There are two things about Aramis Ramirez that have always amused/intrigued me:

1) His consistency. In his four seasons with the Cubs, he’s OPS+’d 138, 135, 126, and 129. His walk percentages (percentage of plate appearances resulting in a walk) have been 8.1 %, 6.9 %, 7.6 %, and 7.7 %. His strikeout percentages have been 10.2 %, 11.9 %, 9.5 %, and 11.8 %. He is pretty much the same guy every year.

2) His weird hitter profile. He’s essentially a contact hitter with power: he doesn’t walk or strike out too much, and he hits homers. Guys who do all three with regularity—Jim Thome, Ryan Howard, even Derrek Lee—are pretty common, but Ramirez, while not one-of-a-kind, is a rare breed.

This year, Ramirez seems different: he looks more patient at the plate. But is he? Let’s look at some numbers (note: I started this entry on 4/23 and finished it on 4/24, so some numbers are through Tuesday’s game and some are through Wednesday’s):

ARam 2008 BB %: 14.0 %

ARam 2008 K %: 12.9 %

So his K % is a little up, and his walk percentage is WAY up. That would indicate that he’s seeing more pitches per plate appearance, and, sure enough:

ARam 2008 P/PA: 4.02; ARam career P/PA: 3.69

Wow. Aramis is seeing about a third of a pitch more per plate appearance, which is pretty significant. Also significant: the pitches he’s taking seem to be almost all balls: his strike % (percentage of pitches that are strikes, either swinging, looking, or foul, including out-of-zone pitches swung at) is down to 60 % from his career average of 64 %, but his looking strike percentage (percentage of strikes that are looked at) is the same as his career average.

Perhaps most notable, Ramirez’ contact percentage (percentage of balls swung at that are hit) is down 8 % from last year to 76 % (his career average is 80 %): he’s not hitting the ball as often as in the past. But when he does hit it, it’s going in the air more: he’s only hit 29.4 % of his balls in play on the ground, while his career percentage is 37.3 %.

What does this all mean? Probably nothing, given the sample size, but there’s the off chance that Ramirez has tuned his batting eye, allowing him to lay off more pitches, get better hitter’s counts, and take bigger swings in those counts, leading to more walks, more balls hit hard in the air, and more swings and misses. This will be an interesting thing to watch as the season goes on.

UPDATE: This is really weird: given that Ramirez has seen more pitches and seems to be laying off balls, you would think he’s gotten himself into good hitters counts more often than in the past and then done damage in those counts.  However, this is not the case.  Ramirez has actually done better in pitchers counts—his OPS in PAs that start with a strike is 1.094, as opposed to .777 in PAs that start with a ball.  This is, of course, a small sample size effect.

So I’m not really sure what’s going on.  We really just need to wait until Ramirez has has a few hundred plate appearances before we can start to determine whether he’s changed his approach.