Ramirez Unlikely Team MVP of 2016 Cleveland Indians
Craig Gifford | On 30, Oct 2016
The Cleveland Indians’ team approach and mentality has gotten the club to the World Series for the first time in 19 years. That win-as-a-team mentality is costly when it comes to arguably the most prestigious individual honor a player can win – the American League Most Valuable Player Award.
The Tribe will likely have top three finalists or winners of the other three major pieces of hardware that get handed out at the start of the offseason, honoring a player’s or coach’s regular season work. Terry Francona is a good bet to win the A.L. Manager of the Year, Tribe ace Corey Kluber has a decent shot at his second league Cy Young Award and outfielder Tyler Naquin is a likely top three contender for Rookie of the Year honors.
However, when it comes to A.L. MVP recognition, Cleveland does not seem to have a big enough dog in the race. The MVP winner usually comes from a playoff team and leads his league or is near the top of a couple of the major offensive categories. Another big thing MVP voters like to see is a player that carried a large burden and put his team on his back for much of the season in getting to the playoffs.
When it comes to the latter, the Tribe won as a team much more so than any one individual standing out to carry the way. Cleveland has more than handful of guys that it would have been lost without this season, rather than a few who were statistical monsters and team saviors.
When it comes to pure numbers, the Indians fared okay, but had no one truly stand out among his peers in the A.L. First baseman Mike Napoli was 14th in home runs and 13th RBI. A fine season, to be sure, but others on playoff teams finished higher. Designated hitter Carlos Santana was in a tie with Napoli for long balls. Shortstop Francisco Lindor finished 11th in A.L. batting average. Along with his defensive prowess, Lindor may be the best candidate the Indians have for the MVP award as far as having national recognition, but he did not put up flashy numbers in the power categories that can really get a player noticed.
This was also a good year for hitters, so the idea of a pitcher like Kluber winning the MVP is about as long a shot as can be.
While there will be Cleveland Indians all over the place when it comes to postseason awards, as should be the case for any division-winning ball club, Al Rosen‘s 1953 victory is going to remain Cleveland’s most recent MVP winner.
However, while there can be no debate about an Indian winning league MVP honors, there can be plenty of debate as to who the Most Valuable Player for the Tribe was during the 2016 campaign.
Napoli, Santana, Lindor and Kluber are in that discussion, to be sure. Andrew Miller is out of the discussion, despite his dominance since joining the Indians, because he was on the squad for less than half the year. Remember, MLB’s annual awards are for the regular season and do not take postseason work into account. For this discussion, postseason credentials will be factored in, but it is still hard to call Miller the Tribe’s 2016 MVP in a truncated amount of time.
The most important player and MVP of this season’s Indians team, however, is none of the players mentioned above. The guy most deserving is someone who may have been the worst player on the roster in 2015 and was not supposed to factor into this year’s group, at least not on a regular basis. All the same, third baseman Jose Ramirez became Cleveland’s most indispensable player this year, one season after being arguably its most replaceable.
Ramirez did it all this season, his fourth in which he saw big league action. At 24 years old, he has to be one of baseball’s biggest breakout players of the year. Expected to be a utility player before the season began, Ramirez wound up playing 152 regular season games with 565 at bats. Much of that was due to injuries, especially to Cleveland’s star left fielder Michael Brantley. However, the work on the field by Ramirez eventually demanded Francona to keep him on the field no matter what other players he had at his disposal.
Ramirez started the season playing left field as Brantley was out with an ailing shoulder, center fielder Abraham Almonte was suspended, and Lonnie Chisenhall began the year injured, wiping out the Tribe’s entire starting outfield for the first two weeks of the season.
When the Indians cut ties in August with struggling veteran third baseman Juan Uribe, Ramirez moved to the hot corner and filled that void seamlessly and flourished in the position. He rarely manned second base or shortstop, positions that the expected super-utility player can cover well.
While filling in at whatever position Francona asked him to, all Ramirez did was hit well…and exceedingly well in the clutch. He finished the season with, by far, career best numbers with a .312 batting average, 176 hits, 84 runs scored, 46 doubles, 11 home runs, and 76 RBI. Along with hitting well, he also stole 22 bases. When it came to trying to drive in runs with guys on base, there was no one the Indians nor their fans would have rather seen at bat that Ramirez.
While Ramirez hit a respectable .287 with the bases empty, he shined brightest when it mattered most. He hit .392 with runners on base and an astounding .406 when they were in scoring position.
Ramirez has remained one of the Cleveland’s better hitters in a postseason in which few Indians are batting particularly well. It has carried on into the World Series, where he has gone 5-for-16 (.313) with a double and one RBI.
A year after struggling to find his way at the plate, Ramirez led the Indians in batting average this season. While he did not have the eye-popping power numbers of Napoli or Santana, Ramirez was a very strong run producer this season. He was the team’s most clutch hitter. He will not win a Gold Glove like Lindor seems destined to do, despite his excellent work at third. He only played the position for about half the season, which hurts him in winning fielding honors.
In the end, Ramirez was a microcosm of the team. Much like no one player truly stood out above the rest on a team full of solid players, no one statistical category for Ramirez stood out or distinguished itself among those of his peers. What Ramirez did was a little bit of everything and he did it all a little above average.
Francona recently said Ramirez saved the Indians’ butts this season in filling the role Brantley would have filled as the team’s Mr. Everything. For that, Ramirez was the MVP of the 2016 Indians roster loaded with players who could be argued as the team’s best.
Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images