In the age of strikeouts, Indians slugger Jose Ramirez is MLB's most dangerous contact hitter

The season series between the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox has been a lopsided affair so far this year. The Indians trounced the ChiSox on Wednesday (CLE 12, CWS 0) and they are now 8-2 against their AL Central rivals in 2018. They've outscored them 61-25 in the 10 games. Ouch.

As if often the case, third baseman Jose Ramirez was in the middle of everything Wednesday afternoon. Ramirez swatted a three-run home run in the first inning and scored on a wild pitch later in the game. He went 1 for 2 with the homer, two walks, three runs driven in, and three runs scored.

Coming into Thursday, Ramirez is now hitting a robust .291/.391/.611 (163 OPS+) with 22 homers and more walks (45) than strikeouts (38). He ranks fifth among all hitters in OPS+ and is second only to the great Mike Trout with plus-4.9 WAR.

"Jose Ramirez is the best overall third baseman in the sport," said former MLB GM Jim Bowden on CBS Sports HQ. "Nolan Arenado is the best defensive third baseman. But when you talk about offense, no one is better than Ramirez ... You want to talk Mike Trout? He's the best player in the game. After that, when you talk about (Mookie) Betts and J.D. Martinez and (Jose) Altuve, Jose Ramirez is right in the middle of that group."

Whether Ramirez is truly the best third baseman in the game is up for debate -- he'd get my vote and, for what it's worth, Ramirez does lead all third basemen in slugging percentage, OPS+, and WAR -- but it is not up for debate that he is one of the best overall players in the game. He has been since last season. And what makes Ramirez so special is his contact ability in this age of strikeouts.

Here are Ramirez's season plate discipline and contact numbers, and his ranks among the 162 players with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title:

  • Strikeout rate: 11.8 percent (10th lowest)
  • Walk rate: 14.0 percent (13th highest)
  • Contact rate: 86.2 percent (16th highest)
  • Out-of-zone swing rate: 23.8 percent (26th lowest)

Among the nine players with a lower strikeout rate than Ramirez, only teammate Michael Brantley is slugging over .500. (Brantley has a 8.7 percent strikeout and a .511 slugging percentage.) No one else is slugging over .480 and four of those nine hitters are slugging under .400. Ramirez is slugging .611.

There are more strikeouts in baseball right now than ever before -- MLB is on pace to set a new record high strikeout rate for the fourth straight season and the 14th time in the last 15 seasons this year -- which makes an elite contact hitter like Ramirez that much more valuable. He's a switch-hitter, he doesn't swing and miss, and when he connects, his power lets him do serious damage.

In Ramirez and Francisco Lindor, the Indians have two bona fide MVP candidates on their infield and atop their lineup. Lindor is great in his own way. Ramirez stands out among his peers, either at third base or MLB as a whole, because he's so good at getting the bat on the ball. It's not easy. Not with pitchers throwing harder than ever before and breaking balls getting nastier and nastier. Ramirez combines the best of both worlds, power and contact.

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for MLBTradeRumors.com, FanGraphs.com, RotoAuthority.com,... Full Bio

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