Missle barely misses gold, bags silver instead

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Missle barely misses gold, bags silver instead

Thursday, Nov. 11, 2010
9:06 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

If you lose out to Derek Jeter on the Gold, might as well take his Silver.

So may be the thought process of Chicago White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez, who just a day after losing a shot at his first Gold Glove in a controversial decision favoring the New York Yankees shortstop stole away the American Leagues Silver Slugger award.

Ramirez, helming a position of traditional defensive expertise for the White Sox (as heir to Chico Carrasquel, Luis Aparicio and Ozzie Guillen) nodded more to Hall-of-Famer and ex-Chisox Luke Appling in becoming the first White Sox Silver Slugger winner. Ramirezs win in fact made him the first shortstop on either side of town to win the award. The 29-year-old also snapped Jeters four-year hold on the honor, which has existed for three decades and is decided by a survey of managers and coaches.

While his rookie campaign of 2008 was a slightly better offensive season, the Cuban Missile dominated AL shortstops offensively in 2010. Ramirez proffered a .313 on-base percentage and .431 slugging percentage (first among shortstops) for a .734 OPS. He led AL shortstops with a .282 batting average, 18 home runs and 252 total bases. He finished second among campocortos with 70 RBI, third with 165 hits and tied for third with 29 doubles.

Ramirezs .282 batting average qualifies as the fourth-best in history by a White Sox shortstop and his 18 longballs were the sixth-most. He was named to the Sporting News 2010 AL All-Star Team in Pale Hose annals, only Appling (1936, 1940, 1943) and Aparicio (1968, 1970) have been so honored. The three-year vet is the first White Sox player since Carlos Quentin in 2008 to win a Silver Slugger, and just the ninth player in team history.

Honors are nothing new for the Cuban Missile. At just 23, he won a gold medal on Cubas triumphant baseball team in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. His career average playing for Pinar del Rio in Cuba stands at .335, and he led the league in homers (20) and batting average (.338) in his final season (2007).

After playing out of position (center field) and batting .375 for Cuba in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, the White Sox signed him in part on the advice of World Series hero and fellow Cuban Jose Contreras. Ramirez played a spectacular center field in the 2008 opener for the White Sox, and eventually spent much of the season playing out of position at second base; still he finished as the runner-up in AL Rookie of the Year voting.

With the Silver win and Gold near-miss, Ramirez was denied a relatively rare double play of sorts, being named both the best defensive player (Gold Glove) and offensive player (Silver Slugger) at his position for a given season. The AL Gold Glove was thought to be a two-man battle between Ramirez and Elvis Andrus of the Texas Rangers, but in a surprising and disheartening move, AL managers and coaches bestowed the honor on Jeter, forever one of the weakest shortstops in the league.

The Fielding Bible Awards, which like the Gold Glove has bestowed two straight honors to White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle, are selected by an expert panel of 10 analysts who study defense and defensive metrics for a living. Only one player is honored across baseball per position thus Troy Tulowitzki was the 2010 FBA shortstop but Ramirez finished third in the polling, well ahead of any other AL candidate. A number of factors are taken into consideration by the panel, but Ramirezs AL-leading 768 chances, indicating supreme range, surely didnt hurt.

A year ago, few would have pegged Ramirez as a future Gold Glover, of course, and many, including your humble scribe, thought it best to shift Ramirez back to second base and install Gordon Beckham at short for 2010. But Ramirez proved any naysayer wrong: His Ultimate Zone Rating a metric that encompasses fielding ability, range, and double-play work jumped from 3.1 in 2009 to 10.8 this past season. His 2010 UZR represents the 14th-best rating in all of baseball and second among shortstops (behind Brendan Ryan of the St. Louis Cardinals).

Ramirez is expected this month to opt out of the final year of his original, four-year contract and become arbitration eligible. The White Sox hold a 2.75 million option on Ramirez for 2011, an option they will exercise within seconds of Ramirezs opt-out.

Despite a hamstrung budget, dont be surprised if GM Ken Williams locks up Ramirez in a multi-year contract well in advance of spring training. Such a move would be only fairusing FanGraphs value estimates of Ramirezs first three seasons, the shortstop has provided 29.3 million in value in exchange for just 3.6 million in salary.

On Wednesday, CSNChicago.com pegged Ramirez as the second most essential player on the White Sox. His two-way mastery nearly pulling off the ultimate offensive and defensive awards in just his third major league season and second as a full-time shortstop and bargain-basement price tag (1.1 million) makes such a designation a no-brainer.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.

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