'A' for Alexei
By Thomas J. Harrigan, Fantasy Sports Writer
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - In 2014, a Cuban infielder for the Chicago White Sox has made a huge impact in fantasy leagues.
Oh I'm sorry, did you think this was a Jose Abreu article?
Abreu has been terrific, hitting four homers and driving in 14 runs in his first 13 MLB games, but he hasn't come close to teammate and countryman Alexei Ramirez.
Ramirez has been the best player in fantasy baseball so far, hitting .420 with three home runs, 12 RBI, 11 runs, three steals and a 1.143 OPS.
The shortstop flashed an intriguing combination of power and speed as a rookie, but he hasn't been able to put it together yet and is now in his seventh season.
Ramirez has a 21-homer season and an 18-homer season on his resume. He also has a 30-steal season and a 20-steal season. Unfortunately, the 21- and 18- homer seasons both came with 13 steals, and his two best stolen-base years came with six and nine home runs, respectively.
Ramirez' power and speed contributions have gone in opposite directions -- his home runs declined from 18 to 15 to nine to six from 2010-13, while his steals increased from seven in 2011 to 20 in 2012 to 30 last year.
But his power has re-emerged this season because he has been both more aggressive and more selective. If you're wondering how that's possible, stay with me.
Ramirez' first-pitch swing rate of 38.9 percent is his highest since 2008, and he also has a chase rate of 33.8 percent, the second-lowest of his career and a dramatic decrease from last year's rate of 41.8 percent.
He hasn't been missing his pitch when it's come his way.
Ramirez has a z-contact rate (contact rate when swinging at pitches thrown in the strike zone) of 98.1 percent. That actually isn't too much higher than his career rate of 91.7 percent.
The lower chase rate has led to Ramirez striking out in just 5.6 percent of his plate appearances and walking in 7.4 percent. He fanned in 10.1 percent and walked in 3.9 percent of his plate appearances last year.
While all of these things portend greatness, fantasy owners should temper their expectations of how many home runs Ramirez can actually hit.
The shortstop is an extreme ground-ball hitter, recording a career ground-ball rate (GB%) of 47.1 percent and a GB% of 55.3 percent in 2014, and he also pops up frequently (career 14 percent infield fly-ball rate, 23.1 percent rate this year).
That means that a chunk of the fly balls he does hit never reach the outfield and are no better than grounders as far as home runs are concerned.
Still, Ramirez is doing a much better job of finding pitches to crush in 2014 and a 15-30 season is definitely within reach.
04/14 16:57:13 ET