Hanley Gives Dodgers Life on Left Side

Dodgers shortstops in 2012: .229/.283/.317, .272 wOBA, 70 wRC+. 20th in baseball. Dodgers third basemen in 2012: .248/.321/.355, .296 wOBA, 85 wRC+. 21st in baseball.

The reasons the Dodgers desired Hanley Ramirez are readily apparent. Even if Ramirez is no longer the shortstop force that defined his early career as a Florida Marlin, even if Ramirez is just the player he’s been the last two seasons, the Dodgers have improved greatly on the left side of the infield.

A look at Ramirez’s peripheral stats would suggest that not much has changed since 2010, a year in which Ramirez hit .300/.378/.475, good for a 129 wRC+. Ramirez is walking a little less and striking out a little more in 2012, and he’s hitting for just as much power. But just like 2011 — the year he posted a 96 wRC+, the only sub-average mark of his career — the singles aren’t falling in. Ramirez had a .327 BABIP in 2010, then a career low. In 2011 that dropped to .275, and this season it’s down to .271.

His BABIP is down at least 80 points from his career marks on both liners and grounders. It’s down at least 40 points to each the pull, center and opposite fields. And it’s down against both lefties and righties.

So then, the question: is it luck, or is Ramirez just not hitting the ball as hard? There are signs of a real change in Ramirez’s skill level. ESPN Stats and Info presented an excellent graphic showing Ramirez struggling to hit inside pitches — after hitting well over .300 on inside fastballs in 2009 and 2010, he’s down below .200 over the past two seasons. In addition, after hitting 21.5 runs better than average against sliders and curves prior to 2010, he’s been 3.4 runs below average against those pitches the past two seasons.

But we’re still talking about just 553 balls in play over the past two seasons. Any hit robbed by weather or park or a great fielding play is still knocking just under two full points off his BABIP. It would take just 15 more hits out of those 553 balls in play to get to a .300 BABIP. Then we’re talking about a wOBA in the .340-.355 range instead of his actual mediocre .315-.330 marks.

Luckily for the Dodgers, though, anything above what Hanley has done already this season — a .329 wOBA, 104 wRC+ — is gravy. Hanley’s 4.2 wRAA so far beats Los Angeles’s third base production to date by 17 runs and beats their shortstop production by 20 runs. Juan Uribe, Dee Gordon, Justin Sellers, Adam Kennedy — Ramirez is a vast improvement over this motley crew of left-side laggards.

The Dodgers are somehow just a half-game out of playoff contention despite dealing with myriad injury issues along with their incompetence on the left side of the infield. For the price — a starter with potential but one that will take some work for the Marlins — Los Angeles was unlikely to find a better option. Aramis Ramirez would have cost a similar amount of future value as well as cash, and the Padres are asking for a huge return in exchange for Chase Headley.

This Hanley Ramirez is no longer a superstar, but he fills the holes of the Los Angeles Dodgers nearly perfectly. If the Dodgers are going to make a run at the playoffs, they need contributions from the left side of their infield, and Ramirez makes that a possibility again.

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Jack Moore's work can be seen at VICE Sports and anywhere else you're willing to pay him to write. Buy his e-book.