Alexei Ramirez' has been more selective at the plate this season, leading to some fine offensive numbers.
It's still early in the season, but plate discipline stats are generally pretty reliable by this point. By a batter's 200th plate appearance, the following stats are pretty stable: swing percentage, contact rate, strikeout rate, line drive rate, pitches per plate appearance, walk rate, ground ball rate and ground ball-fly ball ratio. Ramirez has 196 plate appearances, which I'll regard for this exercise as "close enough."
Swing percentage: Ramirez is swinging at a career-low 45.9 percent of pitches, down four percent from 2010 and about six percent from his career average. For the first time in his career, Ramirez' swing percentage is along the lines of the MLB average (45.5 percent), but he still swings at a higher percentage of pitches out of the strike zone than the average player (33.7 percent, about 5 percent higher than average). That being said, that 33.7 percent out-of-zone swing rate is only 4.9 percent higher than the league average, the lowest difference of his career. Furthermore, Ramirez has been much more selective in the strike zone, swinging at eight percent fewer strikes than his career mark.
Contact rate & line drive percentage: Ramirez has always made a lot of contact, but it hasn't always been good contact. But in 2011, Ramirez has the highest contact rate (84.9 percent) with the highest line drive rate of his career (19.5 percent). So Ramirez while Ramirez doesn't always swing, when he does, he prefers Dos Equis makes more contact and hits the ball harder.
Walk rate & strikeout rate: Ramirez' strikeout rate of 13 percent is exactly in line with his career average, but his 8.7 percent walk rate is three percent higher than his career mark. A walk rate in the 8 percent range isn't unprecedented for Ramirez, though, who posted an 8.1 percent walk rate in 2009. The problem with 2009 was that Ramirez still swung a lot, especially at pitches out of the strike zone. While his 32.3 percent swing rate at balls out of the zone is the lowest of his career, the most accurate way to look at that stat is that it was seven percent higher than the league average. Ramirez was completely in-between in 2009, trying to harness the aggression of 2008 with an attempt at a refined, patient approach. Not surprisingly, his 2009 ISO was the lowest of his career.
But in 2011, Ramirez has found a way to be patient and hit the ball hard. His walk rate is the product of better discipline, not reckless patience. The results have started to come along with the White Sox's wins in the last 15 games, and if these numbers are any indication, the results will continue to be positive.