Whether it’s deserved or not, Manager Robin Ventura has been a lightning rod for criticism for White Sox fans this season.
One of the things called into questions frequently in terms of Robin’s decision making has been the batting order. Whether it be Jeff Keppinger seemingly never hitting below seventh, Gordon Beckham batting eighth for so long, or something else, it seems like every Sox fans has some sort of beef with Ventura’s lineup card.
For most of the season, I wasn’t one of those people, as it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what a manager can do to salvage anything with this struggling, and quite frankly, pathetic ball club. However, since the Alex Rios trade, there’s one thing about Robin’s current everyday nine that I cannot figure out for the life of me.
Why in the heck is Alexei Ramirez, a man with three home runs on the season, batting third.
While his power is gone, Ramirez has actually been one of the best hitters on the ballclub, if not the best. His .287 average leads the squad, and believe it or not, his 79 hits since June 10 leads the American League.
That’s all well and good, but we’re still talking about a guy who has an OPS of .680, which is pretty well below the league average, and certainly not sufficient for a spot in an order that warrants the ability to have a bit more pop. Sure, teams can go unconventional at times and bat a player that doesn’t have prototypical three-hitter power in that spot, but I don’t ever recall see someone hitting third on a regular basis that had a string of 400+ at-bats without a home run in that season.
Call Ventura a mad scientist or Rick Hahn a sharp sabermetrician, but I’m stick with the mainstream school of thought with this one. While Ventura’s options are limited, Alexei Ramirez should not be batting third. It’s not putting the team in the best position to succeed, and it’s also not putting Ramirez in the best position to succeed. While he’s always been a productive RBI man for a shortstop (leads AL SS’s in that category since 2008), he’s dipped dramatically in that this season (just 36 thus far). Someone who is not driving in runs consistently shouldn’t be put in prime spots to do just that.
What’s Alexei’s strengths been this season? Well, for one, he’s ran the bases very well, something that everyone else on the ballclub seems to do at a Little League level. He already has a career high in steals with 25, and with his average at .287 and rising, it’s reasonable to anticipate Ramirez surpassing his career-high .290 average set in his rookie year of 2008. He’s also recorded an OBP of .359 this month, well above his .315 career mark in that category.
So, given all of that, where is he best suited? Honestly, on a good team, it’s seventh of below. However, outside of Gordon Beckham, Adam Dunn, and maybe Avisail Garcia, that’s where everyone is best suited on this squad.
Throughout the season, it’s been clear that another player that’s severely miscast in his spot in the lineup is Alejandro De Aza. While last season he was possibly the team’s best leadoff man since Ray Durham (which I wrote about here last year), he hasn’t hit like a one-hitter in 2013. While his walk total is on-pace to be about the same as his 47 last year, he’s already blown past his strikeout number from last season and could end up with 130 plus. Because of that, his OBP of .349 last year is down to .330 this season.
And oh yeah, there’s the whole baserunning thing. Out of all of the regulars, De Aza’s baserunning that been the worst on the team, getting picked off, bad jumps on steals, or making bad decisions on almost a nightly basis.
What De Aza’s done well this year is actually drive in runs. He’s already matched his last season total of 50, putting him on-pace for about 65. For a leadoff hitter on a team where guys like Tyler Flowers and Jeff Keppinger batting in front of you, that’s pretty impressive. He’s got 40 extra-base hits (45 last season) and 13 home runs (just nine a year ago), leading to a .754 OPS, which is around the league average. His average is also eighth in the American League with RISP at .338.
All of that is why right now, I’m suggesting something I would have hurt myself for saying before the season began: Alexei Ramirez should be leading off, while Alejandro De Aza should bat third.
Yes, Alexei Ramirez is a bit of a wild swinger and not a high on-base guy, but he’s been one of the best hitters in the American League since mid-June, and is getting on-base at a higher clip than De Aza over the past couple of weeks. Plus, when De Aza gets on-base, it often ends in him running himself out of the inning, so what’s the point of him leading off anyways.
As far as De Aza hitting third goes, it’s clear that his numbers this season fit more of the run-producer role rather than table-setter. Since he’s knocking in runs when the opportunity presents themselves, why not put him in a position to do just that rather than bat him in a role that this season, doesn’t suit him.
Again, it sounds incredibly backwards, and it’s an idea I would have laughed at myself for a few months ago. Alexei Ramirez? Lead-off? However, it’s pretty clear right now that neither fit in the current slots they are in. Since their numbers both seem to be conducive to the other’s role, why not make the change?
None of these games really matter anymore, but if you’re like me, you still want to see the Sox win. I think swapping De Aza with Ramirez would help that.