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Two White Sox problems are trending in opposite directions

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Melky Cabrera and Alexei Ramirez were both very bad in April and May. One of them is giving us good reasons to expect better.

This swing led to an extra-base hit. More, please.
This swing led to an extra-base hit. More, please.
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

On June 7, Melky Cabrera hit rock bottom. He had a triple slash line of .226/.263/.258 and had essentially been the worst player in major league baseball.

Something seemed amiss at that point, as Cabrera had been hitting the ball reasonably hard, but was sporting a BABIP of just .247.  Since his breakout age-26 season, his lowest single-season BABIP had been .313. He wasn't striking out all that often (10.5 percent), so there wasn't much reason to believe that he was simply cooked at age 30. In the absence of a logical explanation, something simply had to turn around.

Sure enough, the universe began to even itself out. You may not have noticed it given the sagging offense's annoying propensity to put up three or fewer runs in a game, but Melky Cabrera has kinda been on fire lately. In his last 18 games, Melky has hit .323/.384/.431, while chipping in five doubles and a triple. That's over half of his extra-base hit output for the entire season. It took awhile, but it sure looks like the guy the Sox thought they were paying for has finally arrived.

This is a relief, because while it might be a little late for the 2015 season, Cabrera's play will have a major say in whether the White Sox can contend over the course of the next couple years. Even though his season numbers are never going to look pretty, it's important to keep in mind that his absurdly unlucky run of hitting balls right into the defense probably won't repeat itself. Cabrera's turnaround also means that there's no need to lighten the return on a trade of a significant asset just to unload his contract. There's obvious holes at five of the other eight lineup slots, and it's going to be tough enough to fix those as it is without Melky punching a sixth in left field.

There is, however, one lingering concern about Melky Cabrera. On May 6 against Detroit, Cabrera delivered one of the biggest hits of the year. With two men on and two out and the Sox down by three runs in the eighth, Cabrera crushed a fat Joba Chamberlain pitch well into the seats in right field for his first home run of the season. Now that it's June 28, I'd sure like to know when he plans on hitting his second one.

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Alexei Ramirez is another guy that got off to a slow start this year on both sides of the ball, but unlike Cabrera, there's unfortunately been nothing to suggest that a turnaround is in sight. Larry's tweet explains the situation pretty well:

Indeed, the situation is looking grim. Ramirez's diminishing range at short has made his occasional inexplicable gaffes less tolerable, and his strong bat from 2014 is nowhere to be found. Here's his batting line by month:

  • April: .209/.247/.313
  • May: .237/.246/.325
  • June: .205/.237/.227

Ramirez did hit .339 for a 15-game stretch in May, but he didn't draw a walk over that span and followed it up with a 3-for-33 slump. There's really been no encouraging signs to point to, and of late, his play has somehow gotten worse.

One could point to Ramirez's .241 BABIP and attempt to make a similar case to that made above for Cabrera, that better and luckier times are ahead. Unfortunately, BABIP for hitters isn't as random as BABIP for pitchers. Ramirez's contact has generally been weak, and his spray chart shows a problematic departure from his past. Here's a look at Ramirez's batted ball data from his career prior to 2015:

Old Ramirez

Note the significant skew to left field, particularly the most deeply-driven hits. Now, here's a look at 2015:

New Ramirez

The difference should be immediately obvious. Ramirez hasn't been pulling the ball nearly as much, and he's never had much in the way of opposite field power. Alexei's value at the plate is largely tied up in his ability to hit the ball with authority to the left side and occasionally depositing homers into the Sox bullpen at U.S. Cellular Field. It seems his ability to turn on pitches effectively has eroded, and there's been a disturbing Alex Riosesque tendency to roll over weak grounders to short and third. Put simply, there's little unlucky about this. It's flat out terrible contact, through and through.

It's puzzling how Ramirez's value has plummeted so rapidly, especially coming off his best offensive season since his rookie year. His $10 million option for 2016 was seemingly an easy pickup coming into April. After just three months, it's a near certainty the White Sox are going to opt for the $1 million buyout. It's been further difficult to absorb because Ramirez was one of the six guys in the Sox lineup that you'd figure you could count on. If Flowers' offense pancaked, or Gillaspie couldn't keep up his acceptable 2014 hitting, or the second base poo-poo platter couldn't produce much, these things would all be within reasonable expectations. Ramirez suddenly bottoming out has been a shock, and one of the most prominent reasons for the disappointing season.

On the plus side, the money the Sox could save by parting with Ramirez would increase flexibility for offseason spending, and even a sub-par budget stopgap would be a noticeable improvement. That, combined with a true bounceback season from Cabrera could seriously improve the Sox offense next season. If you're looking for something to root for in a year in which baseball has been tough to watch, keep an eye on Cabrera's bat, because in 2016, the Sox will need it.