clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The Red Sox have a Hanley Ramirez problem

New, comments

Hanley Ramirez was enjoying a renaissance period early in the season, but his recent slump suggests it was little more than smoke and mirrors.

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

One week ago, Hanley Ramirez was under pressure. A month-long slump had seen his OPS drop from .846 to .741, with Sox fans and media alike starting to ask when and, indeed, if the first baseman was going to turn it back on. Then he hit an absolutely mammoth homer, and the stage was perfectly set for his resurgence.

Since that game, Ramirez is 4-for-24 with a double, a walk, and six strikeouts. In the month of June, he ranks as one of the five worst players in baseball by fWAR, having fallen back to the same depths we saw from him during the worst parts of 2016. It's a slide that has him back into overall negative territory on the year, as well.

In fairness to Ramirez, part of that is based on a fairly negative evaluation of Ramirez' defense by UZR which doesn't have nearly large enough of a sample size to be trusted. For the most part, Hanley has looked fine at first--good at times, with a few more cracks showing of late, but ultimately not bad.

But there's no way to make his bat look good anymore. He's hitting to an 88 wRC+--actually a point below what he managed last year--with a total power-outage mitigating his acceptable .333 OBP. He's been striking out more than ever, and just can't seem to catch up with anything that carries any amount of velocity.

I find it hard to be too upset with Ramirez the person. He's been bad, but he's clearly been trying, and while the legend of Hustlin' Hanley may contain as many valleys as peaks, at least he's putting in the effort to bring everything he can to his team. And the reason he's been bad...frankly, I keep going back to last May. We all remember that first month in 2015, when Ramirez couldn't be stopped. He hit 10 homers before he went crashing into the wall, and only 13 since. Yes, you can point to the beginning of the season and say he's had periods of production since, but when Hanley's OPS was up at .847, his BABIP was up over .400. You can say that figure should be slightly higher than last year given his dropping so much mass, but it certainly it was sitting well over any reasonable level.

For me, that really is the story of Hanley Ramirez in Boston. He couldn't adapt to left field, his unfamiliarity with the position led to him crashing hard into the wall, and he's never truly recovered since.

The thing is, that story also makes it hard to completely give up on Ramirez. It's possible that he's just broken for good. It's also possible that he's just over-the-hill at 32. But we've seen this level of awful from a one-time great hitter before. Coming off a year hampered by a wrist injury, David Ortiz was so, so awful in the first half of 2009 that it was almost inconceivable he'd be back in 2010, much less crushing the league in 2016. Notably, he was still capable of hitting off-speed pitches, but could not catch up with heat, posting perhaps the only below-average performance against fastballs in any half of his career in the first half of 2009.

But here we are. Ortiz found his power stroke (if not the rest of his game) in the second half of 2009. He went from one of the worst players in baseball against heat to solidly above-average, and ever since then has ramped up from decent, to good, to better than ever even north of 40.

Hanley Ramirez is not necessarily David Ortiz. Attempting to use Ortiz as a model for much of anything is probably not the best idea, given how clearly he breaks so very many molds. But we do have the shining example of patience for even a veteran paying off right here on the team, and he'd probably go to the mat defending Ramirez himself.

That being said, they can only give Ramirez so much rope. The lineup has started to struggle of late, and Hanley's poor performance is no small part of it. If he bounces back in the way Ortiz did in that second half of 2009, then we won't need to worry about that. But the Red Sox can only pursue that scenario so far, and the longer it takes for Hanley to start showing anything positive, the harder it becomes to justify spending playing time on him.

The problem is, there's really no alternatives. At least not immediately.

Perhaps Brock Holt helps some with that. Getting Hanley some time off would do him some good to begin with given how often he's been banged up. Going into a three-man rotation with Holt, Shaw, and Ramirez at first and third seems a reasonable idea given that, up until the last week, Shaw was slumping mightily too. Beyond that, though, Boston's options are pretty much limited to a trade. Sam Travis' ACL tear has quietly done serious damage to the team's infield depth. There may be some trading to be done there, but with the Red Sox having needs elsewhere and a top-heavy system, it would be surprising to see the Sox invest too heavily on that front.

They might just have to accept that Hanley is going to be Bad Hanley right up until he's not, with little real recourse to fix the situation. Obviously, when the offseason arrives, the options open up more, particularly if you start to consider mixing Sam Travis in (though that's questionable given that he'll only have a fraction of a season's experience in Pawtucket). And if Hanley is still bad by then, it's going to be very difficult to commit to him as a starter in 2017 and beyond.

For now, though, if the Red Sox have a Hanley Ramirez problem, it's not necessarily one they can solve. Only one they can hope sorts itself out.