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 we come up with that definition? Completely arbitrarily, of course! The list of players we’re using can be seen here, and if we are missing anyone please let me know in the comments. Anyway, for the players who are included we will wrap up their season in a sentence, look at the positives of their 2018, the negatives, review their One Big Question from the preseason (when applicable!) and look ahead to what’s on the table for 2019. Today, we discuss Hanley Ramirez.
The Season in a Sentence
Hanley Ramirez obviously was not on the Red Sox for more than half the season, but he made an underrated impact in more ways than one early on before his surprising release.
It can be kind of easy to forget at this point, but heading into what turned out to be this historically great season for the Red Sox, Hanley Ramirez was one of the focal points of the Red Sox offense. He was the first baseman more often than not, sort of platooning with Mitch Moreland but getting plenty of starts at first base as well. He was also batting right in the middle of what ended up being the best offense in baseball. That seems absolutely crazy to think about now, but it made some sense earlier in the year.
Not only did it make sense, it worked out very well right at the start of the year. Ramirez was fantastic in the middle of Boston’s lineup for the first month of the season and is a big reason Boston was able to get off to their hot start that lasted the rest of the year. We’re only talking about 25 games and 110 plate appearances, but Ramirez looked great as he hit .330/.400/.474 for a 138 wRC+, meaning he was 38 percent better than the league-average hitter. It’s worth noting that a big portion of that production came from big success on balls in play, as he finished the month with a .392 batting average on balls in play. Some of that was certainly luck, but it’s worth noting he was hitting the ball extremely hard during that time while also hitting a ton of line drives. Furthermore, his plate discipline was outstanding as he was taking the team’s aggressive-on-good-pitches mantra to heart. In other words, this wasn’t a guy dinking and dunking his way to a hot month. Ramirez was smoking hot and helping the Red Sox win games.
Ramirez was particularly good against left-handed pitching, which we know was a weakness for the Red Sox for much of the year. Obviously, Steve Pearce eventually came in and filled that role, but Ramirez was very good on that front while he was with the team. Against southpaws, the veteran hit .333/.378/.476 for a 131 wRC+, though like his April performance this was pushed by a high BABIP.
It wasn’t just the production on the field where Ramirez made his impact, either. Ramirez was the veteran mainstay in the locker room in camp and early in the year, and made a big impact on the team’s attitude while he was here and beyond. Known as a malcontent for some of his career, Alex Cora and the coaching staff inspired Ramirez to simply be himself around his teammates this year, and he was embraced. It was clear watching the dugout and postgame interviews in the clubhouse that Ramirez was looked up to by many players, a point that this Peter Abraham article drives home as well. Ramirez was not the driving force in the clubhouse this season — Cora would be that guy above anyone else — but Ramirez helped set the tone on and off the field early in the year, and that helped spark a year-long run that ended in a championship. It’s not nothing.
Of course, despite all of that Ramirez wasn’t able to make it through the entire season for the Red Sox. At the end of May, the team shockingly released him and inserted Mitch Moreland as their everyday first baseman. Now, the main motivation behind the release was the money owed to the veteran and the vesting option for the 2019 season. The speculation has been that he wouldn’t react well to more consistent benchings necessary to get him below the plate appearance threshold to prevent the 2019 option from vesting. So, the team released him and later acquired Steve Perace to fill the role. Obviously, it worked out for the team.
It wasn’t just the 2019 money that played into it, though. For as great as Ramirez’ April was, his May was just as bad. The veteran just totally hit a wall and got worse in every aspect of the game. His plate discipline fell off, he was pounding everything into the ground and just wasn’t squaring the ball up. According to Fangraphs’ batted ball metrics, his hard-hit rate in May was half of what it was in April. All told, his second month of the year saw him hit .163/.200/.300 for a 26 wRC+ and ended with him unemployed. Certainly not ideal.
The Big Question
Apparently not! It’s not much of a secret that I was a huge proponent of a Hanley bounce-back in 2018, and while he was on the roster he was one of my favorite players. He may have even topped the list. For that first month of the year, I was really feeling myself too, because Ramirez looked great. The bounce-back was on! May ended up being bad enough that it totally overshadowed the start of his season, and even though it was a smaller sample than the first month it still brought his overall wRC+ on the year down to an 89. There’s still a part of me that thinks Ramirez can be a solid major leaguer in the right role, but I don’t know if he’d want the role, and I’m certainly not as confident as I was at this point last year.
The Year Ahead
It was always shocking to me that Ramirez didn’t get any other chances in 2018 on a minimum deal, but my guess is that he didn’t want that last year, to say nothing of the erroneous report that he was involved in a federal investigation. Now, it seems he does want to come back. He’s playing in the Dominican and reportedly looking pretty solid. If he does get another chance it likely won’t be until later in the offseason and likely on a very small, non-guaranteed deal. I’m not ready to say goodbye to Hanley, though. Someone give him a chance.