Respect or not, four-man outfield 'win-win' for Ramírez

"But if teams do that, Josey’s going to bunt a double."

Alex Hooper
August 30, 2018 - 6:05 pm
Aug 30, 2018; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor (12) and third baseman Jose Ramirez (11) celebrate in the sixth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Progressive Field.

© David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

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Cleveland, OH (92.3 The Fan) – If the Minnesota Twins were a meme, a picture would have appeared online depicting their four-man outfield against José Ramírez with the caption: “One shift = one respect.”

In the 1st inning of Thursday’s 5-3 Cleveland Indians win, Twins Manager Paul Molitor stuck shortstop Ehrie Adrianza in left field, shifting the rest of his outfield to the right. The shift saw nobody on the left side of the infield, with right fielder Max Kepler standing near the right field line.

As The Athletic’s T.J. Zuppe said in the tweet above, Kepler snared a hot shot from Ramírez on the ensuing ball in play. That barreled ball in play came off of the bat at 105.5 mph, with a 74% hit probability according to Statcast. In a traditional defensive alignment, Ramírez would have had an easy double.

Molitor’s idea was not a completely novel one, not even for him. The Twins have employed the shift against pull-heavy lefties Matt Olson, Lucas Duda, Justin Smoak (S), Curtis Granderson, Eric Thames and Kyle Seager in 2018.

It is also easy to see why they did it against the switch-hitting Ramírez, especially in the infield.

For pull-heavy hitters, ground balls are almost always pulled, while the propensity to push a fly ball is a lot more likely. The idea was something brought to the mainstream by Kent State University and Fangraphs alum, now Milwaukee Brewers front office member August Fagerstrom in 2016.

There are seemingly two ways to combat such a shift: bunt through it, or hit over it. Ramírez almost did both.

“The first pitch, I was thinking about bunting. I was thinking about bunting, but then he threw me a ball and I could tell that he wasn't going to be trying to pitch me away, so I wouldn't be able to put one down the third-base line,” Ramírez said through team interpreter Will Clements. “So, at that time, that's when I kind of switched back to my original approach of looking for a pitch, a fastball, that I can drive and that I could pull.

“So, that's what I did.”

Ramírez added that he was not ready to take the ploy as a show of respect, but in at least one way, it should be. The 25-year-old has a career .317 wOBA (.319 average) against all shifts, and a .315 wOBA (.343 average) against non-traditional shifts like the one he saw Thursday.

Manager Terry Francona called the move a win-win, and opined that the league would not continue to do it against him.

“It shows you the impact Josey is having against the league,” he said. “But if teams do that, Josey’s going to bunt a double. Josey’ll end up on second one way or another.”