2012 ZiPS Projection: .274/.321/.412, 17 HR, 72 RBI, .319 wOBA
2012 Bill James Projection: .276/.329/.414, 17 HR, 82 RBI, .324 wOBA
2012 Actual Statistics: .265/.287/.364, 9 HR, 59 RBI, .284 wOBA
Alexei Ramirez' 2012 season is not without its positives, but the campaign still prompts questions about Ramirez' long-term future as shortstop for the Chicago White Sox.
On the positive end, Ramirez continues to be an elite defender at a premium defensive position. His UZR/150 took a slight dive down to 5.9, but more play-by-play-based metrics like Defensive Runs Saved show Ramirez is still top-tier (14).
His solid defense was a key to the White Sox drive to the playoffs in what was expected to be a rebuilding year.
Sadly, this is where the positives end for Ramirez. His offensive regression continued; for the first time in his career Ramirez' on-base percentage fell below .300, which is frankly inexcusable for a starting shortstop in the Major Leagues, no matter how great their defense.
Ramirez was never one to take a walk but his career-low 2.6 BB percentage and stunningly low 0.21 BB/K show a real troubling trend. His batting approach-charitably viewed as a free-swinging-has devolved into a total disregard for plate discipline. Even casual watchers of the White Sox can attest to Ramirez' inability to adjust while at bat, leaving 0-2 and 2-0 counts looking disturbingly similar.
White Sox fans could almost live with Ramriez's free-swinging ways when he was hitting for above-average power but nearly all that power has faded away, as evidenced by his pedestrian nine home runs.
His .364 slugging percentage was the worst of his career and is largely unacceptable, especially when combined with his poor on-base numbers. Ramirez' days of double-digit homers appear to be over, which obviously hurts his ability to contribute offensively.
The lack of power from Ramirez appears to be a result of slower bat speed, likely due to age (32). While his Line Drive and Fly Ball percentages are right in line with his career, his 5.1 percent HR/FB is a career low and nearly half of his total from last year (8.1 percent).
Interestingly enough, pitchers have begun throwing Ramirez 10 percent more fastballs speaking to my theory of reduced bat speed. Pitchers are clearly more comfortable challenging Ramirez than ever before in his career.
After back-to-back 4 WAR seasons, Ramirez' defensive prowess saved the 32-year-old shortstop from a below replacement level 2012. That number still put him fifth among White Sox offensive players, but you worry once his defense regresses, how his then-negative value will affect the Sox. If his defense regresses, he simply will not be a major league-caliber player.