That’s the truth. Ramirez’ .526 wOBA can’t be topped by future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera at number two, or the shockingly red-hot Jason Kipnis at #3, or even no-one-has-ever-seen-this-before Yasiel Puig, sitting at #6 with .445. Ramirez has been the best hitter in the game for a month now, and somehow we’re not talking about that enough.
Puig gets the press because of the mystique generated both by the large contract he received when no one knew who he was, and the myths and legends he built up when we all finally got a good look at him in spring training. Well, that and because of the absurd way in which he plays the game — and I use that descriptor in every one of both the positive and negative ways you’d think I would — and so it’s understandable that he’s getting the attention. Hell, I’ve been more than a little guilty of it myself around here. But it’s really Ramirez who has been the key to the recent run the Dodgers have been on, isn’t it? After all, even Puig couldn’t prevent the Dodgers from losing 10 of his first 17 games.
When Ramirez returned, and I mean really returned full-time, not the sort-of-but-not-really business that accompanied his first week or so off the disabled list, he wasn’t just filling a need. He was replacing the absolute black hole that was the group of Luis Cruz, Dee Gordon, Nick Punto, & Justin Sellers at shortstop — and while I retain all requisite respect for how useful Punto was over the first month, know that he’s hitting only .215/.270/.254 over the last two months as his BABIP has normalized, as we all knew it would. That group either couldn’t hit, couldn’t field, or both; it’s not a stretch to say that there were few other positions in baseball that were actively hurting their teams as much as the group Los Angeles put together.
If Ramirez had been merely replacement-level, that would have been an improvement. If he’d been just league-average, that would have been a nice step up. (Those two things are not the same, as many often forget.) Ramirez hasn’t been either of those things; he’s been beyond phenomenal, and I can’t imagine that there’s been any other position in baseball that’s swung from that low to this high due to a single move. As Jon Weisman pointed out recently, the Dodgers only have shortstops who hit above .400 or below .200. There’s not a lot of middle ground here, and the Dodgers have won 14 of the 21 starts he’s made since coming off the disabled list.
Still, Puig-mania feels like it swallows everything. Ramirez isn’t the one getting added to the All-Star final vote ballot because of a fantastic yet brief 2013 campaign. Ramirez isn’t the one getting voted player of the week or month; hell, Ramirez can’t even get Giants fans to be mad at him for his “I see you” gestures because they’re too busy being incoherently angry at Puig for flipping his bat on a single.
Now let’s be honest with ourselves, of course — this isn’t going to last. Not like this, anyway. Ramirez isn’t going to maintain a .420 BABIP all season long, and it seems unlikely that a HR/FB that has only once been above 14.7% is really going to stick at 26.9%. You can say the same about his line drive percentage, sitting at a lovely 27.3%, when he hadn’t even hit 20% since he was a rookie in 2006. That all goes along with his usual atrocious defense, which has really been covered up for a lot of people by his offense over the last month.
Like we’re seeing with Puig, Ramirez is going to come back down. He might even come back down hard, or just get injured again. The hope is that by the time he does, Matt Kemp & Carl Crawford are back to where they need to be to lead the offense along with Adrian Gonzalez. But until he does, he deserves a whole lot more attention than he’s getting… and there’s very little Nathan Eovaldi can do in Miami right now that’s going to change the viewpoint on a deal that looked good the day it was made nearly a year ago, and looks even better right now. Good to have you around, Hanley.