If you shoveled dirt on Alexei Ramirez's career at the halfway point of the 2015 season, be on alert for a zombie.
At the All-Star break, Ramirez was one of the worst everyday position players in Major League Baseball. -- especially those who played literally every day. Both FanGraphs (-1.1 WAR) and Baseball-Reference.com (-0.4) said he was below replacement level, as both his offensive numbers and defensive metrics took a dive.
Then he suddenly dusted himself off to become the White Sox' second-most valuable player during a 16-10 July ...
Baseball Info Solutions credited Ramirez with a major league best 22 Good Fielding Plays this month. That was nine more than the shortstop with the next most (Jose Iglesias had 13). He took the lead on Iglesias for most Good Fielding Plays by a shortstop, and now has a 48-40 advantage. Ramirez’s four Web Gems in July tied Kolten Wong for the MLB lead.
Why were Ramirez’s contributions important? The White Sox had the most defensive runs saved in July (without accounting for shifts) with 17. They had their lowest ERA for a calendar month this season (3.29) by far. From April to June, the White Sox turned 70 percent of ground balls into outs. The only team that ranked worse was the Phillies. In July, the White Sox upped that to 73 percent, which ranked middle of the pack (16th).
It's been fun to watch -- and re-watch for that matter. Another way you can see his turnaround is by counting the video highlights on his MLB.com page. At his nadir in June, he had just 16 highlights tagged to him. In July, he had more than double that amount.
He's provided the full complement of his signature plays. There's the backhand slide-and-plant:
The full extension dive to his right:
Throwing behind the runner when there's no play at first:
The quick reflexes:
The slide-and-spin to his left:
And multiple glove flips in that direction, such as the conventional one from his belly:
And the unconventional between-the-legs variety:
But unlike the first three months, Ramirez isn't nullifying the occasional gem with sloppy defense elsewhere. He's committed just one error over the last 31 games, as opposed to nine over his first 69 appearances in the field.
Given the extremes he's covered this season, it's hard to tell which version of Ramirez is the real one. This could be a fun-to-watch fluctuation in a definite decline year, or he could be rejuvenated after getting into a personal-professional downward spiral. It's happened before.
If you look at his exit velocity, it suggests by itself that his recovery is a regression-aided mirage:
But that chart doesn't match up with his numbers. He's hit five homers and eight doubles since the start of July, and a couple of those dingers have been no-doubters. I suppose the quality of his contact is at least partially reflected in his .250 BABIP -- well below career and league averages -- but Ramirez is the kind of player where multiple seasons of such data would be extremely beneficial. His B-Ref page is rather bizarre, in that he has a knack for getting to the same counting stats despite drastically different rate stats, so he might be a difficult player to peg by any one measure. Even with the career-threatening start, he's on pace for 10+ homer and 20+ steals. If that BABIP rises, his average and OBP could be closer to his old neighborhood, too.
Speaking of steals, he's been successful in 11 of his last 13 attempts. So hey, it's possible he's back in his groove because he rediscovered his legs, and they're powering his bat and giving him the ability to range, dive, slide and roll. He'll warrant monitoring the rest of the season since there's a $10 million option to consider for 2016, and I hope this version of Ramirez can last a little longer, because there are few viewing experiences more satisfying than watching a confident Alexei who is fully in command of his playmaking abilities. In the event it turns out to be one of those bursts of lucidity, well, don't take it for granted.
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