The Hanley Ramirez Conundrum: Hold ’em or Fold ’em?

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The Boston Red Sox went in an unconventional route to find a left fielder during the 2015 offseason. They signed a shortstop who could hit very well and shifted him to the corner outfield spot, but that plan hasn’t gone as well as the Red Sox had hoped. Rick Rowand takes a look at the Hanley Ramirez Conundrum to try and figure out the best course of action.

At the 5th Annual Sabermetrics, Scouting and the Science of Baseball Seminar on Saturday, ex-Boston Red Sox GM Ben Cherington, was asked about the signing of Hanley Ramirez in the offseason. Cherington said that they didn’t know how he would be defensively and that they made a bet based on the history of other players that had moved from the middle infield to the outfield. He also admitted that it hadn’t gone well.

At this point, some people are screeching, “A bet? You signed him on a bet!?” Yes they did. When you stop and think about it, all free agent signings and trades are nothing more than bets. And like all bets, winning and losing are based on what information you have and how you utilize that information. For most trades and FA signings, teams will have scouting reports and various amounts of stats to analyze before making a final decision. With Ramirez they certainly had those scouting reports and numbers to analyze for offense. What they didn’t have was a great idea about how he would transition to left field after years of playing shortstop, so they looked to how others had handled the transition. And they probably looked to their own roster as well, with two players who had transitioned from middle infield to the outfield successfully Mookie Betts and Brock Holt.

Other players they could look to are Martin Prado, Mike Aviles, Pete Rose, Ben Zobrist, Josh Harrison, Ron Gant, Danny Tartabull, Otis Nixon and Tim Raines. We’re only able to guess at what processes the Sox used to reach the conclusion that Ramirez was a good bet to succeed in left field offensively and defensively. But reach that conclusion they did, much to the frustration of the team and the fans.

Early on it looked like the Sox brass had chosen wisely. Ramirez was killing the ball in April, if you count hitting .293/.341/.659 with 10 home runs killing the ball. Fans everywhere could live with some bad defense if he could come close to keeping this up. However, in early May his left shoulder met the wall just beyond the foul line in left while making a pretty good play on a fly ball. The wall won and he left the game with a sprained shoulder and he hasn’t been the same sense. On offense anyway, on defense he’s still bad:

When you’re this bad on defense you need to be very good on offense to balance out the runs you cost the team. In April, his offense certainly looked like he would create more runs than he would cost. But, ever since he hurt his shoulder he’s not close to being the same player at the plate.

His numbers by month:

  • May – .235/.286/.337 with four doubles and two home runs 
  • June – .338./.377/.479 with one double and three home runs
  • July – .211/.242/.379 with two doubles, a triple and four home runs
  • August – .190/.221/.298 with five doubles and zero home runs

There is some bad luck involved here as well. His BABIP has been low except for June (.344). In the other months, it’s ranged from .214 in August to .259 in May. Yes, he’s been banged up throughout the course of the season like almost all players have been. But, as a veteran he needs to know when it’s time to put his ego aside for the good of the team and go on the 15-day DL to heal so he can actually help the team.

Now his future is in the hands of Dave Dombrowski, the new President of Baseball Operations, and to me, it doesn’t look good for Ramirez. He’s underperforming on offense and defense for the tidy sum of $22 million per year for three more years. On the other hand Dombrowski has three outfielders who could play centerfield for just about any team in baseball; Betts, Rusney Castillo and Jackie Bradley Jr who all play above average to excellent defense and who have all been lighting it up on offense. That is a once in a lifetime defensive outfield. All for about half of what Ramirez is costing a year.

The question for Dombroski is does he want to trade Ramirez, while eating a bunch of money, and bet on Castillo, Betts and Bradley continuing to hit very well for the rest of the season or does he want to include one of them in a trade for a very good starting pitcher while keeping Ramirez in left and costing the team runs on defense.

The only other option seems to be trying him at first base, where his value to the team goes down further, if he can even play the position competently. Ramirez has been listening and worked out at first base before the game on Tuesday with infield coach Brian Butterfield. Butterfield described it as a “chalkboard session”. But interim manager Torey Lovullo said that Ramirez might see some time at first in a game before the season ended. You also need to remember that a bad defender at first costs the team runs, making all of the other players worse.

We’ll see what Dombrowski decides in the coming months. Me, I fold and trade him for as much as I can get and take my chances with the trio. You don’t want to go into Spring Training only to find out he can’t play first at an acceptable level either.

Rick Rowand has written about the value of Brock Holt, Boston’s rotationBrock Holt’s cycle and aura, and a series about Bogaerts, Betts and Swihart, a screenplay of Napoli’s last days on the Sox, and Travis Shaw.

Follow Rick on Twitter @rrowand.

Check out the second part of Jimmy Wulf’s SaberSeminar recap.

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