Boston Red Sox slugger Hanley Ramirez looked like a new man in 2016. Can he keep his attitude, health, and talent in order to continue producing in 2017?
Hanley Ramirez‘s first season in a Boston Red Sox uniform was among the worst of his career. It started off great, with Hanley delivering ten home runs throughout April. He then hit nine homers for the rest of the season and played in only 105 games with a .249 average and a career low 4.9% walk rate.
Ramirez rated as the worst left fielder in the majors, proving that the experiment of moving a career infielder to the outfield was a miserable failure. A shoulder injury likely contributed to the poor performance, but it was still a disappointing season for a massive financial investment.
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Coming in 2016 healthy and at first base saw a reinvigorated Ramirez. One of the most notable differences was that he seemed to be having a lot more fun. He was dedicated to the move to first base and he was communicating with teammates and reporters cordially.
Hanley Ramirez was notorious for attitude issues over his final years with Miami and his parts of three seasons with the Dodgers. But any potential red flags displayed during the tumultuous 2015 season seemed to disappear after spending more and more time with his good friend David Ortiz. He wanted to prove to fans and teammates that he was here to contribute to a winning team.
Ramirez looked five years younger in 2016, hitting thirty home runs and driving in 111 runs. His home run total was his highest since 2008 and his RBI total was a career high. Ramirez hit .286 with an .866 OPS and 127 wRC+. He even played a very serviceable first base, to the surprise of many who watched him fail his left field assignment the year before.
Hanley Ramirez has never been a strong defender, no matter where he played, so a -5 Defensive Runs Saved was actually one of the best marks of his career. It was a far cry from the -19 DRS he racked up in left field. He finished the season with a .996 fielding percentage and only committed four errors. Not bad for learning a position on the fly.
The important part of the season was that Hanley appeared in 147 games. Ramirez averaged 106 games over the three previous seasons, mostly due to injuries including a torn thumb ligament, a strained hamstring, various calf and oblique injuries, and a sprained left shoulder. Health was always a knock on Ramirez as he grew older. The talent was always there, but he was losing the ability to play a full season. The less physical nature of first base likely contributed heavily to the conservation of Hanley’s legs.
Ramirez will be taking on yet another position in 2017, though this one requires very little learning: Hanley will be seeing much of his at-bats at designated hitter. The Boston Red Sox signed Gold Glove first baseman Mitch Moreland to tackle the replacement of Ortiz from two angles; Ramirez will need fewer days off if he spends most of his time as the DH, while Moreland defensively locks down first base.
Moreland is no slouch with a bat himself, though, so he can also take fewer days off by DHing and allowing Ramirez to play the field.
Ramirez’s transformation to a veteran leader will do wonders for a young team losing their former leader to retirement. He will hit cleanup and should get plenty of opportunities to drive in runs with the on-base machines in front of him.
Assuming he continues his good health, the move to DH could see a near repeat of last year’s performance for Ramirez. An average in the .280s is to be expected, but 30 homers again would be a bit of surprise. Something like 25 homers is a more reasonable guess, but drawing close to the 100 RBI may not be out of the question.
Making up for the loss of production of Ortiz is going to be difficult, if not impossible, but even coming close to his 2016 numbers will make Ramirez a large part of picking up the slack.