Differing plate approaches for Alexei Ramirez in 2010 and 2011 haven't made much of a difference in his offensive output.
As it stands, 2008 may be the best offensive season of Ramirez' career. The then-rookie belted 21 home runs and posted a .336 wOBA, with both still stand as career highs as the shortstop wraps up his fourth season in the majors.
Through 644 plate appearances this year -- a career-high -- Ramirez has hit 14 home runs with a .321 wOBA. His home runs are down from 2010, when he belted 18, but his on-base percentage is up. It's added up to a wOBA that only sits a point lower than his 2010 mark.
In other words, in terms of overall offensive production, there's been little difference between Ramirez' 2010 and 2011.
How he's got to this point, though, is different.
Last year, Ramirez had a 4.3 percent walk rate, compared to a near-average 7.5 percent walk rate this year. His plate discipline percentages reveal a more subtle change, though.
Ramirez is swinging at fewer pitches (49.8 percent to 48.1 percent), both in and out of the zone. While his out-of-zone swing percentage appears to be stable from 2010 (35.4 percent) to 2011 (35.6 percent), compared to the MLB average, he's swinging at 1 percent fewer pitches out of the strike zone from last year to this year.
Inside the strike zone, Ramirez has swung at 63.2 percent of the pitches he's seen, as opposed to 65.8 percent last year while the MLB average has remained stable.
His contact rate is similarly stable, although he's made more contact out of the strike zone and less contact in it, which could partially explain his drop in ISO from .149 to .131. The more bad pitches you swing at, the worse your contact will be.
Back in May, I praised Ramirez' shift in plate approach:
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.
What I referenced was Ramirez' plate discipline shift from 2008 to 2009, when he went from being a free-swinging hacker to a guy who forced patience. That shift led to what has statistically been the worst offensive season of Ramirez' MLB career, as he had no clue when to restrain himself and when to go all in at the plate.
This year, though, it looked as if Ramirez had finally figured it out at the plate, at least two months into the season. On May 31, Ramirez had a .351 OBP, hit six home runs and drew 20 walks to 31 strikeouts. For a guy who never had done much of anything offensively before mid-May, those were extremely encouraging numbers.
But Ramirez didn't experience a summer outburst like in years past. In June and July, Ramirez hit just three home runs, drawing 16 walks while striking out 28 times. His OBP in that span was .310. For whatever reason, Ramirez' June and July looked more like his Aprils and Mays in the last few years.
Ramirez will turn 30 on Thursday, and from what we can tell, he won't experience the big offensive breakout season we've been hoping for ever since 2008.
And that's fine, though. Playing at a premium position, Ramirez has provided the White Sox with a great amount of surplus value since coming to Chicago, and he's likely to continue to do so through 2016, the latest his current contract can run out.
He's a phenomenal defensive shortstop who isn't bad as a No. 2 hitter when he's not foolishly being told to bunt. If Ramirez hits closer to sixth or seventh in the order, that's fine as well.
So even if Ramirez won't have a breakout year and post, say, 6.5 WAR, he's still incredibly valuable to the Sox as a 4+ WAR shortstop.