By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The collective slump that has enveloped the Chicago White Sox is hard to really understand. As a group, the team has watched its batting averages and overall metrics go sliding into the abyss with little indication of why it has happened.
Shortstop Alexei Ramirez, the longest-tenured position player on the club, has done a complete 180 in terms of his overall play this season. Ramirez was an All-Star for the first time in his seven-year career in 2014. Until a late-season slump took his numbers down, the Cuban infielder hit .300 or better for most of the year. His defense was described by most scouts as among the best in the league.
Sixty-seven games into 2015, it’s hard to understand a complete erosion in his total game. From defense to offense to decision-making and everything in between, the game has gotten away from the 33-year-old Ramirez.
“He has been very good for a very long time,” third-base coach and infield instructor Joe McEwing said Saturday. “You are talking about an individual with a lot of pride. That pride is in himself and trying to help the team in any way he can to win. When you struggle, things creep in. As coaches we try to keep things positive and put him in the right direction to become successful again.”
Ramirez has had a skill set that included home run power, RBI ability and stolen base prowess. He hit .273 with 15 homers, 74 RBIs and 21 stolen bases in 2014. This year’s pace indicates a season of six home runs and 55 RBIs, and he was hitting .223 at the end of Saturday.
“He has let his defense be affected by his offense at times,” manager Robin Ventura said. “We have seen Alexei go that way sometimes. We know he will come out of it. He has been a really good player for this team for a long time.”
The disturbing aspect of Ramirez tossing balls to open areas and mental lapses such as missing tags on runners and forgetting to step on a base for a forceout has been frustrating for all who know how good Ramirez was in the past.
He did have a similar problem with concentration in 2013. His father-in-law was murdered in Miami that spring in a tragedy. That was more than understandable from the perspective of Ramirez’s bosses. This years’ brain cramp isn’t understood.
The idea of helping this team or being moved in a trade elsewhere may soon come into play for Ramirez and some of the other veterans on this underachieving White Sox ball club. The team’s front office entertained offers for Ramirez the last two seasons without getting what they felt was equal or above value for him. He has a $10 million deal this season and $10 million option for 2016.
“This slump has been tough for all of us,” Ramirez said through translator Billy Russo. “We have very good players, and we don’t know what is happening. Sometimes there are no explanations for slumps. For me, I need to work through this with hard work and video on both offense and defense.”
The clock is ticking for all the team’s players and especially for Ramriez, with highly touted Tim Anderson honing his defensive skills at Triple-A this season.
“You try to be positive every day,” Ramirez said. “I try to keep my head up. Sometimes you do get frustrated with the situation. You have to be confident in your ability and your teammates.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.