To some observers, the 8-7 start by the Chicago White Sox is a rather large surprise thus far in the early season. It shouldn’t be. A year removed from a 99-loss season, most experts had the Southsiders pegged to have another long summer at the Cell. However, this overlooked some significant changes the club made both in terms of personnel and coaching, and dividends are starting to be paid.
Shortstop Alexei Ramirez is one of those dividends. Normally the victim of slow starts, Ramirez has opened the season on a blistering pace, posting a .415 AVG with three homers, 12 RBIs and a preposterous 1.126 OPS. Ramirez has been so good that he is on more than a 10 WAR pace, which if continued would put him in the Mike Trout-Miguel Cabrera MVP conversation. Ramirez, at one point thought to be a trade target of the St. Louis Cardinals, has always been a stellar defensive shortstop — so good in fact according to Baseball Reference, he posted a 3 WAR on defense alone.
In his earlier years, Ramirez was able to post seasons of 18 and 21 homers, so the pop in his bat is not new, just rediscovered. Much of the early credit is going to first-year hitting coach Todd Steverson, who is instilling a philosophy of what he terms “controlled aggressiveness.” Ramirez is learning, at age 32, to recognize pitches out of his wheelhouse and pounce on hittable deliveries. This approach has reignited his power and his contact rate.
Ramirez has been an underrated shortstop for years — 3.0 WAR defenders don’t grow on trees you know — but is very athletic and has strong, quick wrists that can deliver vicious line drives. By focusing on “his” pitches, he has so far been able to tie the club record hitting streak, set by Hall of Famer Frank Thomas, and give nightmares to opposing pitchers.
If this keeps up Ramirez might break The Big Hurt’s record, if not the next game, then at some point later in the season. But if this keeps up, the “Big Hurt” might be the pain the rest of the American League Central feels if the stealthily talented Sox manage to compete for October glory. It may still look like winter in Chicago, but so far in the South Side, the hope reeks of a warm, promising spring.