Of the relatively large number of question marks for the Red Sox as they try to lock up the American League East, Hanley Ramirez is the one I just can’t figure out. Right now, it is incredibly clear that he is just not getting the job done. Hitting in a crucial spot in Boston’s lineup, the designated hitter continues to make outs in key situations and stifling rallies on what seems to be a daily basis. It’s not great, is what I’m saying. Given the close divisional race this team finds itself in with just over two weeks remaining in the season, the team cannot afford to have that kind of production (or lack thereof) in the middle of its lineup. On the other hand, the best version of the Red Sox is the one with Ramirez mashing baseballs in the middle of its lineup, and the only way he can get on that track is by playing baseball. If you think he still has that capability in him — and I’d be surprised if the Red Sox don’t believe that — it’s hard to take him out of the lineup. What I’m saying is that I have no idea what the team should do about this.
Before we look into the different options for the Red Sox regarding their veteran slugger, let’s just take a quick look at how frustrating Ramirez’ season has been, and how it’s gotten progressively worse as time has gone on. To do so, here’s a handy dandy table.
As is pretty clear from that table, things have been trending downwards at an alarming rate. Of course, the September numbers come in a small sample size, but he certainly hasn’t looked good to start this month. Just a couple weeks ago, I wrote about Ramirez and how the batted ball data suggested he should turn it around even if it didn’t feel like that was the case. Obviously, things haven’t turned around, and the Red Sox need to decide how long they can keep the status quo. Let’s take a look at the three options the team seems to have in how it will handle the extreme struggles from its slugger for the rest of the year.
Option One: Keep the status quo
To me, this option seems to be the worst and the most likely option to be employed by John Farrell and the Red Sox. This basically entails doing nothing, keeping Ramirez in the middle of the order and hoping things turn around. It certainly seems like a mistake, and it’s worth noting that things have changed in the short amount of time since I wrote the post linked above. In the month of September, Ramirez has looked particularly lost at the plate. Not only has he had little success on balls in play, but he also has 13 strikeouts and just one walk over 41 plate appearances this month. Whether that’s a result of pressing at the plate or some other phenomenon, it doesn’t seem smart to bet on it turning around.
Option Two: Keep him in the lineup, but further down
This is the half-measure, bowl of porridge that is juuust right option. In this scenario, the Red Sox are still giving him a chance to hit out of his slump, but giving him a chance to do so in a position of less importance to the lineup. Granted, it’s not good to have poor production from any spot in the lineup, but clearly you’d rather have it from the bottom third than the middle third. Not too long ago, Ramirez had a short stint in the seventh spot in the lineup and hit quite well. I’m not at all sure we can completely put that on the fact that he was moved down in the lineup, but it’s worth considering. The idea here would be that his struggles are indeed about pressing at the plate, and moving down in the lineup should help him get back on track. I have no idea if this could actually work, and if it did work I have no idea how we could judge whether or not it was simple coincidence, but it’s certainly an option.
Option Three: Stop playing him on a near-everyday basis
This is the most extreme solution on the table, though it might also be the best. This is the option you would employ if you don’t believe that Ramirez is going to turn things around right away. With Eduardo Nuñez out of the lineup, it’s harder to employ this strategy, though it’s not impossible. While the utility man is unable to assume DH duties, the Red So could turn to Sam Travis as the DH. There’s no guarantee that he would be any better, but it’s hard to say he could be worse. On days Sandy Leon starts, they could also turn to Christian Vazquez as a DH. Obviously, teams don’t like using their second catcher at DH because it leaves them vulnerable in the event of injury or ejection, but in September they have a third catcher in Blake Swihart to eliminate that risk. There’s also the fact that his option for 2019 vests if he accrues at least 1050 plate appearances between 2017 and 2018. That, in my opinion, should not be a concern here, though. I feel like it’s wrong to make decisions based on that option. If he’s not good enough to be in the lineup, then he shouldn’t be. If he is, he should be in the lineup even if that option does loom.
In the end, I’m still not sure where I come down on this. One thing I am sure of at this point is that option one is bad. Ramirez can’t be in the four, five or six spot in the lineup for the time being. Beyond that, I’d be fine with either option two or three. Which is your preferred option?