Welcome to BP Boston’s second annual Roster Recap series. Over the next few months, we’ll be analyzing every player on Boston’s 40-man roster and many of their top prospects in order to provide a comprehensive overview of the Red Sox roster’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as what we can expect moving forward. From MVP-candidate right fielders to reserve relievers, we want to give you a look at every Red Sox who might matter in 2017. View the complete list of Roster Recaps here. Enjoy!
It is legitimately possible to argue that in a Red Sox season where David Ortiz had the best swan song of all time and Rick Porcello won the Cy Young Award that the team’s biggest surprise was Hanley Ramirez becoming an above-average fielding first baseman on the fly… and that was merely part of Hanley’s redemption. It’s hard to express how far Ramirez came last year, but I’ll try.
In mid-2015, Ken Rosenthal wrote a really bad column saying that the Red Sox’s new additions, Ramirez and Sandoval, needed to be “traded, like, now.” This was Rosenthal being his peripatetic, insatiable self, divorced from any real team strategy. Selling low is rarely a good idea, and Hanley’s 2016 showed exactly why that is so. Without further ado, let’s put a bow tie on Hanley’s bounce-back season.
What went right in 2016
Ramirez headed into the year as the biggest — or perhaps just most expensive — active question mark on the Red Sox roster. To say 2015 was unkind would be an understatement. Ramirez batted .249/.291/.426, and his play in left field made Manny Ramirez’s glove look like Jackie Bradley Jr’s. A veteran of the infield, the theory went that if Brian Butterfield could work his magic, maybe Hanley could stay alert enough to put on a passable performance in the field. I didn’t think it was likely; I was hoping for “mediocre at best.”
He did so, so, so much better than that! Last year’s preseason poll asked all BP Boston staff members how many errors Hanley would make; the answers ranged from as high as 25 (from yours truly) to as low as seven (from the faithful Jake Devereaux). The actual number, over 133 games at the cold corner: four! For reference, the NL Gold Glove winner at first base, fellow once-traded Red Sox blue-clip prospect Anthony Rizzo, committed six errors in 154 games there. There’s more to life than errors, but that’s pretty good.
At the plate, Ramirez spent the first half of the year confusing the crap out of us before mashing his way through the second half. His .305/.400/.442 May line seemed to signal that the changes he had made during the offseason — compacting his batting stance and cutting down on pre-swing movement — had taken hold for the better, but then he spat out a .224/.324/.396 line in June, and those, like me, who doubted the May spike seemed vindicated. Victory was at hand!
About that: From July 1st through the end of the year, Hanley hit the cover off the ball. His second half slash: .284/.354/.593. I’ve never been so happy to be owned.
What went wrong in 2016
On a basic level, nothing went wrong for Hanley in 2016. A dedicated pessimist would say that the downside to last season is that it represents the best possible Hanley Ramirez at this point in his career, but that’s a reach. It is nonetheless entirely possible that this ends up as his best season for the Sox, but I would bet, even in that case, that Hanley is much more likely to imitate 2016’s numbers than 2015’s for the time being.
What to expect in 2017
First, I expect him to make more than four errors, and not as a result of somehow regressing from whatever his “true” talent level is as a starting AL first baseman, fielding-wise. It’s just the way the ball bounces.
At the plate, last years was easily the best full year he had since 2010. He was astonishingly good in a half-season in 2013, throwing up a ridiculous .345/.402/.630 slash for a 1.040 OPS, (Glorioski!) but as a perpetual up-and-down player, he had OPSes in the .700s for the previous three years to that. Last season was the first year he was anywhere close to his career average, and he pretty much nailed it, .866 to .861. There’s no way to tell which Hanley is going to show up at any given moment, but if he can just repeat 2016, we should all be happy. For maybe the first time in his own peripatetic career — Blue-chip prospect! Batting champ! L.A. savior! Bum! — all Hanley Ramirez needs to do is be himself.
Photo by Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports Images