Consistency meter: Aramis Ramirez

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Ramirez has been a .300/30 player the past five years. Why would you expect anything different? (Icon/SMI)

In fantasy baseball, there are players considered risky and those who are considered safe. A safe player usually has no threat to his playing time, not much of an injury history, and put up fairly consistent production over at least the past three years.

These are players you draft with a specific amount of production in mind. Maybe they always steal 40 bases, or reach the 100 plateau in runs and RBI, or bat .300 with 30 home runs—whatever the case, they have done it consistently in the past and you expect no different from them in the future.

Now, as we all know, every great empire must fall eventually. While most experts write articles about more risky players, I’m going to pick out the safest, most consistent players and make sure that this year will not be the the one they collapse. I’m going to make sure you’re not the guy who drafted Richie Sexson, Carlos Delgado or Andruw Jones in 2007 with the expectations that they would perform the same as they did in the past.

By taking an objective look at the right stats, I hope to be as accurate as one could expect, but I’m not guaranteeing anything, especially when it comes to injuries.

Let’s begin looking at our first consistent producer: Aramis Ramirez.

Background

+------+-----+------+-----+-------+----+-----+----+----+
| YEAR | AGE | TEAM | AB  | BA    | HR | RBI | R  | SB |
+------+-----+------+-----+-------+----+-----+----+----+
| 2004 |  25 | Cubs | 547 | 0.318 | 36 | 103 | 99 |  0 |
| 2005 |  26 | Cubs | 463 | 0.302 | 31 |  92 | 72 |  0 |
| 2006 |  27 | Cubs | 594 | 0.291 | 38 | 119 | 93 |  2 |
| 2007 |  28 | Cubs | 506 | 0.310 | 26 | 101 | 72 |  0 |
| 2008 |  29 | Cubs | 554 | 0.289 | 27 | 111 | 97 |  2 |
+------+-----+------+-----+-------+----+-----+----+----+

The past five years for Aramis Ramirez have been amazingly consistent. His average line in that span has been:

87 runs, 32 home runs, 105 RBI, one steal, and a .302 batting average.

He has not been hitting 15 home runs one year and then 50 the next to average out at 30. The max total was 38 and the minimum was 26, so he is always hanging out around that 30 mark. With the exception of runs, all of his stats have worked the same way: low standard deviations.

Ramirez will be 30 at the beginning of the 2009 season so there is no major age regression to take into account. Someone just looking at the surface numbers would see absolutely no reason to think Aramis Ramirez will see a drop-off in production. He may have another similar season in 2009, but let’s take a closer look to make sure.

Power skills

There are two ways for a player to hit a lot of home runs. He can either hit a lot of fly balls, and even though not a high percentage go for home runs, the sheer number of fly balls hit will give him a high home run total (think Nick Swisher). Or, he does not have to hit a lot of fly balls, but instead have a higher percentage of his fly balls go for home runs (think Jack Cust). Of course, you can always put the best of both together and you get Barry Bonds, which is kind of a scary thought.

But if a player is going to lean toward one side or the other, the obvious better choice is the second of the two. If a player has to use only 30 percent of his balls in play on fly balls to reach 30 home runs, the other 70 percent can be a combination of ground balls, line drives and fliners, which help boost the batting average. Also, that player’s fly balls will not be as damaging to his batting average because a higher percentage leave the yard, and home runs are good for batting average since they are a type of hit, as you know.

You can think of this as cutting steak with a dull or sharp knife. Using either knife, eventually you will cut the steak. However, with the sharp knife less effort is required, allowing you to spend more time cutting other things, like the broccoli (line drives) or potatoes (ground balls).

Putting my weird food metaphor aside, keep that idea in your mind as you peruse Aramis’ power numbers.

