Ramirez can't shoulder the load

When looking at the struggles of the Chicago Cubs so far this season, an obvious place to start is with 3B Aramis Ramirez. After an 0-for-4 performance Friday night, Ramirez is hitting just.158 through 44 games this year, with only 4 HR and 20 RBI. In addition, Ramirez has already struck out 43 times, matching his total from last season. Ramirez has been battling injuries throughout the year, but perhaps his struggles stem from a more serious injury suffered last season.

When Ramirez was traded to the Cubs in 2003, it appeared that the Cubs had their first legitimate player at the hot corner since Ron Santo. In his first five full seasons with the Cubs, Ramirez hit .303, averaging 161 hits, 32 HR and 105 RBI per season. After starting out the 2009 season in similar form, hitting .364 in 18 games, Ramirez dislocated his left shoulder while diving for a ball in the field, causing him to miss 50 straight games and only play a total of 82 for the season.

In the 104 games played since the injury, Ramirez is hitting just .243, and his strikeouts have noticeably increased. Ramirez’s K pct has jumped to 17.0%, a vast increase from his 12.1% average between the start of the 2006 season and the injury. When looking at the numbers in more detail, Ramirez is seeing almost the exact same percentage of strikes and pitches in the zone before and after the injury, and is swinging only slightly more often; he just isn’t making contact and putting the ball in play as often. Ramirez’s miss pct has gone from 17.6% before the injury to 21.8% after, while logically, his percent of swings put in play has dropped from 42.2% to 38.4%.

While Ramirez has seen his stats decline across the board, one of the most notable decreases in production has come against the fastball. From the start of 2006 until his injury last season, Ramirez hit .300 against the heater, striking out in just 9.5% of his plate appearances. Since coming back from the injury, Ramirez is hitting just .263 against the fastball (including 0-for-3 on Friday) while striking out 14.3% of the time. The increase in his miss percentage and decrease in percent of swings put in play against the fastball mirror his overall numbers as well, as his 38.4% of fastball swings put in play is far below the MLB average of 45.0% over that time period.


Here's a look at how Aramis Ramirez has fared against the heater. The chart compares his numbers from 2006 until his May 2009 shoulder injury and since the injury.

Interestingly, a good portion of Ramirez’s stats both overall against the fastball, such as BB pct, chase pct, and swing pct have remained very similar before and after the injury, so it does not appear as if he is taking a different approach to the plate. In addition, the percentage of fastballs he is seeing both for strikes and in the zone have also remained nearly the same since the injury. So perhaps the shoulder injury from last season is simply preventing him from catching up to the heat, which would explain the increase in strikeouts and misses, but only Ramirez knows for sure.