When the Red Sox signed Hanley Ramirez to a four-year, $88 million contract this past offseason, many people were surprised. Then, once the Sox chose to transition Hanley from shortstop to Fenway’s notorious left field, that surprise turned to worry. Even during his peak years, Ramirez was never great defensively, so to introduce him to a totally new, and equally challenging, position at the age of 31 was a major risk; a risk which, so far, hasn’t really paid off.
While Hanley has been a strong offensive force, his defense has been particularly dreadful, as judged by a slew of advanced metrics. In Total Fielding Runs per Year, for instance, Ramirez has a -27 rating, essentially meaning that, extrapolated to represent 135 games, his current defensive performance is 27 runs below average. Moreover, Hanley has thus far accumulated -6.1 Range Runs, meaning he is the second-worst fielder in all of baseball at getting to balls hit in his vicinity. And finally, in Ultimate Zone Rating, a catch-all defensive stat incorporating a player’s range, arm and tendency to commit errors, Ramirez has a -7.7 score, which, again, is the second-worst in the Major Leagues.
Basically, the stats tell us that, for all his offensive greatness (10 home runs and 22 RBI so far), Hanley is, at this point, having no more impact on the Red Sox’ fortunes than would a replacement level player. According to Baseball-Reference, his 0.9 offensive WAR is counterbalanced by his -1 defensive WAR, to create a player who is currently performing no better, or worse, than a stand-in scrub who could be signed for the Major League minimum salary of $507,500. Considering Boston has at least $88 million tied up in Hanley Ramirez, such a situation is very concerning.
Now, I’m not a total believer in WAR as the ultimate, definitive indicator of baseball performance. After all, from a fan’s perspective, you’d want to see your team sign a superstar such as Hanley Ramirez over a replacement level throwaway such as Junior Lake or Odubel Herrera. But, to a certain extent, I agree that such advanced statistics outline a general trend of a player’s impact and, in the case of Ramirez, that trend is not good. In fact, his defense, or lack thereof, is damaging his value and hurting the Red Sox considerably, to the point where you have to consider making a change.
It’s hard to imagine such a stat-inclined front office as the Red Sox’ allowing the experiment to continue without success for much longer. Whispers about a possible promotion for Rusney Castillo are already surfacing, while Jackie Bradley Jr., a defensive whiz, is back with the big club and looking for outfield playing time.
In order to move Ramirez from left field, however, he must have somewhere to go. Shortstop, his previous position, is already occupied by Xander Bogaerts, while first base and designated hitter are also filled by Mike Napoli and David Ortiz, respectively.
Therefore, the Red Sox may soon face a huge dilemma, in that Hanley Ramirez, their most potent power hitter, is signed through at least 2018, but perhaps lacks the skills to play adequate defense anywhere on the diamond.
Furthermore, Hanley is approaching an age where most players decline, so what defensive prowess he ever had will be further damaged, making for an uncertain, and often awkward, adventure in the years to come.