The Boston Red Sox had a season filled with speed bumps and plenty of questions. However, performances from young players and key veterans have them in the playoffs and in position to win a pennant. Ian York uses his unique charts to show us how slugger Hanley Ramirez has fueled Boston’s September surge in the AL East standings.
Hanley Ramirez has been a very good hitter for almost all of his 11 years in the majors; his career OPS is .862 (OPS+ of 128). However, at the end of 2015, it was no longer clear that he was still better than average. His 2015 OPS+ of 89 represented the low-water mark of his career (omitting 2005, when he had two plate appearances without a hit for a -100 OPS+), but for three of the five years from 2011 to 2015 his OPS was in the mid-.700s:
When he began 2016 with an OPS of .754 over the first three months, it started to look as if that was Ramirez’s new normal. At the end of June, however, Ramirez changed his batting mechanics somewhat, and since then his OPS has been 1.002. Although Ramirez’s mechanical change seemed to bring about an immediate payoff with a streak of strong hitting in early July, it wasn’t until mid-August that he really took off. We can look at his offensive statistics as ten-game rolling averages (the horizontal lines represent his season averages):
Although his OBP has improved somewhat during his hot streak, much of his increase in OPS is fueled by slugging; he has shown tremendous power in the past few weeks.
Breaking down his prefered batting zones around the strike zone shows the increased power. These charts show his hot zones against the various pitch types, for the first three month at the top and the last three months, after his adjustment, at the bottom. Pitch locations are shown as the contour maps in the background:
Overall, Ramirez didn’t drastically change his preferred pitch locations; he just started hitting them harder. He did improve his hit frequency on breaking pitches, but stayed about constant on fastballs and actually hit fewer offspeed pitches (which were his favorite pitch types to start with); but in each case, as the charts show, he significantly increased the number of total bases per pitch by increasing his power.
Pitchers haven’t seemed to treat him very differently since his power surge, either in the types of pitches or their location, as shown in the charts above. To get a larger sample size, we can compare pitch locations before his change (April, May, and June; the top two charts), and after his new power was well established (August and September; the bottom two charts):
Left-handed pitchers are even more careful not to pitch him inside, and right-handers are more careful to avoid the center of the strike zone while keeping the pitches low, in the area where he has done the least damage. Even earlier in the year, however, pitchers were already treating Ramirez with considerable respect, as you would expect for a batter who was in the MVP conversation as recently as 2013.
Given the resurgence of Dustin Pedroia, the emergence of Mookie Betts, and the continuing magnificence of David Ortiz, Hanley Ramirez hasn’t needed to carry the Red Sox on his shoulders this year. Nevertheless, his return to dominance has played a large part in the Red Sox tremendous close to this season. Hopefully, he can continue his streak through the playoffs.