The Decline of an Elite Defender

January 12, 2017

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.


COMMENTS (10 Comments, most recent shown first)

P.S. Since Bill might still be looking here:

Bill: It would be useful if there were a direct way to punch up Win Share breakdowns like what I posted below -- stuff like:
2016 Defensive Win Shares, shortstops (or whatever year and position)

As far as I can tell, the only way to get such things is "brute force" -- looking up each player separately.

I'd add also that I think a big reason that Win Shares isn't cited more often -- including why "WAR" has so much currency -- is that the Win Share data aren't more accessible. I do realize that maybe that's how you want it, maybe including because it's always still a work in progress. But then again, everything is, or better be....
10:53 AM Jan 17th
Thanks to Bill for the post.
I thought it had become like that, and that it was roughly around that time, although it didn't occur to me that it was related to 9-11. (Of course it makes sense, once it's pointed out.)

The most recent player I've 'really' wondered about is Albert Pujols. BTW, I'm not looking for any answer on it; just saying.....mainly to note that my not having felt any reason to wonder about any newer players fits the 9-11 chronology factor.
10:04 AM Jan 17th
You guys have no idea how seriously homeland security takes work visas, for guys who have work visas. It is NOT a joke, and Latin players are NOT playing on fake birthdays in significant numbers. It's not like it was before 9-11; before 9-11 you could play on a fake birth certificate, your brother's birth certificate, a birth certificate you purchased from a guy. It's not that way anymore. When we sign an international player now, we have to know who he is. Period.
10:17 PM Jan 16th
@FF. There seems to be at least two birthdays out there....from what I gathered quickly, one had him three years older.

Funny....the first place on BBR he shows up is at 18 on the Cuban National team....look at how many players have question marks after their names:
2:58 PM Jan 13th
I assume it means Alexei suffers from the Wayne Terwillger problem. *

* Believe it or not, there's a bio of Terwilliger -- in which he gives the breathtaking revelation he (even he, we might say) was actually older than his official baseball age.
I'd assumed it's an ailment of more modern times, and almost entirely of Hispanics, for whom it's often harder to verify birthdates.
12:05 PM Jan 13th
OldBackstop: I laughed out loud at your comment, and then realized I can't explain why it's funny. Can you help? Obviously I don't know Ramirez as well as you do.
11:21 AM Jan 13th
I think Ramirez way be wearing gown from the strain of being born when he was three years old.
4:30 AM Jan 13th
One more: What about how he ranks on Defensive Win Shares among all shortstops for last year?
(John's data show him last.)

Looking at all the SS's who had at least 900 innings, Alexei is indeed right near the bottom, but not by himself, and not last.

Espinosa 9.2
Galvis 8.4
Iglesias 8
Lindor 7.8
Andrus 7.6
Tulowitzki 7.6
Asdrubal Cabrera 7.3
Semien 7.1
Simmons 7
Alcides Escobar 6.6
Hechavarria 6.5
Correa 6.3
Crawford 6.2
Hardy 6.2
Russell 5.8
Mercer 5.7
Villar 5.3
Cozart 4.7
Corey Seager 4.4
Bogaerts 4.2
Gregorius 4.1
Marte 3.2
Diaz 2.1

For what it's worth, on a 'per innings' basis he'd rank better, but I'm just showing the raw ranking because "volume" is part of these players' value.
12:39 AM Jan 13th
By way of comparison, here are the Defensive Win Share numbers of the Gold Glove winners for each year after 2012, together with Alexei's:

Simmons 11.2
Hardy 5.5
Alexei Ramirez: 7.9

Simmons 10.6
Hardy 7.7
Alexei Ramirez: 8.2

Crawford 6.3
Escobar 8.5
Alexei Ramirez: 11.6

Crawford 6.2
Lindor 7.8
Alexei Ramirez: 4.5


BTW, I don't mean that John's data aren't meaningful and good, or that his implication is wrong; I don't know.
My only purpose is to show how a different sabermetric approach shows a different conclusion -- a superb sabermetric approach, IMO the best there is -- and therefore that it shouldn't be assumed that what John is saying is correct.

As many of you know, that's what I'd say about almost any supposed conclusion based on a single metric -- and most of all when it comes to fielding.
11:53 PM Jan 12th
Recognizing that your work involves more detail than the bottom lines of Win Shares.....
The bottom lines of Win Shares show a somewhat different story: Not a several-year decline but a single mediocre year, after a bunch of years where he was good in all of them.

Defensive Win Shares (as they appear on this site)

2010 10.4
2011 8.9
2012 7.3
2013 7.9
2014 8.2
2015 11.6
2016 4.5
9:57 PM Jan 12th
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