A Return To Form: Will Hanley Ramirez Ever Be Again What He Once Was?

by Will Overton

Remember when Hanley Ramirez was a number one pick in fantasy drafts? He was at least in the mix at the top of drafts all the way through 2011 fantasy drafts before spiraling a bit the last two seasons. Back in 2007 a 23 year Hanley Ramirez hit .332 with 29 HR’s, 51 SB’s and 125 R’s. Those aren’t just good numbers, those are great numbers.

It turns out that was the best season Ramirez has ever had. He did follow that season up with three more seasons of top five fantasy baseball production and was still considered in a small group of guys as the best offensive players in the game.

Then 2011 came along and it all seemed to fall apart. Ramirez struggled through 93 games of lazy play and a lack of production hitting just .243 with 10 HR’s before being shut down with an injury. Ramirez went through an offseason surgery and came back a bit last season, but still finished a bit off from where he once was. The question now is whether Ramirez can recapture some of his youthful numbers at the age of 29 or if his better days really are behind him.

First let’s look at exactly what he did last year while splitting time with the Marlins and Dodgers after a post-season trade:

604 At-Bats
.257 Batting Average
79 Runs Scored
24 Home Runs
92 Runs Batted In
21 Stolen Bases
8.1% Base on Balls Percentage
19.8% Strikeout Percentage
.290 Batting Average on Balls In Play

There were some definite positive takeaways from last season even though Ramirez didn’t reach the numbers he put up in his younger years. One of the biggest things is that he played a full season after going through a very extensive surgery on his shoulder the year before when he played just over a half season.

Not only did Hanley come back and play a whole season, but he at least returned to accomplish another 20/20 season. 21 steals is a downgrade for a guy who took 30 or more bags four times in his first five seasons, but he at least showed he has still has the wheels to get it done, and you’re going to see a decline in steals hitting in the middle of the order compared to his early years batting leadoff.

Still with a shoulder injury like Ramirez had and a difficulty hitting for power in 2011 before the injury, it was nice to see him clear the fence 24 times. While Hanley’s FB rate wasn’t quite what it used to be at 34.4% his HR/FB was above his career average at 14.7% which helped even things out. There really isn’t much of a difference from where Hanley played in Miami to Dodger Stadium, so a full season in LA shouldn’t affect the power either way. I still think Hanley is a lock for 20 HR’s in a full season and there is still 30 HR potential.

The average is where I am concerned however as this is the area of Hanley’s game that has fallen the hardest. Hanley is a career .298 hitter who hit .300 or better in four straight seasons from 2007 – 2010, including topping .330 two times. So how does that kind of a hitter turn into a .257 hitter?

Part of it is luck and that should hopefully even out this season. Hanley may have lost a little speed, but he’s still a fast player and he still hits a lot of line drives, 18.4% last season, which should equal a much better BABIP than the .290 Hanley posted last season.

However the fact that Hanley isn’t making contact as much is a bit troubling. Hanley posted his lowest walk rate since 2007 last season while also seeing his highest strikeout rate of his career. Hanley just about struck out once every five at-bats and no matter you’re history or ability to hit line drives that’s going to make hitting .300 difficult. It is something fixable you’d think considering his previous numbers, but until we see it I’m going to be concerned about it.

The other thing to be considered are the things that numbers can’t tell us. On the more negative side, Hanley is an old 29 year old. By that I mean he has a good bit of life on him already despite his young age. He also has a history of keeping his head in the game and staying motivated. Attitude doesn’t count for your fantasy team, but if you’re guy isn’t going all out all the time the numbers are going to reflect that in some way.

On the positive side, the prospect of Hanley in Dodger blue all season is quite enticing. Last season the Dodgers hit Ramirez 5th. He could retain that spot, or he could hit 2nd or 3rd as well. No matter which of the three ends up happening he’s either hitting before or after Matt Kemp and Adrian Gonzalez, two of the best bats in the game, not to mention Andre Ethier.

If Hanley hits in front of those guys it’s going to be hard to imagine him not getting back to 100 runs scored, even with a .260 – .270 average. If he hits behind them the RBI opportunities will be endless. And for once he’s not the best hitter on his team which means teams won’t be pitching around him and he’s actually going to see some pretty hittable pitches. The stat sheet will reflect this in some way at season’s end.

So in a nutshell; I don’t think Hanley is the same hitter that used to go number one overall. I do think he still has 30 HR power, but I don’t think you’ll see him steal 30 bases in a season anymore. I think his best seasons are behind him, but he still has some decent seasons ahead and you’d be mistaken to ignore that.

I wouldn’t take Hanley in the first round, there are too many variables to make that pick. But at the end of the second round this guy could be a steal. Forget hoping for what he used to be, but don’t let that cloud your judgment on what he still is, which is a top tier shortstop in a relatively weak position.

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