On Wednesday night, Hanley Ramirez received a flat, 78-mph knuckleball from R.A. Dickey of the Toronto Blue Jays, and, with one trademark, helmet-dislodging swing, launched a long home run over the Green Monster in left field. It was the 10th homer of the season for Ramirez, tying him with Seattle’s Nelson Cruz for the Major League lead, and equaling David Ortiz’s 2006 record for most round-trippers by a Red Sock before May 1st.
Naturally, when a player achieves something only done once before in franchise history, people begin to take notice. In the case of Ramirez, fans instantly began to wonder about the sustainability of his incredible pace, with many attempting to project just how many home runs he could possibly hit this season.
On a purely mathematical level, Hanley is currently on pace to hit 77 home runs, through a full 162-game slate. This, of course, would break the all-time single season record of 73, set by Barry Bonds in 2001. Obviously, that just isn’t going to happen. Eventually, pitchers will adjust to Ramirez, who, undoubtedly, will experience slumps throughout the season, as is the failure-based nature of baseball.
Moreover, Hanley has typically struggled to remain healthy for a full season and, in recent years, the left fielder has required occasional days off to rest his ageing body. For instance, in the past four full seasons, Ramirez has played 115 games on average, due to injury and subsequently cautious management of his playing time.
Interestingly, at his current pace, Hanley would hit 54 home runs through 115 games played, which, of course, would equal the Red Sox single-season record, set by Ortiz in 2006. However, such a figure seems unlikely in the long run of a Major League season. Ramirez can be a very streaky hitter, and his aggressive approach may lead to more strikeouts once pitchers begin to catch up in mid-season.
But, in the spirit of fair argument, it is important to point out that, through April, Hanley showed a large increase in line-drive percentage (33%) compared with his career average (21%), and currently has a batting average right around .300 despite a BABIP in the low .230s. This suggests that, in the early going, Ramirez has been a flat-out better hitter than what he was in recent seasons; perhaps better in April 2015 than he has been at any point throughout his career.
Furthermore, 30.3% of Hanley’s fly balls this season have resulted in home runs, which, considering the league average of 9.5%, is quite astonishing, and indicates his fresh determination to take advantage of the famous left field wall at Fenway, which can convert even the laziest of flies into a homer. Whilst, overall, Ramirez has hit better on the road this year, his swing has seemingly been transformed due to the temptation of the Green Monster, with 80% of his home runs so far going to left field, compared with 53% last season, which he spent with the Dodgers.
Therefore, where pitchers adjusting and Hanley slumping may detract from his ultimate home run total in 2015, a new pull approach and the friendly confines of Fenway may make up the difference. Thus, while Bonds’ record won’t come under threat, and Ortiz’s franchise mark should remain intact, Hanley Ramirez, health-permitting, may well hit between 45 and 50 home runs this year, which would be one of the top five home run-hitting seasons in Red Sox history.