Anyone who has watched Hanley Ramirez at the plate this season knows he can hit. Outside of a few weeks in May following his shoulder injury, Ramirez has done little but make loud contact for the Red Sox in 2015.
His .255/.305/.473 batting line might not look all that impressive, yet that comes with a .241 BABIP that is nearly 100 percentage points below his career norm. Considering Ramirez ranks eighth in all of baseball in batted ball velocity with an average of 92.1 mph, it’s clear he’s barreled up the ball consistently through the season’s first two months. Those willing to shift their gaze back to April, when Ramirez blasted 10 home runs, will be given a good reminder of just how formidable the outfielder’s bat can be.
Nevertheless, as a growing chorus of observers have noted, Ramirez’s offense has done little to hide how much he’s costing the Red Sox with his glove. Through April and May, the 31-year-old has been an outfielder in name only, and Boston is struggling to conceal just how poorly the slugger’s transition to left field is going.
By almost any measure, Ramirez has been the worst defensive player in baseball. Just going by Defensive Runs Saved, he’s already cost the Red Sox 11 runs on the season, which puts him on pace to give back over three wins of value with his glove alone.
As Alex Speier wrote in the Boston Globe on Wednesday, Baseball Reference’s Defensive WAR puts Ramirez on pace to cost Boston over four wins in the field by the end of 2015.
The defensive stats over at BP paint an equally grim picture, with Ramirez’s Fielding Runs Above Average ranking well below par. The same goes for UZR, which rates the 31-year-old as the game’s worst defender.
Placing complete faith in defensive metrics over a two-month sample is often foolish, but considering how poor Ramirez’s numbers are, it’s clear how bad he’s been in left field.
At this point, the biggest issue for the Red Sox is determining what to do about the situation. For the time being, they can wait and hope Ramirez improves as he further acclimates to being an outfielder. Even if he does get better, however, it’s hard to imagine Ramirez ever resembling anything near an adequate defender in left field.
That John Farrell reportedly called a meeting with five of the team’s veterans, in part, to address Ramirez’s effort level out in left isn’t exactly encouraging either. Given how much we know about Hanley’s woeful defense, you can be sure the Red Sox front office is well aware how costly his fielding has been to the club’s performance.
But Boston’s limited alternatives in terms of where to play Ramirez might be an even bigger issue, both this season and beyond. With David Ortiz at DH, the most obvious solution isn’t an option, though sitting Ortiz more against left-handed pitchers is an idea the Red Sox should explore.
A return to the infield doesn’t appear to be in the cards either. Ramirez has never been a good defender at shortstop, and given how good Xander Bogaerts looks in the field right now, the Red Sox would be borderline crazy to mess with his defensive development once again.
Third base would be an interesting option, yet Pablo Sandoval is pretty clearly the better fielder. Boston needs Sandoval’s bat in the lineup anyhow, even if he’s struggling at the moment.
The one switch that remotely seems possible is a move to first base for Ramirez. With Mike Napoli’s bat lagging and with Napoli in the final year of his contract, the Red Sox could look to trade him (or give him more of a bench role) and open up a spot in the infield.
For the time being, the Red Sox appear stuck with Ramirez in left field, and their best option is to hope he improves enough not to completely torpedo his overall value.
Still, that would require Ramirez to learn another new position in the middle of the season, which doesn’t exactly spark much reason for optimism. One assumes that would prove a little more difficult than simply handing Ramirez a first baseman’s mitt and hoping for the best.
For the time being, the Red Sox appear stuck with Ramirez in left field, and their best option is to hope he improves enough not to completely torpedo his overall value. They should try to give him as many opportunities at DH as possible, but that won’t be easy, especially if Ortiz starts hitting again.
Beyond this season, Boston will have to find a better solution for Ramirez in the field. With his 2016 option set to vest soon, Ortiz will be back again, meaning Hanley’s most likely landing spots are at first or third base.
In the present, though, the Red Sox will have to contend with the consequences of their roster construction. If the offense was performing as expected, many of these issues would be drawing far less scrutiny.
That hasn’t been the case, of course, which has brought far more attention to the club’s shortcomings. The pleas for patience are beginning to grow old, but that’s really all Ben Cherington and the Red Sox can do with both Ramirez’s defense and the team’s performance as a whole.
Photo by Bill Streicher/USA Today Sports Images