One of the big reasons the Chicago Cubs have had success in recent years is third baseman Aramis Ramirez. Ramirez has put up some great seasons ever since he joined the Cubbies in 2003, and has become a key part of their offensive game plan. But this year, he's hitting .167 with a .234 OBP while slugging .280. For six straight seasons, Aramis has posted a weighted on-base average of .380 or greater (.330 is about league average). This season, he’s posting a meager wOBA of just .237. So what's wrong with the Cubs slugger?
To begin with, Ramirez’s strikeouts are way up. Last season, he struck out in 14.1 percent of his at-bats (league average is usually around 19 percent), slightly better than the 15.4 percent mark he’s posted over his entire career. This season, Ramirez is taking the walk of shame a whopping 23.1 percent of the time, the highest since his rookie season back in 1998. It is very unusual for a hitter to see such a large increase in strikeout rate from one year to the next.
Delving further into his rising strikeout rate, we can see that Ramirez is actually swinging at fewer pitches this year and making contact less often when he does get the bat off his shoulder. To compound the problem, Ramirez is making less contact on balls inside the strike zone, while getting his bat on the ball more often on pitches outside the strike zone. Last year, he made contact on 88.8 percent of balls in the zone. This year it's 83.3 percent. And on balls outside the zone, he's gone from making contact 65.6 percent of the time, to 68.7. Missing hittable pitches, while making contact on pitches off the plate that are not easy to square up, is not a recipe for success.
In essence, the numbers bear out the phenomenon generally known as “pressing.” As a reaction to his slow start, Ramirez is chasing more balls and overswinging at those he thinks he can hit. It’s not working, though, and the Cubs need to do what they can to get their slugger back to his old ways. He knows how to hit -- he's just lost right now.
Zach Sanders is a writer for FanGraphs.