Every MLB broadcast — not just the ones helmed by Hawk Harrelson — is so packed with questionable conclusions, untenable opinions and inferences made on scant or completely meaningless data, that most of them have to be ignored for the sake of civility. Steve Stone is much too valuable of a resource to spend all day complaining about him citing RBI as a "power number."
But Hawk breached a new barrier the other day by referring to Alexei Ramirez as the best shortstop in baseball at present, right in the midst of Troy Tulowitzki — already a lot better than Ramirez during normal times — tearing through the league like tissue paper. Even if we did Ramirez the favor of presuming his defense is equal to Tulowitzki's, who is three years his junior, Alexei would have to perfectly maintain his current offensive pace to record a wRC+ good enough to be Tulowitzki's third-best season (not counting whatever Tulo does in 2014).
Hawk is prone to friendly hometown judgement, but usually not in ways that can be instantly refuted. Most have to think at least a few seconds to reel off three second basemen better defensively than Gordon Beckham, or do research to find someone who prevents more runs with first base scoops than Paul Konerko. But Hawk only loves the White Sox more than he loves every other player in league, so for him to forget Tulowitzki, even after seeing him earlier this year, is a new frontier.
Perhaps that's because Ramirez's turnaround has been so profound that it's thrown Harrelson more off-kilter than usual. Few things were more steady and pronounced than the decline of Alexei Ramirez's power and the morphing of his approach the past three years. He stopped being able to jump on fastballs, he threw aside forced attempts to become patient at the plate and sold out to just put a weak bat on everything.
Last season served as the ultimate testament to the merits of this approach: Ramirez batted .284, his best mark of the past five season, and garnered all the easy praise such accomplishments get, and still had an underwhelming 86 wRC+ total offensive output. There's no need to waste any seconds arguing that Ramirez's torrid .333/.360/.501 start is the result of some newly patient approach, not when our eyes are screaming otherwise. Ramirez's season is already full of amusingly revealing anecdotes to that end, like his Friday grand slam coming on a 3-0 count, and his April walk-off home run against Cleveland being the fourth pitch he had seen on the night...in four plate appearances.
But even if he's hacking, Ramirez might be hacking smarter, not harder. Between FanGraphs and PitchFX, Ramirez was making contact with an impressive-while-inadvisable 78-80% of the balls out of the strike zone he cut on. That has dropped by 10%. For someone like Adam Dunn or Tyler Flowers, that loss of contact would be disastrous. For Ramirez, that loss has "spiked" his strikeout rate to 13%. Now what he hits, goes farther.
He's one shy from last year's home run total, and his .170 isolated power score would be the highest since his 21-homer rookie season if he kept it up.
Mostly bet against Ramirez keeping things up. He has a .727 OPS so far in May. 32-year-olds rarely become offensive monsters all of a sudden, and playing 300 games per year at short cannot help. But with April being Ramirez's historically worst month by 60-70 points of OPS, and power surges of even five home runs over six weeks becoming increasingly hard to come by, this is found money.
Where it gets complicated is where this leads on the path of Ramirez being a significant contributor to a 2015 Sox team that management will likely push to contend, or temporarily inflates his value for a trade, as the Sox move to push forward a crop of cheaper, albeit likely inferior infield prospects.
There's time yet to wrestle that issue to the ground. In the mean time, Ramirez has been one of the reason everyone is so sunny about the direction of the Sox offense, even when many of the permanent pieces are shelved or struggling. Bless him for that.