Hanley Ramirez Deserves More Praise

Entering the season, Hanley Ramirez caused plenty of debate across New England. After signing a four-year, $88 million deal to rejoin the Red Sox, Ramirez delivered a sub-par season in 2015, leading many to question his future in Boston. Hanley hit just .249 last year with 19 home runs and only 12 doubles. He was also one of the worst defenders in baseball, as judged by a slew of metrics. Therefore, little was expected of him entering 2016.

Hanley Ramirez

Unlike his under-performing sidekick Pablo Sandoval, Ramirez was willing to make sacrifices to prolong his Red Sox career. Hanley recommitted to a winter training program and agreed to move positions yet again. First base became his new home and fans at least appreciated the effort. Nevertheless, few dared expect anything other than league average performance at best in 2016, with many bracing for something far worse. Thus, his strong resurgence in recent months has been a pleasant surprise.

The Resurgence of Hanley Ramirez

With David Ortiz soaking up much of the attention, Hanley Ramirez has found the time and space to rediscover himself. While the power numbers of old may never return, Ramirez has been a steady contributor at the plate. As August rounds into view, he’s currently hitting .283 with 11 home runs and 54 RBI. Ramirez has already surpassed his RBI total from last season with over two months remaining, while his on-base percentage has risen by seventy points.

Defensively, Hanley has also been decent. He ranks fifteenth among first basemen in Ultimate Zone Rating and has made only three errors all season. Of course, first base isn’t the most demanding of positions, especially for a former shortstop, but what Hanley Ramirez is currently providing far exceeds what many expected from him. And that should be praised.

Aside from the numbers, Ramirez just seems to have rediscovered some of his old spark. In one game this week, he hit three mammoth home runs, becoming the first Red Sox player to do so at Fenway Park since Kevin Millar in 2004. Those moments of inspiration may still be fleeting for Hanley Ramirez, but they’re far more frequent than last season and are now backed by a solid baseline performance.

Is Hanley Ramirez an elite player right now? No, probably not. A Wins Above Replacement score of 1 ranks him thirteenth among first baseman. The Red Sox are still destined to overpay grossly on this contract. However, it’s impossible to overstate the improvement from last season, when Fangraphs WAR adjudged him to be the third-worst position player in baseball.

Why Hanley Ramirez Deserves More Support

On a spiritual level, Hanley Ramirez deserves our appreciation here. With criticism poring in from every quarter, he identified and made the necessary changes to justify his continued inclusion on this team. When everybody doubted him, Ramirez swallowed some pride and worked hard to win back support. Deep down we must admire that from a human standpoint. The guy has worked his butt off to make Red Sox Nation happy, and that effort should be acknowledged.

We were all quick to chastise Hanley Ramirez when things didn’t go well, and perhaps he deserved it. Even now, nothing is perfect, and there are still flaws in the game of a man paid to be flawless. But instead of getting carried away and looking too far back or forward, we should take some time to stay in the moment and appreciate his determination to salvage some respectability.

Hanley Ramirez is Done in the Outfield

Let me be the first to rejoice. Hanley Ramirez will no longer be in the outfield, or so Torey Lovullo has told ESPN. I’m sure I’m not alone in expressing my relief, as the experiment to put Hanley Ramirez in left field has failed miserably. Now the Red Sox can look at the outfield as it will hypothetically look in 2016, with Jackie Bradley Jr., Rusney Castillo and Mookie Betts.

The logical conclusion would be to move Hanley to first, but the problem with that is youHanley Ramirez have Travis Shaw at first. He has hit 7 home runs so far in his limited time in the major leagues, which makes it hard to take him out of the lineup, at least in my opinion. Hanley has also played shortstop, but it seems really unlikely that they take Xander Bogaerts out of the lineup, since he’s playing up to potential and more this year.

