, Mark Reynolds, Casey McGehee and Ian Stewart have all failed to live up to expectations. Unfortunately you have to add Ramirez to the list of disappointing performers at third base.

First, the positive numbers:

(1) Ramirez is batting .296, not bad for a guy who hit only .241 last season. However, it's not unheard of for him to be this productive in the category. After all, he does own a .282 career mark and has hit at least .289 in six of the past seven years.

(2) Ramirez has an OBP of .354. While that doesn't match the marks he posted from 2007-09 (.366, .380, .389), it's still .014 points clear of his career mark of .340.

(3) Ramirez has a 12.3 percent K-rate which would be a five year low. He's also working on a BB/K mark of 0.65, a mark he has reached in four of the previous five seasons.

(4) He has a line drive rate of 20.3 percent, slightly above his 19.6 percent career mark.

So with all of that positive work from Ramirez, what's the problem? How about that he has as many homers as Chone Figgins - one. So what's up with that?

History says this is a total fluke. I'm not talking things are just slightly off center here, either, I'm talking Lyle Lovett marrying Julia Roberts weird.

First, Ramirez has hit at least 18 homers every season of his career in which he has 450 at-bats. Moreover, he's gone deep at least 25 times each of the past seven times he's hit 450 at-bats.

Second, he generates those homers by posting consistent homer to fly ball ratios every season. Just look at the consistency.

2003: 11.6 percent
2004: 16.9 percent
2005: 18.7 percent
2006: 15.1 percent
2007: 13.3 percent
2008: 12.0 percent
2009: 12.9 percent
2010: 11.6 percent
2011: 1.7 percent

Wait, what? How can a player who has posted an 11.6 or better HR/F ratio for 8-straight years suddenly become Michael Bourn? The answer is, it can't happen even though it is happening (hello Jose Bautista).

Looking at Ramirez, everything seems pretty much “normal” this season other than his completely inability to lift the ball into the seats. We could obviously turn to the need for a mechanical tweaks, his current ground ball rate is 39.2 percent a career high, while his current fly ball rate of 40.6 percent is also a career low. At the same time, as I detailed above, there is a lot to like about how he is currently performing which leaves this discussion at the crossroads.

I'll be the first to admit that statistical analysis has its limits, and sometimes numbers don't tell the whole story. But when you have nearly a decade of data on a player there are no concerns about sample size. You also should be able to paint a fairly accurate picture of what to expect from a player given that sample size, especially when that player is only 32 years old. It's not like he should be at a point when his skills will completely leave him overnight. Take the case of David Wright who went from 33 homers in 2008 to 10 in 2009. Some thought the world was ending. It wasn't as he bounced back to hit 29 homers in 2010. Still, it can't be denied that unexplainable things do occur, and perhaps this is just Ramirez's Waterloo.

Will Ramirez return to being the player he has been since pulling on a Cubs' uniform, or will he continue to perform as if he is the Placido Polanco of the Cubbies? I'd bet on history repeating itself and the power returning.

BREAKING DOWN: Derek Holland
3-1, 4.37 ERA, 44 Ks, 1.54 WHIP in 55.2 innings

In three of his last four starts, Holland has gone at least six innings while allowing two or fewer runs. He's also gone at least six innings in seven of his nine starts, a pretty darn good run of effectiveness for a youngster who has to pitch in Texas. However, has he actually improved at all from last season? Let's compare his production from 57.1 innings in 2010 to the 55.2 innings he has thrown in 2011.

2010: 4.08 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 8.48 K/9, 3.77 BB/9, 15.2 LD, 0.99 GB/FB
2011: 4.37 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 7.11 K/9, 3.40 BB/9, 21.6 LD, 1.53 GB/FB

The ratios are similar enough that you can write off any difference, but that drop in the K/9 mark is a big time concern. The 7.11 mark he has this season is passable for a starting pitcher, but it removes the upside that could make him a top flight AL-only arm. That major drop in his K-rate has also negated the gains he has showed in the walk department as his current 2.10 K/BB ratio is a 3-year low (career 2.23). Holland has also been hit pretty hard this year; that LD rate of 21.6 percent is well above the marks he posted his first two years (19.3 and 15.2). Luckily for Holland, he has been able to drastically reduce his fly ball rate while jacking up his ground ball rate. If, and it's a big if, he has all of a sudden become a pitcher who tilts more toward the ground ball, that would be a wonderful sign and it would eliminate the concerns about his declining K-rate. However, when a guy posts GB/FB rates of 1.06 and 0.99 his first two years, it's pretty tough to posit that a 1.53 mark is anything other than a sample size issue that will normalize over the duration of the season.

