Inbox: Will Tribe address Ramirez's struggles?

Beat reporter Jordan Bastian answers questions from fans

October 1st, 2018
Cleveland Indians' Jose Ramirez bats in the eleventh inning of a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox, Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018, in Cleveland. Cleveland won 4-3. (AP Photo/Tom E. Puskar)Tom E. Puskar/AP

What is your read on at this point? Is he worn out? Pull happy? He's been in this slump for about six weeks now, and it's concerning with the postseason just days away.
-- Mark K., Wickliffe, Ohio

Ramirez ended his regular season with no hits in four plate appearances against the Royals on Sunday, but the slugger made some progress one night earlier. He homered, doubled and singled, and he admitted after Saturday's game that the pursuit of some in-season milestones may have hindered his concentration and approach.
"I think you'll be able to see the difference a little bit here," Ramirez said via team interpreter Will Clements. "Maybe before I wasn't as focused, and I was trying to hit the ball out a little bit too much. I just really don't think I was as focused as much as I am now."
:: ALDS schedule and results ::
Obviously, there is no statistical category called "Focus" that we can examine. What we do have available shows a distinct change in approach on the part of pitchers against Ramirez in the month of August. In September, perhaps it was a mix of fatigue or a hangover effect from the previous month, but Ramirez struggled to do what he did so well for the first four months.
In August, pitchers dramatically decreased the number of fastballs thrown to Ramirez, and for good reason. On the year, the switch-hitting All-Star posted a .673 slugging percentage against fastballs, compared to a .394 slugging against offspeed pitches and a .333 mark against breaking pitches, per Statcast™. So following a July in which Ramirez saw 57.8 percent fastballs, the rate dropped to 45.9 percent in August.
Ramirez still hit fastballs well overall in August, turning in a .625 slugging against all variety of heaters. The problem was that in September, when the fastball percentage climbed back to 53.6 percent (north of his season rate of 52.7), Ramirez slugged .404 off heaters. That was uncharacteristically low, and -- one would think -- it would improve given the same approach by pitchers in October.
After Aug. 6, when Ramirez's season average last stood at .300 (to go along with a .410 on-base percentage and .629 slugging), he hit at a .205/.338/.380 clip. One difference between those two samples within Ramirez's season was the pitchers' approach in 0-0 and batter-ahead counts. From Aug. 7 through the end of the season, Ramirez saw more offspeed and breaking pitches in what are typically fastball counts.
:: Submit a question to the Indians Inbox ::
The good news is that Ramirez knows what pitchers are doing to him, and he understands that he may see the approach more magnified on the postseason stage. Expect the Astros to send Ramirez a steady stream of breaking balls in the American League Division Series. It will be up to Ramirez to make the adjustment.
"Everything is going to turn out fine," Ramirez said. "In the postseason, it's a totally different time, so I think everything is going to turn out fine."

If Indians manager Terry Francona has not altered the lineup by now -- with Ramirez's struggles nearly two months long and Josh Donaldson now added to the fold -- I would not expect a change in the ALDS. An unexpected lineup change at the most critical point of the season could also send the wrong message throughout the clubhouse.
Francona loves having two switch-hitters (Francisco Lindor and Ramirez) on either side of No. 2-hitter . The manager also likes Ramirez's contact ability (87.7 percent), walk rate (15.2 percent) and baserunning (MLB-high 11.6 base runs above average, per Fangraphs) ahead of sluggers and Donaldson.
With looking back to normal, why not start him in Game 2 in Houston? His career record in Houston should back this theory up.
-- Ben, Youngstown, Ohio

Three career starts at Minute Maid Park is hardly a large enough sample size to draw much of a conclusion. But since you brought it up, (Game 2 starter) actually has a slightly better ERA in Houston. Carrasco has a 1.17 ERA in three starts on the road against the Astros and Bauer has a 1.45 ERA in three starts there as well.
There is a chance we see both Carrasco and Bauer pitch in Houston, though. I would not be surprised if the Indians have Bauer or Mike Clevinger on call out of the bullpen for Game 1. If they are not used, Cleveland could then have its pick for Game 3 or a potential Game 4. We will learn more about the Indians' rotation plans in the coming days.
It is also worth remembering that Carrasco has performed better on the road in his career. The right-hander has a 3.10 ERA in 105 career games away from home, compared to a 4.37 ERA in 102 career games in Cleveland.

I think the Indians will try to avoid a short-rest scenario, but things can change. Cleveland did not plan on going with three starters in the ALDS last year against the Yankees, but the team shifted gears and went with Bauer on short rest in Game 4. So could Kluber return on three days' rest for Game 4 this year? I wouldn't rule it out. I think the preference is to have Bauer or Clevinger handle Games 3 and 4, with Kluber and Carrasco primed for a Game 5 should the series last that long.

Francona indicated that (laceration on right thumb) might be able to have the two stitches he received removed by midweek, and the manager was optimistic about the catcher being ready for the ALDS. If that happens, I do not think Cleveland will need to carry three catchers. can slide into the starting role if needed, but Gomes should be OK for the ALDS roster. His progress will be closely monitored over the next four workout days, leading up to Friday's roster announcement.

The Indians led the Majors with 135 stolen bases this season. That was a huge part of the team's offensive identity, and rookie got in on the action with 21 thefts in 25 attempts. If he is on the ALDS roster, Allen could make sense as a late-inning defensive replacement for in center field and as a weapon on the basepaths.