When Hanley Ramirez came on the fantasy scene in 2006, he immediately became a top option at the shortstop position. For the remainder of that decade, he sat on or near the podium for fantasy shortstop value and real world shortstop value.
|Year||BM Rank||WAR||WAR Rank|
(BM Rank in this table refers to his position rank by Baseball Monster’s fantasy valuation tool, using batting average as the rate stat for the league.)
Basically, “been pimpin since been pimpin…” Hanley Ramirez has been one of the top shortstops in baseball his entire career, topping the position’s leaderboard in wins above replacement with 34.1 in that span. This isn’t really news, but it’s worth a reminder since some may have forgotten just how good he was. Somehow, he seems underrated at this point in his career.
And that’s because he took a dip over the past few years, only to return to peak levels in the last six weeks.
For the first time since entering the league, Ramirez fell out of the top-five in fantasy value and the top-seven in WAR at shortstop in 2011. Some of this was due to injury, as he played just 92 games. However, you’ll notice in the table below that his runs and home runs on a per-game basis were at career lows as well. Ramirez’ power was sapped and, thanks in part to a bad Marlins team, his scoring ability was mediocre.
In 2012, some expected Ramirez to bounce back with the move to third base being more forgiving on his body and the line-up around him being a bit better. A return to health helped and his value was restored, but he wasn’t quite the player he was before – the runs were down even further, the stolen bases fell off a cliff, and the home runs didn’t recuperate enough value to push him past fifth.
This year there was some trepidation as to whether Ramirez, now back at shortstop, would hold up in his age-29 season. Enter a thumb injury in spring training, and Ramirez’ value in late drafts was low. Some thought to grab him and stash him on their DL, but a thigh injury after just four games put him back on the shelf.
Since his return on June 4, though, we’ve been treated to a taste of the “old Hanley,” as Ramirez has been insanely productive. It’s a small 32-game sample, of course, but on a per game basis his runs and home runs are higher than they have been since 2008, his RBI their highest since 2009, and his batting average a ludicrous and unsustainable .410. The stolen bases haven’t come back and it’s possible that the thigh strain will prevent that value from returning this year, but he’s done enough in a third of the time as everyone else to rank 14th among shortstops in full-season value, first in per-game value by a landslide.
Ramirez is striking out and walking less than is normal for him, meaning his sky-high BABIP has had additional influence on his final line. However, his .420 BABIP can’t be looked at alone, as he’s been a .334 BABIP guy for his career, a rate that was even higher until 2011. A reason it’s been so good in 2013? A 27.3% line drive rate, one of the best in baseball. Further to that, the line drives have been taken out of his fly balls more than his groundballs, creating a batted ball profile that screams high-BABIP player. Some of these elements are subject to stringer bias, but I’d guess that if he qualified he’d rank highly on ESPN’s proprietary Well Hit Average, too.
But it’s not all rainbows and lollipops – Ramirez has a striking rise in his O-Swing%, perhaps learning from teammate Yasiel Puig, and he’s swung at more pitches overall without much of an uptick in contact rate.
This ultra-aggressive new Ramirez might be the perfect approach to rebuild his confidence, but it’s nowhere close to sustainable once the strikeouts start presenting themselves. With that said, it’s difficult to look at the runs and the power coming back up and not conclude that he’s a huge asset at the pivot. If you can convince someone in your league that he’s due for BABIP regression and a slump, by all means do so and then grab him.
He’s not the Hanley of old, because few shortstops have ever been so good for so long. But he’s showing enough of the old Hanley to make him a top-two fantasy shortstop for the rest of the season. (Inside the top two, flip a coin between him and Troy Tulowitzki to see who gets hurt next and falls to second place.)