Here in Chicago, there is a lot of talk about the "Cuban Missile," otherwise known as Alexei Ramirez, the second baseman for the White Sox. In a great piece in the Examiner, JJ Stankevitz discusses Ramirez's transition from an afterthought to an everyday player.
And while his growth has been remarkable, Ramirez is far from a star. He may have become overrated here in Chicago faster than Joey Chestnut can clean out your family barbecue.
Let's start with the fact that Ramirez is 26-years old. Since most baseball players hit their physical peak around age 27, there is not much more projection for him physically. He might gain a bit here and there with his peripheral skills, but it is unlikely that his core skills will improve significantly.
More troubling, his core skills seem to have some weaknesses that might become more obvious over time.
Much has been made of Ramirez's bat speed, and for good reason. His swing generates good power when he makes contact. This shows in the numbers, since he has eight HR and seven SB in 251 AB this year. Over a full season of about 600 at-bats, that's 19 HR and 17 SB. Plus, he comes into today's game with an avg. of .307. So far, so good.
The real red flags come up when you look at his peripheral stats. Even though JJ claims that Ramirez has to be aggressive to succeed, his OBP of .327 cannot be ignored because it points to larger problems.
Overall, his plate discipline is atrocious. His chase percentage (which means the percent of pitches he swings at that are outside of the strike zone) before two strikes is 25 percent (major-league average is 19 percent).
His chase percentage with two strikes is an incredible 52 percent (ML average is 38 percent). His chase percentage of non-competitive pitches, or pitches that are not even close to the strike zone, is 32 percent (ML average is 20 percent).
He cannot continue to hack away and expect to even maintain his current numbers. If he cannot learn to control the strike zone, pitchers will eat him up. It is not a matter of if, it's a matter of when.
Outside of his coming offensive regression, there are signs that he is not a good defensive second baseman. While some believe that he is above average, the numbers don't support this.
So far this year, he has a RAA (Runs Above Average) of -9, meaning that his defense is nine runs below average this year. His RAR2 (Runs Above Replacement, adjusted for ballpark) is one, meaning that thus far, adjusted for ballpark, his defense has prevented precisely one more run than the worst defensive second baseman in the majors this year.
For comparison, the much maligned Dan Uggla has an RAA of nine and RAR2 of 27 this year.
So while White Sox fans are surely celebrating Juan Uribe's continued absence from the everyday lineup, and rightfully so, it is unlikely that Alexei Ramirez will be a long-term solution at second base.
He has certainly been a great story this year, but as pitchers start to exploit his lack of discipline, and his defensive shortcomings become more obvious, the bloom will come off the rose.
The "Cuban Missile" may need to be renamed the "Cuban Firework": a lot of sound and fury, but over in an instant.
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