Power Outage: Aramis Ramirez

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With the exception of Alfonso Soriano, there has been a power outage on display throughout the entire lineup for the Chicago Cubs. More importantly, the team’s cleanup hitter, Aramis Ramirez, only has 1 home run and 12 RBIs through 126 plate appearances. Unfortunately for Ramirez this is not the time for him to lose his power stroke. It has already been well documented that the Cubs hold a team option on Ramirez after the season, and the overwhelming sentiment is that the Cubs will opt out of their contract with Ramirez and move in a different direction for 2012 (see Josh Vitters).

With Ramirez’s early season power struggles, there have been whispers that he may soon fall out of the cleanup spot for the Cubs. However, manager Mike Quade insisted yesterday that he has no plans to move Ramirez out of the cleanup spot in the lineup.

Despite the fact that Ramirez’s power display has been non-existent this season, he still remains the most qualified candidate on the Cubs’ roster to hit out of the 4 spot in the lineup. Alfonso Soriano, who is among the league leaders with 11 home runs, has become very comfortable in the bottom portion of the Cubs lineup. It is hard to see the Cubs trying to change that, considering Soriano is best off where he is right now. Carlos Pena does not put up nearly the average that would be acceptable for a cleanup hitter, so he too is best off where he is right now.

However, the question still needs to be asked, “Why isn’t Aramis Ramirez putting up any sort of power numbers this season?”

Over recent years, Ramirez has grown to be a notorious slow starter to a season. But this season is a bit abstract for Ramirez compared to his recent seasons. Usually Ramirez will start the season with little to no offensive production. But this season through 30 games, Ramirez has a batting average of .285 and an on base percentage of .341. So from that aspect, he is not having that bad of a start to the season.

But, Ramirez earns his paycheck by having a strong power output and not just a serviceable batting average and on base percentage. Being on a pace to hit 5 home runs is obviously not going to cut it for Aramis Ramirez.

Looking at Ramirez’s stats may offer some sort of insight as to why Ramirez is missing the long ball from his repertoire. The alarming stat for Ramirez is that he has an isolated power percentage of .096. Meaning that he is simply not hitting any respectable amount of extra base hits. The encouraging note for Ramirez is that his batting average of balls in play is .315. Showing that he is making solid contact, but not any power.

Looking at Ramirez’s batted ball percentages appears to provide more clarity as to why Ramirez is lacking any sort of a power display. For his career, Ramirez has: a line drive percentage of 19.5, a ground ball percentage of 34.9, and a fly ball percentage of 45.6. The difference this season is that so far Ramirez has a ground ball percentage of 40.4, and a line drive percentage of 16.2. It would seem that Ramirez is taking a much more simplistic approach on offense this season, than what he normally does. Ramirez appears to be just looking to put the ball in play, and not entirely concerned with hitting home runs. Normally that is something you want to see out of a hitter, but when it comes to a cleanup hitter the power display has to be there.

Ramirez’s contact percentages proves that he may just be aiming for putting the ball in play instead of focusing on the long ball. Ramirez is swinging at more pitches thrown inside the zone (78.4%) and more pitches out of the zone (35.3) than he has in recent seasons. In fact, swinging at 35.3% of balls thrown out of the zone is the most Ramirez has done in his entire career. But his contact percentages are improved from his career averages. Ramirez is making contact with 68% of the balls thrown out of the zone, 93.3% of the ball thrown in the zone, and has an overall contact percentage of 84%.

In Ramirez’s favor, it is unfair to suggest that he is in a slump as his overall offensive numbers are respectable. But unfortunately for Ramirez he is expected to be a run producer for the Cubs this season. If this current trend keeps up, then it will be a forgone conclusion that Ramirez will be gone after the season and not an assumption.