Alexei Ramirez is one of those players that will drive you completely nuts from year-to-year. He's been in the league for seven full seasons now, but somehow varies widely from year-to-year in what you get for your fantasy team. When he arrived in the league, he provided 21 home runs, 13 steals, and a .290 batting average which led to him being viewed as a potential 20-20 candidate down the line. We're still waiting for that season to happen, as instead he ended up with three 15+ home runs seasons, but saw his stolen bases drop below 10 as well and other seasons where his batting average dropped as well.
Owners at this point likely were drafting for a shortstop that provided those 15 home runs, even if the speed was on its' way out as he aged. Not so much, as his power dropped to 9 and 6 home runs, respectively, but started stealing more bases than we thought possible with back-to-back career highs in attempts (27 and then 39), and steals (20 then 30). As a result, coming into the 2014 campaign we had him as a top 15 shortstop, likely to provide minimal power but high-end stolen bases. Wrong again. He finished up the year with 15 home runs, while also providing 21 steals and a .273 batting average, and contributing in all five categories.
He ended up the season as a top 5 option at his position, in part to his performance and in part due to the poorer performance of expected top five options like Troy Tulowitzki and Hanley Ramirez. Let's take a look at whether Ramirez can repeat the performance in each category, or if we should expect regression back toward where we had him ranked at the start of the year.
Ramirez hit .273, which matches up very nicely with his career batting average of .277. His on-base percentage was .305, which was the second lowest of his career and below his career OBP of .314. Digging a little deeper, his walk (3.7%) and strikeout rates (12.3%) were both in line with his career norms of 4.8% and 11.9%, respectively. Even his batting average on balls in play (.292) was almost perfectly in line with his career average of .295. Even the batted ball profile (19.7% line drive) was right in line as well (19.0% career).
Real or Mirage: Real - It's possible that he might actually improve on his batting average next year if he gets a little luckier on BABIP than he did this year.
Ramirez hit 15 home runs, which was the third time he had hit exactly that many and the fifth time he's hit at least 15 or more. He didn't hit a particularly higher amount of fly balls this year, and while he did have an improved HR/FB%, it was around 8.4%, which was in line with his career average and with the rest of his double-digit home run years. Looking briefly at the data on the home runs themselves to see if he had an inordinate amount of "lucky" home runs, just four of the 15 were classified as "Just Enough" on Hit Tracker Online.
Real or Mirage: Real - I think he can provide 12-15 home runs again next year.
Ramirez scored 82 runs in 2014, one shy of his career high, in 158 games played. This was the fourth straight year that he played in exactly that total, so he's not likely to pick up many more runs based on games played. Ramirez posted a 36% run conversion rate in 2014 [(R - HR) / (H+BB+HBP-HR)], which was higher than the league average of 29% and his career rate of 32.4%. That said, the 36% rate has been in line with a few different seasons in his career, and with the majority of the White Sox' lineup likely to return in 2015, 82 does appear to be around his true skill level.
Real or Mirage: Real - I believe Ramirez can provide 75-80 runs scored again in 2015.
Ramirez went 21 for 25 in stolen base attempts this year, his highest success rate in his career at 84%. He has shown the ability to steal 20+ bases in the past, and has had at least 13 stolen bases in six of seven years. In terms of attempts, Ramirez reached 1st or 2nd base 183 times, and attempted a stolen base 25 times, good for just a 13.5% attempt rate. This is actually a lower percentage than either of his last two seasons (16.4% and 19.3%), so there is a slight possibility that he may actually be in line for more attempts next year.
Real or Mirage: Real - 20 stolen bases are a very real possibility in 2015 for Ramirez.
Runs Batted In
Ramirez drove in 74 this year, just three behind his career high set in his rookie year. With the exception of 2013, he has been right around 70 RBI each year of his career, and it seems reasonable for him to have similar opportunities in 2015 with the lineup remaining the same.
Real or Mirage: Real enough - He may not be above 70 RBI next year, but should still provide at least reasonable value in the category.
Overall, the key to whether Alexei Ramirez can repeat as a top 5 option at shortstop will be determined more by how other players performed than whether he can repeat the same level of production. Most years, his production should keep him right on the cusp of the top 5 at shortstop, but if we seem Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki both return to their top 10 form, Ramirez could be on the outside looking in. He should still be at least a top 10 option in 2015, and one that may be a bit undervalued if your league doesn't think he can provide another 15-15 season. Don't sleep on him if you miss out on the top options.