Aramis Ramirez: The Reliable War Horse

Benny Sieu-US PRESSWIRE

Aramis Ramirez had a solid first season in Milwaukee and continues to flourish as one of the most consistently reliable fantasy third baseman in the game.

I have to admit, I have a special place in my heart for Aramis Ramirez. Way back in 2001, when I was eleven years less wise, Ramirez had a breakout season in which he transformed from a young player squandering his potential into a star. He was on my fantasy team that year, as I had swindled him from another manager for the decaying remains of Barry Larkin. Ramirez got hot immediately upon donning my fantasy team's uni, and his .300/.350/.536 line was a key factor leading my team to a fantasy championship. Even though he tanked the following season and helped me plummet all the way to 18th place, I'm still forever grateful.

So you won't see me saying a bad word about Aramis in these pages, ever. And, really, why would any fanthead have anything bad to say about this guy? If you want a sure thing at a position that is traditionally filled wit inconsistent fantasy production, Ramirez is your guy. Since 2003, Ramirez has hit at least 26 home runs every single year except one (an injury-marred 2009). In that time, he has also eclipsed 90 RBIs in all but two seasons, and has knocked in 100 or more runs six times. Since 2004, he has OPSed over .900 six times, and that includes one near-miss where he OPSed .898 in 2008. In that same span, he has hit .289 or better every year except one, and has hit .300 or better six times. The only bad year Ramirez has had since he was dealt to the Cubs in 2003 was a poor 2010 season, but he's followed that up with two straight awesome seasons right off the Aramis factory line. In short, he's awesome.

From 2004 through last season, he has averaged .297/.359/.534 with 28 homers and 97 RBIs. Short of Alex Rodriguez, David Wright, and a healthy Chipper Jones, it's hard to find a more consistently productive fantasy third baseman over that span. Ramirez has pretty much always been money for around 30 bombs and 90-100 RBIs, with the odd star-level season like 2006 thrown in. There have been several seasons where he's been easily a top five fantasy third baseman, and if ARod had never existed, there would have been a few where he may have been the top overall.

So why does he seem so underrated? Am I the only person who feels as if Ramirez has been criminally overlooked when ranking fantasy third baseman over the years? He has rarely been ranked in the top five at the position, and in a fantasy mag I'm holding right now, he was ranked behind Michael Young and Mark freaking Reynolds for the 2012 season. For a player who is basically a lock for .300-25-100, that seems a bit,,,wrong. Even in "real" baseball circles, Ramirez was regarded as a lame replacement for the departed Prince Fielder when he signed with the Brewers before the season. All he did was hit .300/.360/.540 with 27 homers, 105 RBIs, and a league-leading 50 doubles. Yet he still isn't seen as a fantasy stud. I don't get it.

To be fair, Ramirez did look dead in the water at the All-Star Break in 2010, and maybe fantasy owners just got to thinking from that period that he might be about to break down at any point. Coming off of a 2009 season hampered by injury, Ramirez hit .207/.268/.380 in the first half of 2010, and at that point, I think fans began to write him off as an injury wreck with a fork in his back. He looked done. He then got hot and did more or less his usual thing in the second half, and has been hitting the ball well ever since.

Ramirez combines two traits that make this writer all giddy: he hits for power while making a lot of contact and avoiding strikeouts. While hitting around 25-35 home runs a year, Ramirez has struck out 100 times in a season just once, and that was way back in his breakout year of 2001. That lack of strikeouts is big in leagues where whiffs hurt your team. He doesn't walk a whole lot (he generally draws around 45 walks a season), but it's the product of his aggressive approach. He swings at pitches early on in the count and he hits them hard, and often over the wall. It's an approach that has been working, and working well, for a decade.

It's also an approach that is heavily dependent on good bat speed, something that tends to wane as a player gets older. And wouldn't you know it, Ramirez will be 35 next season. If Ramirez loses even a bit, it might get ugly, as he doesn't walk and a drop in batting average would probably mean a descent into sub-.300 OBP hell and fantasy irrelevance. Luckily, he has shown no sign of that, and remains as safe a third base pick as there is for those who miss out on Miguel Cabrera.

In our Fake Teams third base consensus rankings, the four players ranked directly above Aramis all have some sort of question mark for the oncoming season, as do the three guys ranked right behind him. With Ramirez, you pretty much know what you're going to get. Steady power and production at a fairly inconsistent position. Sometimes, just sometimes, safe is the way to go.

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