So, where would that leave him? Yes, he has been taking more practice reps at first, but is that really the best option? In my opinion, no. I think the best way to go is to have him share time at DH with David Ortiz. There are no easy answers here, but any option that minimizes Hanley Ramirez’s fielding time is the best way to go to me. Maybe I’m wrong, and he does okay at first, but his defense has been atrocious so far, and we need to keep him as far from the field as possible. Again, I could be wrong, and I hope I am, but I think he would be best served as a DH, where all he does is hit.

“What about David Ortiz,” you ask? He’s near the end of his rope. Eventually, he will retire, and he’ll probably do it sooner rather than later. My guess is that he’ll get to 500 home runs then announce his retirement next season, so there will be opportunities for Hanley Ramirez to DH next season.

Not that any of this matters for this year, since the Red Sox are out of contention, but let’s try to keep Hanley out of the field as much as possible. For now, I’m just relieved he’s not in the outfield. The team seems to be better off without him in the outfield at the moment.

The 2016 Red Sox are Slowly Taking Shape

Dave Dombrowski has been in power on Yawkey Way for less than two weeks, but key pieces of the Red Sox’ future are already falling into place on his watch. Perhaps more by luck than judgment, Boston seems to have stumbled across solutions at first base and in the outfield for 2016, providing some much-needed clarity and enabling the front office to concentrate on the elite pitching that is so desperately desired.

2016 Red Sox

Hanley Ramirez, the enigma wrapped in a conundrum, worked out at first base prior to Tuesday’s game in Chicago, with David Ortiz and coach Brian Butterfield teaching fundamental aspects of the position, such as footwork. The plan is for Ramirez to have a “crash course” in first base play as 2015 winds down, and perhaps entering some Major League games at the position, with a view to the slugger becoming the full-time first-sacker in 2016.

This is a logical move by Dombrowski and the Red Sox. Ramirez transitioned to left field from shortstop after signing a four-year, $88m contract with Boston last winter, but the experiment has been a total disaster, with almost every advanced metric ranking the Dominican as by far the worst fielder in all of baseball this year. Even from a fan’s viewpoint, watching Ramirez play left field has been excruciating; his lack of range and agility plain for the world to see. Moving forward, first base, a less demanding though still complex position, would appear to better suit Ramirez, who won’t hurt the team as much in an area requiring less range.

Similarly, moving Hanley to first allows the Red Sox to go with a dynamic arrangement of Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo in the outfield, which should excite fans immensely. We’ve seen fleeting glimpses of this trio playing together, and the result have been fantastic.

Castillo has looked like a very good Major League player on his latest tour of duty, hitting .391/.426/.625 in August, while Betts continues to blaze a trail with phenomenal Red Soxproduction. Meanwhile, Bradley Jr. finally looks to have discovered the formula for hitting at the big league level, with a .344/.427/.734 slash line in August complimenting his sensational defense, which, replacing Hanley’s incompetence, will turn a current weakness into a standout strength for the Red Sox.

This move will also make the roster more nimble and sustainable. Bradley Jr., Betts and Castillo have a combined age of 25, meaning the Red Sox could have an outfield stocked with five-tool players about to enter their prime years together. When coupled with Blake Swihart at catcher and Eduardo Rodriguez in the rotation, Boston appears to have a strong core of cost-controlled, homegrown stars.

Thus, despite an awful win-loss record and perhaps another last-place finish for the Red Sox, Dombrowski has inherited a neat framework around which to add external upgrades. Throughout his illustrious career, the new President of Baseball Operations has always excelled at acquiring elite, veteran talent, and he will probably look to do the same here in Boston.

Who he pursues, and through what means, is obviously unclear right now. A bonafide ace has to be the top priority, as Dombrowski has already hinted, but Red Sox fans can rest assured that, finally, after a torturous journey, the young core seems to be ready. Moreover, an attempt at solving the Hanley Ramirez problem is underway, as Boston primes itself for a genuine revival, rather than another false dawn, in 2016 and beyond.