In this edition of Fishy or For Real, we will take a look at the season of a fan-favorite Marlins outfielder Harold Ramírez.
The road to the show has been a long time coming for the 24-year-old rookie, dating back to 2011 when the product of Cartegena, Colombia was just 17. After spending the next six years splitting time between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Toronto Blue Jays organizations, Ramírez would ultimately elect free agency on November 2, 2018. A month later, he signed a minor league contract with the Marlins.
Ramírez earned a non-roster invite to spring training in a deal. Across 28 at-bats at camp, he continued a stretch of success at the plate that had begun in his previous season playing for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, the Double-A affiliate of the Blue Jays. In 460 at-bats spread throughout 119 games that season, Ramírez had a slash line of .322/.366/.474, and set career-highs in home runs with 11, and RBIs with 70. Despite not making the cut for the Opening Day roster during spring, Ramírez made his presence known throughout the organization with his ability to swing the bat.
It would only take 32 games in New Orleans for Ramírez to receive a call-up and make his major league debut with the Fish. In his brief tenure in Triple-A, he put forth a ridiculous batting average of .355, reached base 40% of the time, held a slugging percentage of .591, and played perfect defense in right field.
Upon being called up, Ramírez has been spectacular in nearly every way. He has nearly duplicated the numbers he held in Triple-A across the same number of games, and has provided a much-needed offensive spark to the Fish throughout the first half of the season.
While the Marlins are currently reaping the benefits of a low-profile acquisition that has resulted in one of the team’s most successful players on the field this season, should we expect Harold Ramírez to continue hitting at his currently torrid pace?
2019 Stats: 133 AB, .316/.345/.421, 2 HR, 16 RBI, .766 OPS, 20.1 K%, 3.7 BB%
The Case Against Sustainability (“Fishy”)
Is His Defense Really Perfect?
In 2019, Harold Ramírez has played a total of 287 innings on the field, sharing time between all three outfield spots. So far, Ramírez has had 89 total chances in the outfield and has completed 89 putouts, resulting in a perfect fielding percentage of 1.000.
While his defense may look “perfect” on paper, as he has yet to commit an error, it is actually more spotty than it appears.
An interesting statistic that can be used to evaluate Harold Ramírez’s defense is Outs Above Average (OAA). The range-based defensive metric that not only takes into consideration the completion—or incompletion—of plays in the outfield, but also the difficulty of them. Calculating OAA begins with Catch Probability, which accounts for the distance an outfielder must travel and the time it would take to reach that distance in order to project the likelihood of a catch on a batted ball. The OAA is essentially a season-long expression of each individual play with a Catch Probability, including plays with or without errors.
Baseball Savant currently ranks Ramírez in the ninth percentile overall in this defensive metric. If we take a look at all of the plays he has been responsible for in 2019, we can see the speedy outfielder does cover a lot of ground—only nine batted balls in his direction this season with a Catch Probability have fallen for hits.
Of those nine, however, two had a Catch Probability of 75%, one had a Catch Probability of 80%, and two others had a Catch Probability of 99%.
Your 2019 Miami Marlins in one screenshot pic.twitter.com/Tz9lzpmHCC— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) June 1, 2019
Regardless of the fact that he has not had any traditional “errors” in the outfield this season, it’s fair to question his defensive contributions.
So, He Can Hit. What Else Can He Do?
There’s no question Harold Ramírez has been a lights-out hitter at the plate in 2019. But can we depend on the rookie to continue hitting at this pace throughout the course of this season, and the seasons that follow?
Ramírez is by no means a toolsy player, and to say he embodies three of baseball’s tools might be an exaggeration. He has demonstrated more than enough at this point in his professional career that he can hit for average, and his speed ranks in the 93rd percentile among all major league players. However, his defense is a bit questionable, his throwing arm is sub-par, and hitting for power has never been his strong suit.
While his role in the starting lineup is one of a select few that is secure for now, it is possible that this can change if his hitting ability does not continue to be at the level it currently stands. The Marlins are an organization that, at the moment, has a cluster of reinforcements waiting to be called up from the minor leagues, and they all boast a tremendous amount of talent. Just to name a few, Monte Harrison, Lewis Brinson, and Magneuris Sierra have all performed well in Triple-A this season and may be called up by the season’s end. Also not to be overlooked is the fact that the Marlins 2019 draft class favored outfielders heavily as the Marlins drafted nine of them, including JJ Bleday as the fourth overall pick in the draft.
Having little to offer in terms of his tools, it would take an exceptional amount of consistency at the major league level for Ramírez to stick as an everyday player. Being a speedy player with the ability to hit for average, his ceiling is as a right-handed prototypical leadoff hitter...except for one big difference: he does not steal bases.
Ramírez has only swiped two bags this season. With speed being such a valuable asset to his game given his narrow tool set, it would only be to his benefit to be more aggressive on the basepaths and steal more bases to bolster his ability to produce, manufacture, and contribute runs to a team in desperate need of them.
Harold Ramírez’s on-base percentage in 2019 has not been a bad one. Reaching base 34.5% of the time is by no means poor, but it is concerning granted he is hitting .316. The average MLB player reaches base on a walk in 8.3% of their at-bats; Harold Ramírez walks only 3.7% of the time with five bases on balls in 133 at-bats.
At the moment, his on-base percentage is not an issue, but these numbers only heighten concerns that his overall value as a player is solely determined by his ability to consistently hit.
The Case For Sustainability (“For Real”)
What is the Reason to Doubt?
It has grown increasingly evident throughout Harold Ramírez’s professional career that hitting for average is his strongest asset as a player. While it is reasonable to make the assumption that his success is strictly tied to his hitting, he has not given any reason to believe that his ability to hit at a consistently high level should be called to question.
Dating back to his first year of professional baseball at just 17 years of age, Ramírez has hit for .300 or higher in five seasons, including the time shared between the New Orleans Baby Cakes and the Marlins in 2019. In addition, his poorest season at the plate, which also happened to be his first, saw him hit .259.
Since being called up by the Marlins, he has had 12 multi-hit games and set a franchise record for the most hits by a Marlins rookie (37) within their first 30 games in the major leagues. So, in a sense, Ramírez has been incredibly sustainable as a hitter for average in lower professional levels, but to be able to translate this into the highest level of the sport requires more opportunity and play time.
Harold Ramírez has been the Marlins’ best hitter in 2019, and also one of the most exciting Marlins to watch. Whether it’s a night where he sprays hits to all three fields or legs out a pair of infield hits, Ramírez has been a catalyst for a team in need of an offensive boost.
However, his only source of value to the club at the moment has been his ability to hit for a high average. As of this point, his speed has not been utilized to its maximum potential as represented by his low total of stolen bases, his defense needs improvement, and his on-base percentage is low granted his remarkably high batting average.
He is just a rookie, though, and the Marlins have no reason to worry. If anything, the Fish have been blissfully riding the wave of Ramírez’s success in 2019. Despite this, if he is to be considered a player sustainable enough to be part of the “championship-caliber” organization that the front office is prophesying for the future, Ramírez will need to diversify his talents to the best of his ability to bolster his value to the team and become a “For Real” player in the seasons to come.