Holland has also done some interesting things with his pitch selection. Not only is his fastball humming along a mph faster than it was last year at 93.3 mph, he's also throwing it less. He's upped his curve ball rate significantly to nine percent of his pitches (it was just 6.2 percent of his pitches his first two seasons), while also continuing to throw his changeup more often. Eventually, that change should be reflected in his fantasy numbers.

So what is Holland at this stage of his development? He's best served as an AL-only option, but there is reason for optimism. He's throwing a bit harder and starting to use more of his secondary pitches. He's also been able to flash a lot of consistency from start to start with his ability to eat up innings. If he continues to throw strikes, and his line drive rate and BABIP (.353) regress to normal levels, it's very possible that he will be able to improve upon the performance we have seen from him so far this year.

WHO AM I?

I've never won 20 games, in fact I've only won as many as 19 once, but I've ended each of the past 10 seasons with at least 10 victories. Only three pitchers have done that.

I own a solid 3.85 ERA in my career. Despite that fact, I've never posted an ERA in the 2.00’s, and only twice in my career has my ERA been under 3.50 for a season.

I own a solid 1.28 WHIP in my career. I'm extremely consistent when you consider that only once in the last nine years have I posted a WHIP under 1.20, yet there is my 1.28 career mark.

I don't strike too many guys out. In my career I've never posted a K/9 mark of ever 6.50. Moreover, my career mark is a sickly 5.08, almost a batter and a half below the league average of 6.48 during my time in the big leagues.

I get hit about like everyone else. I own a 9.48 hit-per-nine mark, pretty much spot on with the league average of 9.25 in my career.

You might have an idea who I am, but this next one should really help.

I've thrown at least 200-innings in each of the last 10 seasons. I'm the only pitcher in baseball to have done that, which also means I'm the only hurler in the game with 10-straight years of 10 victories and 200 innings pitched.

Who am I?

BY THE NUMBERS

0: The number of blown saves this season for the majors saves leader, Leo Nunez. The next highest save total for a hurler without a blown save is 13 by Joel Hanrahan. Back to Nunez. Though Nunez blew three saves in August last year and lost his closers job, he rebounded pretty strongly over his last 12 appearances. In fact, since September 1st last season he has posted a 2.34 ERA, a 1.12 WHIP, a 9.3 K/9 rate and 18 saves without a single blown chance.

.451: The league leading batting average of Jed Lowrie against left-handed pitching (minimum 50 plate appearances). There is only one other hitter in the game over .400 is Michael Young at .442.

.504: The lowest OPS against of any pitcher in baseball. It belongs to Dan Haren. The Angels' ace has company though as Josh Beckett (.505) and Josh Johnson (.509) are right on his heels.

1: The number of homers that Starlin Castro has hit this year after wowing everyone in spring training with four homers in just 21 games. You didn't buy into the homer hype, did you?

4.49: The pitches seen per plate appearance by youngster Carlos Santana, the highest mark in baseball. There are currently 48 qualifying players (3.1 plate appearances per game) who have seen at least 4.00 pitches per at-bat. Not so surprisingly one of them is not Jeff Francoeur, though let's give him some credit. His current mark of 3.93 is a solid total, and blows away his career mark of 3.45 pitches per appearance.

9.73: The league leading run support mark of Jason Marquis and Carlos Carrasco. Given that massive number it's not at all surprising that the duo has gone 8-3 (Marquis is 5-1). Isn't it amazing to think that the duo has literally received three times the run support of Madison Bumgarner (3.18)?

13.00: The K/BB rate of Gio Gonzalez with runners in scoring position this year, slightly better than the mark of 12.00 by Dan Haren. No other starter in the game is above 8.00.

I AM...

The White Sox boring, yet always consistent Mark Buehrle. At this point of the year Buehrle is on pace to win 13 games with a 3.92 ERA, 1.35 WHIP and about 210 innings pitched. What a shocker.

Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive, 5-8 PM Eastern, on Sirius 211 and XM 147. Ray's baseball analysis can be found at BaseballGuys.com and his minute to minute musings can be located at the BaseballGuys' Twitter account.