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The Decline of an Elite Defender

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In 2010, Alexei Ramirez saved 20 runs as a defender playing shortstop for the White Sox. He ranked 3rd in Major League Baseball behind only Alex Gonzalez (26) and Brendan Ryan (24). This past season, however, he was the worst shortstop defensively in all Major League Baseball costing his teams (Padres and Rays) 20 runs. In fact, counting all defensive positions, he only finished ahead of three players overall, Andrew McCutchen in center field (-28 Defensive Runs Saved), J.D. Martinez in right field (-22), and Robbie Grossman in left field (-21).

Here are Alexei Ramirez’s DRS numbers and rankings among shortstops for every season since 2010:

Season DRS Rank
2010 20 3
2011 10 5
2012 14 6
2013 1 15
2014 -4 23
2015 -6 27
2016 -20 35

It is easy to see the downward spiral of Ramirez’s defense. He went from +20 runs in 2010 to -20 runs in 2016. He has declined in rank every one of these seasons and the only time he increased his DRS was from 2011 to 2012.

Looking at specific DRS components, his biggest decline has been in his Range and Positioning Runs Saved. From 2010 to 2014, he performed well on balls to his right, saving an average of 15.2 plays per season. However, in 2015 and 2016 he saved only one play to his right and cost his team two, respectively. Also, despite fielding 20 plays above average to his right in 2014, he was below average by 21 plays straight on and 11 to his left.

His defensive decline coupled with batting a career-worst line of .241/.277/.333 in 2016 makes it no surprise that the second-place finisher in AL Rookie of the Year voting (behind Evan Longoria) in 2008 and one-time All Star (2014) is currently still a free agent after his brief stint with the Rays following his release from the Padres.


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