Watching videos of Hanley Ramirez’s defense is a lot like using illegal drugs: a little bit is probably fine but too many will definitely kill you. Since taking over in left for the Red Sox this season, Ramirez has engendered strong opinions about his defensive abilities. To some, he’s horrible. Others say, no, he’s horrendous. Some others might point out that those are synonyms and the first two groups are being idiots anyway because Hanley is beyond horrendous and horrible and is, plainly, the worst. It is this third group of people who are correct.
He spent 11 seasons playing shortstop for two major-league teams. He’s an athlete. He has athlete skills. A free agent this past offseason, he explicitly wanted to come back to Boston, the team that signed him as a teenager, and to do so, he agreed to move to left field. With the exception of first base, probably, left is the least challenging of the defensive positions. Or rather, it’s not that it’s not challenging, it’s that mostly anyone who is decent enough to have played shortstop in the majors should be good at it. Should be. Except, in Hanley’s case, no. He’s not good. In fact, he’s bad. Very bad. But we don’t have to fall back on adverbs because this is FanGraphs and we have numbers!
The thing is, almost all of those numbers are big and start with a negative sign. It’s not like we’re debating the MVP here and Trout has 70,000 WAR and Cabrera has 69,999 WAR. The worst left fielder in baseball by UZR is Hanley at -15.2. The next worst is Chris Colabello at -9.1. The difference between Ramirez and Colabello is the difference between Colabello and Dalton Pompey, 13 guys up the list. Put another way, Ramirez has done as much damage to the Red Sox in left field (again, by UZR) as the second-worst left fielder and fourth-worst left fielder combined. If this were a good thing we’d say Ramirez was dominating the position, but it’s not so we can’t say that.
But those are the overall numbers. For a guy used to playing shortstop with no outfield experience, you might expect a bit of a rough start. And you got one! Ramirez started his season with a bunch of bad plays, like this one, where he gets close to the wall and simply drops a catchable fly ball. Then there’s this one where he is too busy tracking the ball and not busy enough running to where he’ll be able to catch it. And of course there’s this one, where Ramirez makes the catch and then, because he didn’t get to the place where the ball was going to land quickly enough, can’t slow down quickly enough and slams into the wall, injuring his shoulder. There is more of course, but how much do you expect me to take? And how much can I expect you to take? Oh, and all that came in the first month of the season. This prompted me in late April to tweet that Hanley is worse in left field than Manny, a thing I didn’t think was possible. For the record, Manny’s worst defensive effort by UZR was a -26.1 in 1,225 innings back in 2005. Hanley’s season, in 589.2 innings so far, is at the aforementioned -15.2. By prorated UZR, Hanley is worse.
But most of that came three months ago. So how is Ramirez doing now? Eh… not well. Outside of the numbers quoted above which show him to be significantly bad, he’s not seemed to make many leaps, other than futilely as another ball flies over his glove. I’ve gone through and picked out some plays that demonstrate Hanley’s particular kind of defensive play. I’m like the scientists in the West Wing who went into the nuclear contaminated area to fix the leaky pipes and save the town. I’ll be dead soon. Or at least comatose for a significant period of time. Say nice things about me, baseball internet. *gulp*
Here’s a play where a carom off the left field wall bounces to him, and, as he’s preparing to throw it in to the infield to hold the batter to a double, drops it. Then he stands there. Just when you think everything is alright…
My six-year-old dumps his apple juice on the floor and sits there watching it as it pours out, every last drop, onto the floor. “Limit the damage!” I try to tell him, “Pick up the cup!: But it’s no use. He just watches it. “Wow,” he probably thinks, “the mess daddy is going to have to clean up is getting bigger and bigger…” That’s Hanley. The ball falls out of his glove and, instead of thinking, “Whoops! Better grab that!” he thinks “Whoops. /scene.” I’ve seen it before in other plays he’s (not) made. He’s jogged after balls in the corner which has allowed runners who would have had to bust it to get home ahead of a throw to walk in easily. It might appear as laziness, but it seems not quite a lack of effort but a lack of understanding of what the consequences of any specific play are.
Even when Ramirez basically does his job he just doesn’t do it very well.
In this play he goes back to get a ball off the wall but the ball bounces off him and he has to bend over to pick it up. Then his throw in to the shortstop is behind second base forcing the shortstop to run away from home plate to make the catch. This creates a problem when the runner on third keeps going towards home and now the shortstop’s momentum is carrying him into center field, which is the primary reason that his throw winds up in between home plate and the on-deck circle. It’s the little things, really.
Then there’s this, the piece de resistance.
Here Hanley gets a bad read, comes in, then goes out, sloooowwwwllly and watches the ball more than runs after it, but even that doesn’t quite do it justice. Mostly he’s just moving slowly. The Angels announcer shows it best in the inflection of his call. The ball is hit well but off the bat the announcer knows it’s caught. “Robertson drives one into left…” is the first part of his call but it’s said exactly as you’d read it, unimpressed with the potential future outcome this presents for the Angels. Then, “Hanley.” That’s the first clue there’s a good outcome in the offing. Then: “…got a late start…” Well, yes. “IT’S OVER HIS HEAD!” Yep.
If you count spring training, we’re almost five months into Hanley Ramirez: Left Fielder and the Red Sox would love to be able to point to some progress. There must be something that will allow them to keep him in left field next season so they can avoid teaching him first base, another new position and one in which he’s far more able to do damage to the Red Sox’ chances. Thing is, there isn’t anything to point to, really. Any progress is minimal.
I know this point isn’t proven by looking at some GIFs and video clips. Any good defensive player can have a bad game now and again. Some even have bad seasons. Hanley Ramirez was never a good defensive player though. In fact, he’s always been bad. Perhaps it was our mistake in assuming that moving him down the defensive spectrum would fix that, that the real problem was the relative difficulty of the position he played, that if the game just eased up its demands, Ramirez would rise to the occasion, like a sinking boat suddenly rising above the waves. But it seems that wasn’t the issue at all. Ramirez is just bad, and there’s no position in baseball where you can hide that.