+------+-----+-----+------+----+----+-----+-------+--------+--------+--------+
| YEAR | AGE | AB  | Team | 2B | HR | tHR | HR/FB | tHR/FB | nHR/FB | OF FB% |
+------+-----+-----+------+----+----+-----+-------+--------+--------+--------+
| 2004 |  25 | 547 | Cubs | 32 | 36 |  -- |    19 |     -- |     -- |     38 |
| 2005 |  26 | 463 | Cubs | 30 | 31 |  -- |    21 |     -- |     -- |     37 |
| 2006 |  27 | 594 | Cubs | 38 | 38 |  32 |    17 |     15 |     14 |     41 |
| 2007 |  28 | 506 | Cubs | 35 | 26 |  25 |    15 |     14 |     14 |     40 |
| 2008 |  29 | 554 | Cubs | 44 | 27 |  18 |    13 |      9 |      8 |     44 |
+------+-----+-----+------+----+----+-----+-------+--------+--------+--------+

Focus on 2007 and 2008 and how he hit his home runs. In 2007, Ramirez was more of the first type of home run hitter—fewer fly balls with a higher percentage going out. In 2008 he became the second type of hitter, having to use more outfield fly balls (OF FB%) to achieve the same total. While his home run total is not negatively affected, his batting average won’t respond well.

What is concerning from the above table is how much lower Ramirez’ Home Run per Fly Ball percentage (HR/FB%) should have been. Based on fly ball distance under neutral weather conditions (tHR/FB%), he should have hit nine fewer home runs (tHR) than he did in 2008! So while it may appear that Ramirez has not lost power ability on the surface, know that he, in fact, has.

Contact skills

+------+-----+------+-----+-------+-------+-----+-------+--------+-----+--------+---------+
| YEAR | AGE | TEAM | AB  | BA    | tBA   | CT% | BABIP | mBABIP | LD% | BIP/HR | BIP/tHR |
+------+-----+------+-----+-------+-------+-----+-------+--------+-----+--------+---------+
| 2006 |  27 | Cubs | 594 | 0.291 | 0.296 |  89 | 0.274 |  0.292 |  18 |     14 |      17 |
| 2007 |  28 | Cubs | 506 | 0.310 | 0.294 |  87 | 0.316 |  0.299 |  18 |     17 |      18 |
| 2008 |  29 | Cubs | 554 | 0.289 | 0.259 |  83 | 0.307 |  0.290 |  20 |     17 |      26 |
+------+-----+------+-----+-------+-------+-----+-------+--------+-----+--------+---------+

While there was a definite drop in Ramirez’s batting average from 2007 to 2008, in the context of the past three years it does not seem that out of the ordinary. Taking a look at his True Batting Average (tBA), however, we see that something major changed in 2008. As I mentioned in the power section, this has a lot to do with declining HR/FB percentage points. But even If Aramis’ actual power numbers regress toward what his tHR predicts, his average will fall only into the .272 range. Okay, that accounts for .20 of the .30 point difference in actual batting average and tBA, so something else is at work here.

Contact Percentage (CT%) is the other thing to account for, and it is on a steady decline downward. Derek Carty has written about this concept often: If a player does not put the ball in play, he has no chance of getting a hit, negatively affecting his batting average. Well, Aramis Ramirez is doing just that so keep an eye on that negative trend to see if it continues.

Looking forward

I predict two possible scenarios for Ramirez in 2009, and both are certainly a step below his former level of production.

The first is that he continues hitting a lot of fly balls. His home run total would not drop very much, but his batting average would be affected. I’d expect around a .260-.265 average and 25 home runs.

The other scenario is that he accepts the loss of home run power and tries to become a doubles guy. His batting average would fall to the .280-.285 range, while his home run production spirals down to about 15 home runs.

Those scenarios are assuming that players have control over those sorts of things, but the main point to realize is that Aramis Ramirez most likely will not maintain the level of production he has sustained over the past five years. It is a good thing we checked up on him so that in 2009 you are not surprised when his production level falls noticeably. Most people will be.

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