Hanley Ramirez has long been one of Major League Baseball’s premier power hitters. With his move down the defensive spectrum and as he enters the tail end of his prime, Hanley was able to spend his off season bulking up. Brandon Magee (with help from Ian York’s graphs) takes a look at his batted ball velocity and PITCHf/x hot zones to see if hard hitting Hanley now has more power because of his increased size.
Hanley Ramirez has always been a good power hitter, especially for an infielder, batting .300/.373/.500 in his nine full Major League seasons. However, upon signing with the Red Sox, he moved out of the infield and became the starting left fielder. How would this change affect Ramirez in the batter’s box?
Ramirez reached his career high in home runs in a season in 2008, when he clubbed 33 for the Florida Marlins. In June of that season, he hit ten HRs, his career high for monthly HRs. Since that month, Hanley had never hit more than six HRs in a month. Until his first month back with the Red Sox, when he tied David Ortiz’s franchise record of ten HRs in April.
In six of his first eight MLB seasons, Hanley Ramirez has hit at least twenty home runs, failing to reach that number in only his rookie season and in 2011, when he was limited to only 92 games due to injury. However, last season with the Dodgers, Ramirez hit 13 home runs with only four in the final four months of the season.
Armed with a new contract and a new position, Hanley worked hard to transform his body. David Ortiz remarked on Ramirez’s physique in spring training, saying “I have 19 inches in my arms, and they look like toothpicks next to his.” Ramirez said about his transformation: “I’m not a shortstop anymore. I knew I could get stronger in the outfield, so I tried to get a little bit bigger. My shoulders, my back, my legs, I feel stronger all over. I can maintain my body more and stay healthy. I can’t wait to see how it goes.”
His first month with the Red Sox was a quick confirmation of his strength, clubbing the aforementioned ten home runs while hitting the ball extremely hard. According to data provided from baseballsavant.com, he is fourth in batted ball velocity, with balls in play averaging 96.06-MPH off of his bat. [There are limitations with this tool, as not every ball in play is reflected in the average as some exit velocities have not been recorded.] An example of how quickly the ball jumps off the bat is in this gif of his fourth home run of the season:
On a 76-mph change-up from Gio Gonzalez, Hanley lined a home run over the monster – the ball came off his bat 34 miles per hour quicker than it had arrived. His recent shoulder injury has not seemed to affect his bat speed. In his first two games back from injury, Ramirez has twice had balls exit off his bat in excess of 105-mph, including a line drive single off a knuckleball from R.A. Dickey that left Hanley’s bat at 109-mph.
With PITCH/FX, one can see what Hanley’s hot zones are. In 2014, he absolutely demolished balls from left-handed pitching that were right in the center of the zone. On the other hand, he did not get one hit off a left-hander on the lower corners:
These charts are seen from the umpire’s perspective, so Hanley, as a right-handed batter, is standing to the left of each chart. The green contours in the background show where pitchers tended to throw to him. The region around the strike zone (the grey oblong shape) is divided into 25 subregions, and the number of strikes (called or swinging) in each subregion is proportionate to the size of outer circle. The inner circle shows the number of hits per pitch Hanley got for each region, and the color of the inner circles represents the total bases per pitch, with the baseball-wide average being shown as grey, and lower or higher total bases per hit increasingly blue or red, respectively.
While it is early in 2015, Hanley has continued to show similar trends. In particular, pitches down the middle are being crushed:
PITCHf/x classifies pitch types, so the same charts can be made for each family of pitches (fastballs, breaking balls, and off-speed pitches). Although the numbers for each pitch family are low this early in the season, so far Hanley has been particularly deadly on off-speed and breaking pitches, especially from southpaws:
This is a dramatic change from 2014, where he was noticeably poor on breaking pitches by left-handed pitching:
Despite having hit only singles and home runs this season, Hanley Ramirez has been the most dangerous hitter in the Red Sox lineup. Surprisingly, he achieved this with a BABIP at an unsustainably low .215 thus far this season. As his BABIP normalizes towards his career average of .331, Ramirez should continue to be a force for Boston. He may even hit a double or ten.