ST. LOUIS, MO - Aramis Ramirez of the Milwaukee Brewers hits a base hit against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images)
Aramis Ramirez isn't Prince Fielder, but that was kind of the point.
Baseball is designed to make you feel like a moron. With every game, every season, baseball exists to make you feel like you don't know anything about baseball. You can study it for hours every day and still be surprised at the Sean Dolittles and Ryan Vogelsongs of the world.
That's why Aramis Ramirez is so comforting. In eight of the last nine years, he's had OPS+ totals between 126 and 139. He's the player you expect every year. With the exception of 2010, when he played through a thumb injury, that is. But you're killing the narrative. When he's healthy, Ramirez is the most consistent player in baseball. From 2004 to 2011, Ramirez hit .297/.359/.533. In 2012, Ramirez is at .296/.361/.529. As David Cross said in Waiting for Guffman:
Once you go into that circle, the weather never changes. It is always 67 degrees with a 40% chance of rain.
That's Aramis Ramirez, alright. He will reach base 36 percent of the time, and he will advance 53 percent of the way to first base in every at-bat.
For a while, things were looking dicey, as he started the season hitting .214/.264/.381in April, but then the natural order of things took over. It's somewhat odd to have Ramirez as the model of consistency because when he came up, he was a polarizing, contact-addled young player. Between two sub-.700 OPS seasons when he was 22 and 24, he had a brilliant season. He was the original Pedro Alvarez.
It looked like Ramirez's season was going to go to waste, though. Despite keeping pace with Ryan Braun in the second half, Ramirez wasn't helping the Brewers win more games than they lost. It wasn't his fault. There were different factors, such as the bullpen, the relievers, and the bullpen. But it seemed likely that Ramirez was going to have the aramest season of his life without anyone noticing.
The Brewers are just three games out of the second Wild Card spot heading into Thursday. Ramirez's success matters, suddenly. It matters a heckuva lot. And now we can look his season with a little more appreciation, and there's another level of appreciation on top of that. The best way to express it is with a rhetorical question:
How glad are the Brewers to have Aramis Ramirez right now instead of Prince Fielder?
So glad. All the glad. Glad in Tupperware, lining the freezer walls in case they need some glad at a later date. Fielder is doing well, mind you. His numbers, adjusted for Comerica Park not being as lefty-friendly, are very similar to his career numbers. Other than the occasional home-run spike, Fielder might fit in with Ramirez as one of the most consistent players in baseball. But he's also owed $181 million after this season. Ramirez is owed $30 million.
If WAR is your thing, Ramirez has been even better than Fielder this year. But in 2013 and 2014? The smart money is on Fielder being better. Aramis will be 35 and 36, and his consistency can't last forever.
But Ramirez is allowing the Brewers to contend now. He'll probably help them in 2013. And the franchise won't have to worry about two players making a bazillion dollars in 2020. Not that they were considering it. But if there was any desire to go for broke and keep the band together exactly as they were, Ramirez's year is making the Brewers happy they didn't. They wouldn't be better with Prince Fielder in 2012.
This is having your cake, eating it too, and still having $150 million to buy various cake-related consumables in the future. And they got to do it without worrying about if anyone was going to eat too much cake over the next eight years. Aramis Ramirez, in a season that's been a surprise for the Brewers twice-over, was just about the best replacement the franchise could have hoped for. In a way, it was pretty predictable. As predictable as Ramirez, anyway.