The most worrisome development for the Indians so far isn’t that Francisco Lindor is still on the injured list. It isn’t that Mike Clevinger just went on the injured list. It isn’t that Eric Stamets, replacing Lindor in the lineup, is hitting .071. It isn’t that the Indians’ punch-less outfield is hitting a collective .183 with two home runs and six RBIs.
All of the above is troubling.
But here’s what’s most worrisome: Jose Ramirez has ceased being Jose Ramirez. Still.
Granted, it’s April. The season is only 11 games old. Ramirez can claim asylum under the “small sample size” umbrella, but the big sample size is just as depressing.
Ramirez, who has finished third in the MVP voting in each of the last two years, has broken from the gate in 2019 with an offensive face plant.
He’s hitting an alarming .154.
He’s become as much of a non-factor offensively in the early stages of the 2019 season as he was in the late stages of the 2018 season.
For an Indians lineup desperate for some production, Ramirez’s early offensive no-show is a problem.
In addition to Lindor, who has yet to play a game because of calf and ankle injuries, the Indians lineup this year is missing several key pieces from last year. Gone are Michael Brantley, Edwin Encarnacion, Yonder Alonso and Yan Gomes.
That makes Ramirez’s presence more important than ever. The problem is this: Ramirez is in the lineup, but his bat isn’t. He’s been a non-factor in the first 11 games.
But his slump extends beyond this short sample size. It extends back to last season, and deeper into last season than you might think.
At the All-Star break last year Ramirez was hitting .302 with 29 home runs and 70 RBIs. Since the All-Star break last year, he’s hitting .200 with 10 home runs and 37 RBIs. That includes Ramirez’s 0-for-11 showing in the Division Series against Houston last October, plus his invisible .154 (6-for-39) with no homers and two RBIs in the first 11 games this season.
In other words, Ramirez has made a seamless transition from his slump-ridden second half of the 2018 season to his first two slump-ridden weeks of the 2019 season.
He’s in the lineup every day. But he’s doing nothing, and the repercussions of that nothing are significant. With Lindor still sidelined with his injuries and Carlos Santana the only dependable bat in the lineup, the Indians desperately need Ramirez to be Ramirez.
They’re still waiting.
The starting pitching has been so good that the junior varsity-ish offensive production — the Indians are second-worst in team batting average and third-worst in runs scored in the American League — hasn’t hurt them in the win-loss column. But the fact remains that, even with a four-home run outburst in Detroit on Tuesday, the Indians’ offense is sub-woeful. The team leader in home runs has two. There’s a six-way tie for second with one.
Ramirez, who over the last two years hit 68 home runs, is tied with several teammates for third on the team in home runs, with none.
It is still April, and Ramirez’s career batting average in April of .263 is his lowest for any month of the season. But his slash line in April last year of a .267 batting average, .353 on-base percentage and .514 slugging percentage was significantly better than his career numbers in those categories.
So far this year his slash line in those three categories looks like that of a bad National League pitcher: .154/.190/.205.
In a vacuum, Ramirez’s slow start would not be a concern. Not with his career track record. But his slow start this year is not viewed in a vacuum. It’s viewed in a sample size that stretches back to the All-Star break of last year.
It was then, apparently, that either pitchers started finding holes in his swing, or he has slipped into some mechanical flaws with his swing. Whatever has caused it, the result is that a perennial MVP candidate has, for too long now, been putting up the numbers of a utility infielder having a bad year.
Unfortunately, there is no Plan B for the Indians with Ramirez. There shouldn’t be. Elite major league hitters eventually figure out what it is that is causing their slump. They make the proper adjustments and they return to being elite major league hitters.
Ramirez is apparently stuck in the “making the proper adjustments” phase. How long this will take is anybody’s guess. It’s already taken too long, and the longer it lasts, the more uncomfortable everyone gets.
At his best Ramirez is a line-drive machine from both sides of the plate, and a nearly unstoppable base stealer.
At his worst, Ramirez is what we’re seeing now.
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