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How Heavy is the Absence of Aramis Ramirez?

While this baseball season has been full of surprises, Aramis Ramirez getting injured is not a shock to anyone. The Dominican third baseman, who turns 36 next month, is scheduled to go on the disabled list with hamstring issues. Again, most observers should have seen this coming. Although Ramirez has been durable for much of his career, he missed 70 games last season with an assortment of injuries. His age means he is likely to grow even more fragile. While Ramirez was not playing that well before the injury, he should rebound if he becomes healthy. Additionally, his replacements at third are likely do well in his absence.

Ramirez was in a serious slump even before he got hurt. For the season’s first few weeks, however, he had tantalized Brewers fans with a blazing start. Through April 21 Ramirez was batting .347 with an outstanding .888 OPS. Yet his performance has steadily gone downhill. Ramirez’ on-base percentage in May was just .200, and his wRC+ for the month is an abysmal 54. In addition, his power numbers have gone down. Ramirez has compiled just three extra-base hits since that April 21 cutoff date, and his .138 Isolated Slugging Percentage is a career low. These streaks add up to a below average 92 wRC+, which ranks as Ramirez’ worst mark since 2002. The Brewers certainly expect more production out of their cleanup hitter.

It is tough to determine exactly why Ramirez has been struggling. One factor could be a lack of walks. His .41 walk-to-strikeout ratio is among the lowest of his career. However, beyond that there is little reason to believe Ramirez’ problems are substantive. He has been hitting more line drives than ever before (27% of his contacts have been liners), which tells you that Ramirez is still putting good swings on the ball. Further, a BABIP of .252 reveals that bad luck has factored in to his performance. In short, there is reason to believe that Ramirez can turn his season around once he gets completely healthy.

In the meantime, however, the Crew should be fine at with Jeff Bianchi and Mark Reynolds playing third base. Bianchi is quite accustomed to this role, as he spelled Ramirez at third base for 42 games last season. The utility man is unlikely to provide much offensive production. In limited playing time this season, Bianchi has posted a microscopically small 2 wRC+. However, he can certainly flash the leather. Bianchi is actually one of the best fielding third basemen in the entire league. He had 15 defensive runs saved last year, including 11 at third base. By comparison, Tampa Bay’s Evan Longoria – a two-time Gold Glove winner – saved 12 runs, all while playing significantly more innings at third than Bianchi. In fact, Bianchi’s runs-saved total ranked sixth at the position last year. While not as prolific defensively as Bianchi, Reynolds can provide more pop in the lineup. The hero of Sunday’s win has eight home runs and a .500 slugging percentage. The glove/bat combination of Bianchi and Reynolds is very respectable filler until Ramirez can return.

The key question, however, is whether Ramirez can come back fully healthy. In 2013, his injuries dragged on throughout the year. Yet the stakes are much higher this season. For one thing, the Brewers are actually in contention, so having a healthy Ramirez is more important than it was last year. Further, Ramirez is playing in his contract walk-year. His durability will be a key factor towards setting his free agent value. Both Ramirez and the Brewers have a lot to gain if he can rebound as a healthy and productive contributor.