MILWAUKEE — Aramis Ramirez is not known for getting out of the gates quickly.
In his 15 seasons of major league service, Ramirez has held a .300 batting average just three times before June 1. He’s had multiple years — three to be exact — that began with an average under .200 in the season’s first month. April is also Ramirez’s worst month in his career in terms of on-base percentage (.328), OPS (.779), RBI (163), and total bases (466).
And when this season began — his first in Milwaukee — Ramirez was moving at a similar snail’s pace. Through April, the Brewers’ new third baseman and clean-up replacement for Prince Fielder was batting just .214 with two home runs and 10 RBI. Even by June 1, Ramirez’s numbers weren’t all that impressive with a 162-game pace that would’ve seen his statistics fall somewhere around .246 with 18 home runs and 104 RBI.
But that’s what makes the last two and a half months of Ramirez’s season all more the remarkable. Midway through August, he has raised that average to just below .300 and leads the National League in extra-base hits (56) and trails major league leader Miguel Cabrera by just three.
Since June 1, Ramirez has been one of the best players in baseball, hitting at a pace that, stretched over the course of a season, would yield a .329 average, 29 home runs and 114 RBI. That kind of second half improvement isn’t uncommon for Ramirez. In fact, it’s gotten to be quite a habit for the 34-year-old infielder. So much so that Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said Ramirez has acknowledged his frequent slow starts to him.
“I know he feels it’s that way, and next year we have to get him not thinking that way,” Roenicke said. “If he would’ve started the season like this, he would have some kind of year. So we’ll see if we can get that mindset to change a little bit.”
Ramirez has tallied a lower batting average in the season’s second half on only three occasions in the last decade (2009, 2008, and 2003). And in each of those three seasons, his power numbers actually increased despite his decreasing average. From 2005-07, Ramirez hit for an average that was at least 50 points higher from June 1 to the end of the season than it was prior to June 1. In 2010 and 2011, Ramirez’s home run and RBI pace per 162 games increased by at least 26 home runs and 50 RBI in each season.
So what is it about Ramirez that keeps him from flipping on the switch earlier in the season? He’s not sure, and neither is Roenicke. But it’s pretty clear at this point in his career, with plenty of evidence to back it up, that Ramirez is a second-half player through and through — one who needs time to build a great deal of rhythm before truly showing his worth.
But a slow start hasn’t kept Roenicke from being thoroughly impressed with his third baseman and clean-up man so far this season.
“I thought he was going to be good, and I think he’s been very good,” Roenicke said. “I don’t know, production sometimes depends on what’s happening in front of you. … But when it’s on the line, when you need a hit, he’s definitely been one of the guys that I think comes through a lot in big situations.”
That’s the part of Ramirez’s game that has been particularly effective this season, wiping away much of the concern that the Brewers couldn’t replace the clutch bat Fielder swung before he departed for Detroit. And while Ramirez hasn’t been quite as good at driving in runs as Fielder was, he hasn’t been far off. At this point in 2011, Fielder had 79 RBI, just nine more than Ramirez’s mark so far this year.
The numbers beg an interesting question — one that was the talk of Milwaukee before baseball season began. Has Aramis Ramirez successfully replaced Prince Fielder, production-wise? It’s a question that won’t get many honest answers in the Brewers’ clubhouse.
But for a team that desperately needed production out of its cleanup spot after the offseason left a gaping hole in Milwaukee’s batting order, Ramirez’s numbers, especially in the last two months, have been a huge boost.
‘The guy has had a lot of big hits for us,” catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. “You really can’t look at what he’s done in his career and expect anything less. He started off a little slow, but obviously those numbers will start evening themselves out. He’s already started to do that.”