Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett

Friday, May 29, 2015

Aramis Ramirez Appreciation Column

     Quick, who's the most underrated third baseman of the last fifteen years? You said Adrian Beltre without blinking, didn't you? It has to be him. He's the best fielding third baseman since Brooks Robinson, he has 2650 career hits and nobody pays any attention to him! Wait, what's that? He's finished in the top 15 in MVP voting six time in his career? And lots of people consider him a future hall of famer? Oh. Maybe he's worn out his welcome in the underrated player house. If you want a truly underrated third baseman, look no further than Aramis Ramirez.
     He's probably not headed to Cooperstown like Beltre, but just for fun, let's compare him to all the other third basemen who have played since he's first joined the Pirates in 1998. Of all those players, he ranks third in homers with 374. The only people he's behind are Beltre and Chipper Jones. He's also second in slugging percentage behind only Jones. He's also done all this playing in mainly pitchers' ballparks. Miller Park is advantageous toward hitters, but he's only played four years there, while he spent the other 14 in pitchers fields Wrigley Field and PNC Park.
     What's more impressive is how he manages to get the bat on the ball even while hitting those homers. Of the top 27 home run hitting third basemen during his career, Ramirez has the second lowest strikeout rate at 13.9%.
     While Ramirez isn't known for his fielding, he's been about average his entire career. He led the league in fielding percentage twice and finished in the top five of range factor per game three times. Just those accomplishments make him better than contemporaries Troy Glaus and Chipper Jones.
     Ramirez became underrated because he doesn't have a calling card. He rarely does anything amazingly but is just steady. A typical year for Ramirez since he started playing regularly in 2000 is .274/.346/.503 line with 24 homers. He's only had one great season in his career, in 2012 when he hit .300/.360/.540 with 27 round-trippers and an absurd 50 doubles. Of course, nobody noticed because it happened in Milwaukee where the Brewers finished 83-79 and the biggest story was Ryan Braun winning MVP.
     That's another theme of Ramirez's career: Either being on mediocre teams or overshadowed. Of his eighteen seasons, he's spent 10 of them in either Pittsburgh or Milwaukee. While the other nine were in Chicago, he still never got the attention he deserved, either being on terrible teams or good teams where he was overshadowed by Derrek Lee. Here's my advice to any baseball fan: Try to watch a few Brewers games this year. You can appreciate Ramirez before he's gone.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Taking a Look at the Twins Hot Streak

     A good word to describe the Twins season a week into it would be miserable. Actually, that can't even describe it. It's more like numbness. The season had barely begun and it was already over. Ervin Santana was suspended, Torii suddenly looked like a 70-year-old man, Mike Pelfrey and Ricky Nolasco both had large roles on the team, the advanced stat guys were smugly declaring Danny Santana's 2014 campaign a product of BABIP. Then suddenly, they turned it all around, scoring runs keeping their opponents from scoring, two things that have been noticeably absent from the team the last few years.
     The biggest surprise this season has been Mike Pelfrey, who has been nothing short of atrocious his entire Twins career. This year has been slightly different. In 27 innings pitched, Pelfrey has a 2.63 ERA. Part of that is the fact that he's getting outs at important times. That may sound like a generic statement, but the stats back it up. His left on base percentage is 83.3%, over 20% more than last year. He's also throwing his split-fingered fastball 11.5% more often, creating 12.4% more groundballs than last season
     Pelfrey's one of the few players whose main improvement is from last year to this year, most of the players are doing well after miserable beginnings to the season. Most notably doing better than they were at the start are Danny Santana and Torii Hunter. The duo had a Drungo Hazewood-like beginning of the season: 2-28 with nine strikeouts. In May they're hitting .452. Hunter, in particular is on a tear. He's hit safely in eight of his last nine games, hitting .368 during that stretch
     The biggest question with this 11-3 run is is it sustainable? For much of it, the answer's no. During all this the Twins have scored 6.7 runs per game, something they obviously can't keep up over the season. On the other hand, while I'm skeptical Pelfrey can keep this up, their rotation will improve when Molitor inevitably gives Nolasco the ax either because he sucks or Ervin Santana coming back, followed by Nolasco complaining about it, trying to figure out why a team wouldn't start a guy with an ERA of 9.00, and replaces him with Milone, who was pretty good before he inexplicably got sent down to Rochester last week.
     The Twins have a decent chance at continuing this. Obviously not the seven runs a game or winning 11 out every 11 games, but they'll be competitive. I haven't even mentioned Eddie Rosario yet, and the impact he'll have, or the fact that Vargas is just waking up right now. Whatever happens,  We already know this: It'll be better or at the very least more interesting than last year.