Hanley Has Been Hammerin’

In 2013, Hanley Ramirez tore the cover off of many a baseball. He was the Dodgers’ best position player, and their second-best player overall after Clayton Kershaw. During that season, which was abbreviated due both to thumb and hamstring injuries, he put up a .293 ISO in 336 plate appearances. The Dodgers offense had a hard time producing without him, particularly in the National League Championship Series. After Ramirez had two ribs fractured by a Joe Kelly fastball that had lost its way in its journey to the strike zone, the Dodgers would score just 13 runs in six NLCS games, with six of those runs clustered in Game 5.

Now, Kelly and Ramirez are teammates (I wonder if Kelly ever apologized for that hit by pitch) and Ramirez really hadn’t hit like that for an extended period of time since. He showed signs of it in April of 2015 but then ran into a wall down the left-field line at Fenway, and wasn’t the same afterward. He had been a good hitter in 2014, but not a power hitter. The same seemed true at the start of this season. He was getting on base at a decent clip — .367 was his on-base percentage — but the power wasn’t there.

That changed toward the end of June. As Mike Petriello pointed out nine days ago at MLB.com, Ramirez has started hitting the ball a lot harder. Mike notes that, since Ramirez stopped hitting ground balls following a change to his batting stance with the assistance of hitting coach Chili Davis, he’s been a lot more productive, and he’s right. From the first half to the second half, Ramirez’s ground-ball percentage has dropped by nearly eight percentage points, and that difference has gone directly into fly balls. His line-drive rate (LD%) has been unchanged — 19.0% in the first half, 19.3% in the second half. And since he has a 47 wRC+ on grounders and a 166 wRC+ on fly balls, that has made all the difference in the world.

If you look at it from a launch-angle perspective, we can see that, on an absolute level, only one player in the game has changed their average launch angle more than Ramirez has since that fateful June 22nd.

Change in Avg. Launch Angle, June 22-Present
Player Avg LA thru 6/21 Avg LA 6/22-Pres. Diff
Leonys Martin 19.2 9.7 -9.5
Hanley Ramirez 5.2 12.5 7.3
Mark Reynolds 8.3 15.4 7.1
Mark Teixeira 7.6 14.7 7.1
Michael Saunders 13.9 7.2 -6.7
Anthony Rendon 14.0 20.3 6.3
Xander Bogaerts 5.8 12.0 6.2
Asdrubal Cabrera 10.7 16.7 6.0
Matt Wieters 13.1 18.5 5.4
Addison Russell 12.9 18.3 5.4
SOURCE: Baseball Savant
Minimum 100 at-bats in each bucket, April 3-June 21 *and* June 22-Sept. 15

Ramirez is putting himself on average into peak line-drive territory, which is at ~12 degrees. It’s not that simple to say that hitting at 12 degrees on average guarantees that you’re hitting the ball hard — Ramirez’s teammate Xander Bogaerts has had nearly the same transformation, and he’s had a terrible second half. If we look at their Soft/Medium/Hard percentages by half, we see that while Bogaerts has hit fewer balls softer in the second half, he’s also hit fewer balls harder. So, this isn’t gospel, but it is interesting to note that the change in Ramirez’s stance really has led to different results.

On a results level, we find that Ramirez is basically having the best power half of his career.

Hanley Ramirez Best Halves, by ISO
Season Half ISO PA
2013 1st Half 0.307 142
2016 2nd Half 0.304 213
2013 2nd Half 0.282 194
2007 2nd Half 0.259 317
2008 1st Half 0.255 427

He’s right there with 2013’s first half, but with an additional 71 plate appearances. Who knows if he can keep this up for the rest of the season, but he was on a tear when Petriello wrote about him nine days ago, and he has only continued that firestorm. In the past week, he’s homered four times, with none of them bigger than last night’s, both literally and figuratively.

Figuratively, it’s hard to beat a walk-off homer to cap a three-run comeback against a division opponent you’re battling for a postseason berth and a pitcher who’s among the league’s best relievers (in this case, Dellin Betances, who was probably gassed). As for the literally:

If you look at Ramirez’ ISO by month, you could make the argument that this has been coming all year, though it’s probably just a coincidence that it lines up so neatly:

  • April: .105
  • May: .137
  • June: .167
  • July: .273
  • Aug.: .294
  • Sept.: .365

That .365 is just ridiculous, and if nothing else, it’s a fun coincidence. If you hear any noise, it’s probably just Hanley is just over here hammerin’.

At this point, it’s almost remarkable that Ramirez hasn’t been more valuable in terms of WAR, but this speaks to the deficiencies of his game. For the season, he’s just the eighth-most valuable position player on the Red Sox. Part of that, of course, is that the Red Sox have a lot of good players, but a bigger part of that is Ramirez’s defense and base-running. Ramirez has done fine at first base, relatively speaking. He set the bar so low with his outfield play last year, however, that, even if he doesn’t have very good range, he seems like a defensive whiz now by comparison.

The Red Sox signed Hanley Ramirez because they thought he could be a plus fielder in left field and because he hits really well. Last year, he didn’t do either of those things. This year, he is doing one of them. That’s not bad, and while he’s definitely not going to be Vic Power with the leather, he’s not embarrassing himself, either. Which makes it possible to enjoy the offensive tears of which he’s capable, guilt free. He is on such a tear now. It may be the best tear of his entire career, and it’s been a big reason why the Red Sox have pulled away from their AL East brethren ever so slightly in September.

(Header image via Keith Allison.)

Paul Swydan used to be the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com and The Boston Globe. Now, he owns The Silver Unicorn Bookstore, an independent bookstore in Acton, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan. Follow the store @SilUnicornActon.

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Les Vegetables
7 years ago

Hanley, on 6/15: “Get ready,” Ramirez said after the game. “Get your ticket. First class, whatever, coach. It’s about to get hot.”

Since that point: 303 PA, 21 HR, .296/.370/.589, 149 wRC+. He wasn’t joking.

house of blues
7 years ago
Reply to  Les Vegetables

you forgot “it’s about to be dangerous”. that’s the best part!