Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Hanley Ramirez is a Superstar (Again)

Ramirez has rediscovered his stroke with the Dodgers (Sporting News)
Over a four year stretch from 2006 to 2009, Hanley Ramirez was probably the second best player in baseball. Albert Pujols was far and away the best, but Ramirez wasn't too far behind. A Rookie of the Year, MVP runner-up and batting champion all before he turned 26, HanRam was a Hall-of-Famer in the making.

Then in 2010, his OPS dropped 100 points and his defense deteriorated. He wasn't an MVP caliber-player anymore--just merely a very good one. He still made the All-Star team, still batted .300 with 21 homers and 32 steals, but it was a bit of a down year by his standards. That, combined with Florida's frequent losing, is what likely caused his now-notorious attitude problems to emerge that summer.

The following year--his last full season with the Marlins--was also the worst of his career. He batted just .243/.333/.379 before injuring his shoulder in early August and missing the rest of the season. He was never quite right that year.

2012 was supposed to be a fresh start for the Fish, who moved into a new ballpark, changed their name to the Miami Marlins, and purchased a trio of pricey free agents--Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell. The new-look Marlins were supposed to improve significantly on their 72-90 record from the year before. Ramirez moved to third base to accommodate Reyes--something Derek Jeter would not do for Alex Rodriguez--but clearly wasn't happy about it.

It all backfired. The Marlins were worse. Ramirez's glovework at the hot corner was subpar, and to make matters worse he struggled offensively while learning his new position. When Miami traded him to the Los Angeles Dodgers a week before the deadline, he was hitting just .246/.322/.428 at the time.

The change of scenery, as well as the move back to his natural position, seemed to revitalize Ramirez. He promptly started hitting again, smashing 10 home runs with 36 RBI in his first 38 games wearing Dodger blue. It couldn't compare with Manny Ramirez's first impression four years earlier, but it was enough to salvage what was shaping up to be another lost year for the three-time All-Star.

More importantly, that strong second half was a sign of things to come. 2013 has marked a return to form for Ramirez. Though a torn thumb ligament and hamstring injury limited him to just four games through the first two months of the season, he's been so ridiculously productive when healthy that he's produced five bWAR in less than half a season's worth of games. And while he won't have enough plate appearances to lead the league in anything, his batting average, slugging percentage and OPS would all rank first in the National League. Throw in his speed and improved defense, and Ramirez is fast reclaiming his title as one of the sport's elite.

He is a superstar again, only now he's surrounded by them--Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, and Yasiel Puig. On a stacked team like that, Ramirez is just another face in the crowd, another big name that Don Mattingly gets to write in his lineup card every night. He's 29 and in his ninth big league season. He doesn't electrify fans the way he used to, or run like he used to, or get to balls deep in the hole that he used to get to. The novelty's worn off.

But we should pay Hanley Ramirez more attention. He's playing the best baseball of his career.

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