Cody Ransom is not a very remarkable baseball player. Part of it is the play, but other players in Ransom’s peer group have found ways to grab attention. Some sabermetricians explain the “replacement” aspect of Wins Above Replacement by calling it “Wins Over Willie (Bloomquist),” all of which is to say if Cody Ransom had personality, we may call it Wins Over Cody.
He is the generic journeyman bench player, playing the game in a dull-but-serviceable way all the way down to his brutally flashless no-stride batting stance. When I used to go to baseball camps, they would occasionally use the no-stride stance as a way to teach good techniques with weight trasnfer and bringing the hips through the zone. Even if the stance produced results, though, I almost never saw anybody take this stance to heart and use it full-time. It both feels and looks like you’re turned into a robotic arm.
As a Brewer, the robotic arm in the Ransom jersey often looked sloppily calibrated. He struck out 79 times in 194 plate appearances; when Jose Hernandez nearly set the strikeout record in 2002 with 188, his 79th strikeout didn’t come until his 231st trip to the plate. Ransom made contact with under two in every three pitches he swung at despite his 23% out-of-zone swing rate playing more George Kottaras than Yuniesky Betancourt.
The July 13th game against the Pirates followed the trend most pre-August Brewers games did: a bunch of things went right — Ryan Braun hit two home runs in a 4-for-4 performance; Martin Maldonado had four hits, Rickie Weeks scored two runs despite his massive slump. The Brewers offense provided six runs by the sixth.
But something had to go wrong, too, and this time it was Zack Greinke. Greinke will do this thing every once in a while where he has this outing that makes you wonder if he’s really an ace. Then he’ll throw two shutouts or something, but the seed is planted. Aces don’t allow those big numbers, no matter how bloopy the bloops were, a voice says in your head. Is it right?
Greinke got as much help as he can expect from his offense, but Ransom certainly didn’t help things. He ended two of the first three innings en route to an 0-for-3 start.
Sometimes hitters can’t catch breaks. Sometimes they don’t deserve to catch the breaks. This probably falls into the latter, but in the bottom of the third inning, Ransom hit a ball in the left-side hole that looked destined for a hit. Instead, Clint Barmes made a spinning backhand, lasered the ball to second, and Neil Walker pulled a quick turn to nail Ransom for a double play. It’s Cody Ransom, but it still seems unfair.
Ransom led off an unsuccessful seventh inning with a foul out to first base — which, to his credit, means he made contact. The Brewers were managing to hold a tie with one of the most untrustworthy bullpens the club has ever seen. Jose Veras, Manny Parra and Francisco Rodriguez all threw scoreless innings to get to the eighth tied; such a feat only occurred twice (May 29th, July 8th) up to that point. It seemed (and not for this game alone) like only a matter of time if they didn’t score in the 8th inning.
In the early part of 2011, the Brewers had a very unbalanced lineup. On July 13th with one out in the eigth inning, Ryan Braun singled. Then Aramis Ramirez singled. Corey Hart struck out, but Ramirez and Braun took second and third on a double steal. However, this seemed to backfire when the Pirates intentionally walked Rickie Weeks to get to the rather undynamic Ransom. This was the kind of rally that would die as the unproductive hitters — Betancourt, Carlos Gomez, Josh Wilson — flailed around unsuccessfully.
Clint Hurdle’s decision to leave lefty Tony Watson in the game to face five straight righties after Nyjer Morgan led off the inning — four of them All-Stars at one point — was one of the most dubious of the year. He had so many chances to rectify it, too — somehow the Brewers still hadn’t scored after four batters. Surely a righty would be ready for Ransom, though, right? It would all but guarantee the end of the inning — Ransom hit just .195/.297/.327 off righties this season. But no, Hurdle merely continued an inning-long transformation into the personification of Purple from the dugout as he stranded Watson on the hill.
Ransom gets work because he hits left-handers. He has a .242/.312/.447 line against southpaws; it was .264/.340/.563 in 2012. He’d be an MVP if the right-handed pitcher didn’t exist. And as far as Hurdle was concerned, for at least one inning it must not have.
After jumping out 2-0, Ransom fouled two pitches off to fall back to 2-2. He did not look comfortable. Ransom was not a player to show a ton of emotion in the batter’s box, but you could tell something was up. He was blinking in odd patterns, as if to force something out of his eyes. Oh, good. The team’s most prolific swing-and-misser has troubles with his eyesight in the most important at-bat of the game.
2012 Through 2 – 2: 86 PA, 46 SO.
A robotic arm, when calibrated properly, will do a job about as well as possible. In the case of Ransom’s robotic swing, it is designed for power despite lacking the violence of Prince Fielder’s cut nor the grace of Ryan Braun’s. The lack of excess motion, the planted feet, the compactness — all provide power beyond what you’d expect from a middle infielder who struggles to latch on. Ransom has taken 665 career plate appearances — about a full season’s worth — and hit 21 home runs. Ian Desmond led major league shortstops with 25 this season.
Once ball met bat, there was no question. There was always question ball would ever meet bat, but here it did squarely and the Brewers were the benefactors of a late-inning bullpen blowup for once:
John Axford allowed the Obligatory Home Run in the ninth inning to close the gap to 10-7 — imagine if the Brewers hadn’t scored in the eighth? — but Milwaukee held on to improve to 41-45 on the season. This was, at the time, a rare loss for the Pirates — a laughable phrase given the last month, but a true one nonetheless, as the Pirates enjoyed a 16-5 stretch from June 27th to July 22nd.
The eighth inning on July 13th was one of the rare great times for Ransom as a Milwaukee Brewer. All-in-all, he was as advertised, hitting .196/.293/.345 — some patience, some pop, but an abundance of whiffs. You don’t get a player with any sort of promise on waivers without a glaring weakness. Ransom struck out over 40 percent of the time as a Brewer.
But sometimes, when guys like Cody Ransom have the more robust personality or provide better sound bites, they stick around, and their strengths become more important than their weaknesses. Both the Bloomquists and the Ransoms have their games where they don’t look like they belong. Maybe more often than not. Less often, they have those games where their strengths come out and the weaknesses take a back seat.
With the Bloomquists, the announcers and the beat writers and the fans who buy in will always remind you of those times he mattered. Less so with the Ransoms. But they still happen — sometimes only once or twice, but they happen. July 13th was that night for Cody with the Brewers — his impact left, however small, on the city and the franchise.