Meet the New Hanley Ramirez

BOSTON, MA - JUNE 20: Hanley Ramirez #2 of the Miami Marlins grimaces after swinging and missing against the Boston Red Sox in the fifth inning during interleague play at Fenway Park on June 20, 2012 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Red Sox won the game 15-5. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

Fish Stripes author Brian Mati said something interesting yesterday on his Fish Bites piece (of course, you should be checking out Fish Bites every week, as it is the best source for the latest in Miami Marlins news and info, as is the rest of the site). It was in reference to Hanley Ramirez and the fact that he just has not played as well as he used to.

Go back to 2009 and let me remind you what Hanley batted for the season: .342. He also had a .954 OPS (24 HR, 106 RBI). Why do I get the distinct feeling that we are not going to see this from Ramirez anytime soon? He is not batting for average this season (.259), and he is on pace to have the most strikeouts in a season (currently he has punched out 57 times). Its not to say he can't turn this around with more than half of the season remaining. However, whether its injury (shoulder), adjusting to a new position / ball park, or just that pitchers have figured him out, he does not even look like a guy teams should plan against.

Now, take what Brian said at face value, and he is right: the Hanley Ramirez of 2012 is not the Hanley Ramirez of 2007 to 2009. That Hanley Ramirez was one of the five best players in baseball. This Hanley Ramirez may not yet be one of the five best players in his position. It is likely he will never be the star he once was in his younger years. But this does not mean that Hanley Ramirez provides no value to the Miami Marlins over the course of the next two and a half seasons with the team.

Historical Precedent

When you look back at the long history of shortstops in baseball, it was rare to see a feat like Ramirez's. From his rookie season to 2009, Ramirez hit .316/.386/.531, which was good for a 138 OPS+. In the history of the league, only four other shortstops have managed to hit between a 128 and 148 OPS+ in their age 21 to 25 seasons as Ramirez did. The four players were Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, Cal Ripken, and Vern Stephens. Those players hit a collective .302/.363/.519 with an OPS+ of 134, slightly worse than Ramirez as a group.

How well did those players do in their following seasons? I took a look from age 26 to 28, which are the three seasons in which Ramirez has participated. Only one of those players (Nomar Garciaparra) had less than 2000 PA in those three seasons; because of last season's injury, Ramirez will not be able to top that mark. In those seasons, the four players as a group hit .288/.369/.503, worth a 129 OPS+. Just from the lines, you can tell that they did decline, though not by a large amount. Of course, in such a small sample, extremes can weigh down a player group, and in this case the Hall of Fame career of Alex Rodrgiuez (.295/.388/.579, 146 OPS+) is keeping the other normal declines afloat. Vern Stephens dropped to a 121 OPS+, and Cal Ripken dropped to a 112 (!) mark. Garciaparra failed to hit 2000 PA in part because he missed almost all of 2007 with injury.

All of this is to say that expecting Hanley Ramirez to be the player he was in 2007 to 2009 would have been a tall task because his peers themselves were not the same, though they were closer than he has been so far.

What Do We Have?

It is nice to reminisce on what might have been, but the truth is that we have seen Ramirez for two and a half seasons and he has been nothing like his 2007 to 2009 self. Looking into the past makes you feel better, certainly in light of how bad this team has been, but the future is the important thing to worry about.

So what does the future hold for Hanley Ramirez? It is not that different from what we thought it was before the season.

Can Ramirez accomplish these goals? Well, it depends on what you think "accomplish" means. If it means returning to 2007-to-2009 Ramirez form, it does seem like a daunting challenge. From 2007 to 2009, Ramirez hit .326/.398/.545 and was among the best hitter in baseball. Since that time, he has only hit .278/.368/.431, a far cry from that previous peak. At this point, his peak in his second through fourth seasons looks unattainable after two years of down performance and aging incorporated into the equation as well.

So we have gone over the offensive production. What do the projections think? I've added the latest projection provided over at FanGraphs, the solidly accurate Steamer projections.

Proj System PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA/TAv
ZiPS 580 .283 .365 .459 .360
Steamer 587 .290 .374 .480 .375
PECOTA 619 .301 .377 .491 .310
Fans 633 .298 .375 .471 .372

It seems as though I guessed quite appropriately that Ramirez was not likely to be as good as he was back then, but that he could return to something akin to his 2010 levels. It turns out however that ZiPS seems to be the most correct in predicting a fall to about a .360 wOBA and a .283/.365/.459 line. Compare that to his current line and updated projections for the rest of the season.

Ramirez AVG OBP SLG wOBA
ZiPS 2012 Proj .283 .365 .453 .360
ZiPS 2012 RoS Proj .277 .357 .453 .354
2012 Actual .259 .332 .449 .343

You can see immediately that, if you bought the ZiPS projections, Ramirez is almost in line with those numbers. And those numbers would have predicted a 4.2 WAR season for Ramirez, and if he reaches his rest-of-season projection, ZiPS projects he will hit 4.1 WAR, almost on the dot. Of course, that depends on your opinion of his defense so far at third base (solid with the glove, but lacking in range based on what I have seen), but it is not unreasonable to see a 3.5- to 4.5-win year even despite the April and June struggles.

Is that the All-Star we had in 2007 to 2009? No. But consider this: right now, only three third basemen are hitting better than a .360 wOBA (David Wright, Miguel Cabrera, and Adrian Beltre). Only seven third basemen have been better thus far this season according to FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement (other systems are more skeptical of his defense and have him significantly further down the list, so your mileage may vary here). If he continues to improve on defense and hits the reasonable projection from ZiPS, Ramirez will be easily in line to be one of the top ten third basemen in the league this year and have a decent shot at being a top-five player at his position. That is not MVP-caliber play, but that is valuable and something the Marlins will take at this point, especially with a roster struggling as badly as it is.

Can he do that? He certainly flashed the ability to in May, when he hit .322/.364/.525 and climbed out of that ugly hole he was in. He certainly has run into some more bad luck this month, but who has not on this team? There is a lot of blame going around for the struggles of the Miami Marlins. Sure, Hanley Ramirez shares in some of it, but only if you bought into the delusion that he could be the all-time great that he once was. We are more than two seasons removed from that player. Right now, he is a very good player who can reasonably reach All-Star status at his position. That is more than enough for now.

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