Over the last few weeks, Hanley Ramirez has been an absolute delight to watch at the plate. Since the All-Star Break, he’s been hitting a paltry .237 with a .310 OBP, but the power has been tremendous to the tune of a .632 slugging percentage. The power was enough to carry him to the Player of the Week award last week. This is the player Boston paid for two winters ago, one who would hit the crap out of the ball on a near-daily basis and would have fun while doing this. Of course, unless you just started watching this team in the second half, you know that this has not been the player Ramirez has been throughout 2016.
He hasn’t been bad on the season, per se. He’s hitting .279/.357/.451 on the year, good for a 112 wRC+. That’s not what one would hope for Ramirez in a “good” season, but after last year the overall line is more than fine. At the same time, you can’t help but wish for a little bit more for a guy who looks to take David Ortiz’s DH spot in 2017. The thing about Ramirez, though, is that those fine numbers don’t really tell the story of who he’s been at any given point this year. It’s been a season of ebbs and flows for the first baseman, whose inconsistency has resulted in numbers that don’t really tell his story.
If you break things down by months, he’s been switching every other period between Good Hanley and Bad Hanley. He started the season by putting up a disappointing 76 wRC+ in April, but followed it up with a much-improved 129 mark in May. Then, he suffered from major batting average on balls in play issues in June en route to an 86 wRC+ despite his best K/BB month of the year. Of course, as I’ve mentioned, he’s been much better this month with a 174 wRC+, one of the top-five marks in the American League.
While the roller coaster of the season is obvious from these trends, it’s also true that months are arbitrary end points. It’s not as if Ramirez suddenly becomes a different player just because the calendar flipped. However, things look the same when you choose other time frames, too. Here is a graph that shows his rolling wRC+ for every seven-game stretch this year, courtesy of Fangraphs.
The reasons for Ramirez’s ebbs and flows are, as these things usually are, more interesting than the actual fluctuations. One of the bigger reasons has been his strikeout rate, which hasn’t been quite as drastic as his overall line, but has varied at different points of the year. Things were at its worst to start the year, when he was striking out nearly a quarter of the time. Interestingly, though, this month is his second-worst in this regard, with the power cancelling that out and then some. However, this is an example of months being an arbitrary split, as this rolling seven-game graph shows the real post-April peak coming closer to the second half of June and the first half of July.
Beyond the strikeouts, we have also seen that Ramirez has fallen victim to the BABIP gods at different points in the season. This doesn’t make him a particularly unique player, of course, but Ramirez has also been an abnormally high BABIP player throughout his career. Looking at the monthly splits, there has only been one calendar period in which he’s carried a mark below .300, which was in June. However, once again the rolling seven day periods tell a slightly different story, as he fell below the league-average a few times throughout the year. In fact, this one correlates very well with his overall fluctuations, as you can see with this graph that also incorporates wOBA. For reference, wOBA is to wRC+ as OPS is to OPS+, and is used here because it’s on the same scale as BABIP.
Finally, the part of his game that visually looks the most dizzying has been his pull percentage. Now, it’s hard to tell the story of Ramirez’s career without talking about his ability to pull the ball. When he is at his best, he is pulling the ball often. It’s been the best part of his game over his career, with an ISO of .345 and a 200 wRC+ to the pull side. With that being said, he’s had some trouble hitting the ball to left field on a consistent level this year, which has helped some with his BABIP by keeping the defense on their toes but has also hurt his power production. This is a situation in which the monthly splits show very little difference in the given area. The smaller sample of seven games, however, tell a very different and up-and-down story.
With all of this being said, there’s no grand conclusion to figure out how Ramirez can become more consistent. It would be fantastic if he could settle in as the roughly 20-percent-better-than-average player his overall line says he is on a consistent basis, but it doesn’t appear that’s in the cards. Sometimes, players just have the roller coaster years, and the team just has to deal with that. It’s incredibly frustrating as fans when he’s going through his Aprils and Junes, but it becomes worth it when he hits his May/July strides. It’s totally natural to be annoyed by the roller coaster rides, but just be grateful that the streaks end up in Player of the Week awards. Those honors typically end up with fun moments for the Red Sox this year.