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2017 Red Sox Review: Hanley Ramirez

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A look at a rough year for the Red Sox slugger

Divisional Round - Boston Red Sox v Houston Astros - Game Two Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Welcome to the Red Sox Review series. It’s a fairly standard feature in which we will review the year that was for every player who made a decently large impact on the Red Sox this year. How do I come up with that definition? Completely arbitrarily, of course! The list of players I’m using can be seen here, and if I am missing anyone please let me know in the comments. Anyway, for the players who are included we will look at the positives of their 2017, the negatives, review their One Big Question from the preseason and look ahead to what’s on the table for 2018. Today, we discuss Hanley Ramirez.

The Positives

This past season was, undeniably, a disappointing one for Ramirez. Although he certainly wasn’t expected to pick up David Ortiz’ missing production all by himself, he was expected to be the one to take over the bulk of the power production. Instead, he struggled at the plate for virtually the entire season and really never got going. What I’m trying to say is it’s very difficult to sit here and try to find you some positives about Hanley’s 2017.

One good thing about the year, however, was how it ended. After he was so disappointing for so much of the season, Ramirez was one of the few players who stepped up and provided some offense in the Red Sox’ short playoff run. The Red Sox designated hitter had multiple hits in three of team’s four games, picking up eight total hits in the four game series and finishing up with a 1.314 OPS. Obviously, this is a minuscule sample and doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, but it’s still nice to see him end his year on a high note.

After that, we’re kind of digging a little bit deeper to find the positives. In addition to the postseason, Ramirez was also spectacular for a month-long stretch from the end of April through the end of May. In that time, he posted a .968 OPS over 104 plate appearances, and it came at a key point in the year where the Red Sox were looking everywhere for offensive sparks. On top of that, he was really good at starting rallies, posting an .841 OPS with the bases empty. Obviously, Ramirez hits in the middle of the order and at that spot you’re looking for production with runners on base, but you don’t always get what you want.

Divisional Round - Houston Astros v Boston Red Sox - Game Three Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Finally, there was the matter of how Ramirez hit the ball. Clearly, there was something off with the slugger this year as balls just weren’t falling in and they weren’t finding gaps or seats for extra bases. That being said, the process seemed to be what the Red Sox were looking for. On a team that, at times, had a lot of trouble of getting the ball in the air and hitting it with authority, Ramirez had his most encouraging batted ball profile since 2013. That was a season in which he only played in 86 games, but posted a 191 wRC+. There was something different here, and the fact that he is four years older likely played a role, but this is how Ramirez needs to hit the ball to have success.

The Negatives

While it was pretty difficult to find some positives in Ramirez’ 2017, it was exceedingly easy to find some negatives. In fact, it was so easy that I’m not entirely sure where to start. Should I start with the power, where Ramirez’ end-of-year .188 Isolated Power was above-average, but not at all what Boston needed from their premiere slugger in a year that saw more homers around the league than ever before. Now that he was spending most of his time at DH, it seemed reasonable to expect a .220-ish ISO from Ramirez, but he never really showed that kind of skill all year.

On top of that, he didn’t come close to expectations against left-handed pitching. Ramirez, of course, was an everyday player for Boston, but he was supposed to play a particularly large role against southpaws. Instead, he fell flat on his face in these situations. In 123 plate appearances against lefties, the righty hit just .179/.293/.387 for a 65 wRC+. Surely, there’s some noise in this small sample, but it simply was not what this Red Sox team needed.

The matter of Ramirez’ health was also a big issue for the Red Sox and forced them to abandon their plans before the year even started. Obviously, Ramirez didn’t willfully hurt himself — and the speculation that he simply didn’t want to play first base was and is completely baseless — but his ailing shoulder was very bad for this team. If you’ll recall, the original plan was for Ramirez to play first base against lefties to open up a spot for Chris Young, sending Mitch Moreland to the bench. Ramirez was never really ready to play defense on a consistent basis, though, forcing Moreland into a bigger role than he’s suited for. Obviously, Young was a major disappointment too, but Ramirez’ injury still changed things extremely early in the year.

Finally, there is the flip side of Ramirez’ success with the bases empty. Simply put, he just couldn’t come through when the team was most in need of a big hit. He posted a wRC+ of just 42 in high-leverage spots, a 64 wRC+ with men on base and a 57 mark with runners in scoring position. It was incredibly frustrating for a hitter with so much talent.

The Big Question

Can Hanley Ramirez keep his power production?

I touched on this a bunch up above, so I’ll keep it short. The answer is no, he could not keep his power production, and that fact was a huge problem for the Red Sox lineup.

Looking ahead to 2018

This coming year is a fascinating one for the Red Sox and Ramirez with plenty of questions. Are they going to focus on keeping him out of the lineup enough so they can make sure his 2019 option does not vest? Is he going to be a designated hitter again, or will they give him another shot at first base? Will the shoulder surgery he underwent after the season have a noticeable effect on his power production? I am sure that I am higher on Ramirez than just about any other Red Sox fan, but I am still of the belief that he is due for a bounce-back year and will be a big part of the lineup, albeit certainly not the focal point.