Between 1921 and 1925, St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Rogers Hornsby batted .402 and averaged 32 home runs per season. In the context of that run, 1923 was something of a down year. Debilitated by legal problems, injuries, and an intense hatred for his boss, team president Branch Rickey, Hornsby hit just .384 with 17 home runs.
But Hornsby did something remarkable that season. In July, Hornsby had a run of 13 consecutive games in which he had two or more base hits. Almost one hundred years later, no major leaguer has matched that record. Billy Herman had 12 in 1935. Tony Perez had 11 in 1973.
The reason I bring this up is because right now Jose Ramirez, the under-appreciated Cleveland third baseman, is working on his own mini Hornsby streak. He has nine straight multi-hit games. In that span, Ramirez has also doubled in seven consecutive games, and hit three home runs and a triple for good measure.
Before the streak, Ramirez was hitting a respectable .279/.339/.464 with good defense and speed. Now his triple slash line sits at .322/.376/.557. Not quite Hornsbyesque, but still pretty damn good. Ramirez leads American League third basemen in Wins Above Replacement by both the Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference calculations. But this isn't a breakout. If you've been paying attention, you know he's been doing this for a while. Ramirez has been Cleveland's best hitter going back to last season.
This is remarkable for many reasons. Ramirez is only 24 years old. He can play multiple positions. He puts the ball in play, and he hits the ball hard. Only two players in baseball have lower strikeout rates and higher isolated power numbers this year: Joey Votto and Anthony Rizzo. Ramirez has a big, marketable personality (he's actually funny on Twitter) and plays the game with energy.
But for whatever reason (beyond just the fact that baseball players don't get famous), Ramirez isn't famous. He's often overshadowed on his own team by Francisco Lindor and a dominant pitching staff. And before he established himself as a star player last year, Ramirez was a relatively unheralded prospect: a future utility type who peaked at no. 9 in the Cleveland system Baseball America's rankings.
Make no mistake though, Ramirez is a star. In fact, he might be even more than that. Over the last calendar year, his offensive profile looks a lot like that of a way more celebrated 24-year-old baseball player: Mookie Betts.
Here is a table, courtesy of Fangraphs, that shows their numbers between June 20, 2016 and June 20, 2017:
Obviously there are some caveats here: Betts plays in a major market and broke out immediately upon admission to the Major Leagues. He is one of baseball's best base runners and one of its best defenders in the outfield. Ramirez is solid on the bases and steady on defense, but not at Betts's level. He also scuffled for a while before finding his groove. Both offer some positional versatility, but Ramirez offers more, having played at least fifty games at four different positions in the majors.
This isn't to say that Ramirez is as good as Mookie Betts as an all-around player. He probably isn't. But over the past calendar year, Ramirez has been Betts's equal as a hitter in terms of both production and profile. He may not be Rogers Hornsby. But if you can't be Rogers Hornsby, Mookie Betts is not a bad consolation prize. Jose Ramirez is not just the most underrated player in baseball. He's one of the best.