2013 in brief: Might have been the NL MVP had he been able to stay healthy for more than ten minutes in a row.
2014 status: Under contract for one more year at $16m.
You know what the funny part about Hanley Ramirez‘ season was? No one remembers it now, but we spent all winter worrying about, of all things, the fact that he wasn’t playing shortstop at all in winter ball and/or should be the team’s third baseman. This was such a pressing concern that we talked about in December, January, February, again in February, and — after a brief break to watch him put up an 80-grade pimp on a WBC homer — in March.
Then, something like five hours after that March post, this happened in the final game of the WBC, and it was a sad foreshadowing of what the entire season was going to be like:
We soon learned Ramirez would need surgery on that thumb, and while the idea of improved infield defense was appealing, the prospect of an infield left side that was full of Luis Cruz, Justin Sellers, and Dee Gordon was certainly not. Sellers got the first crack and was awful, so we were thrilled when Ramirez returned on April 29 and moreso when he had five hits, including two doubles and a homer, in his first two starts.
But then, in a cruel joke that seemed to fit all too well into the cursed first half this team had, Ramirez tried to go first-to-third in his fourth game back and crumpled with an injured left hamstring. Once again, we worried about the backup plan — this time, it was Gordon who fumbled his chance — until Ramirez finally returned again on June 4.
Even then, it wasn’t smooth sailing, because Ramirez started two games, then not another until June 14 due to soreness in that same hamstring. He had just a single hit in 10 plate appearances in a series in Pittsburgh, then went off in Yankee Stadium, collecting six hits in a single day (it was, to be fair, a doubleheader) including a laser beam homer.
That day was June 19, and that’s important, because that was three days before the unprecedented turnaround began. For all the attention given to Yasiel Puig — rightfully so — the team didn’t start winning when he came up. It was when Ramirez finally got healthy and hot that things turned around, and as we saw in the playoffs, this lineup functions so, so differently without him.
Special attention here must be paid to Ramirez, who followed up yesterday’s absolute rocket with today’s no-doubter, and is now hitting .358/.397/.679 in 58 plate appearances on the season. That’s obviously a small sample size, and he’s not going to keep it up all season, of course, but just having him in the lineup after months of Dee Gordon, Justin Sellers, & Luis Cruz… well, it really does change everything, and we’ve seen that in the last few days.
I’ve never been so happy to be wrong. From June 19 to July 19, Ramirez hit .420/.482/.780. With the exception of August, his OPS was north of 1.000 in every single month of the season.
By July 8, Ramirez’ performance was so astounding that we were actually wondering if he wasn’t getting enough credit for it:
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.
It just kept going. On July 19, he hit a homer off Stephen Strasburg to help Ricky Nolasco to victory. The next day, he had three hits, including a tenth-inning double, as the Dodgers drew within one game of first. The next — yes, the day Matt Kemp destroyed his ankle — he hit a three-run homer off of Jordan Zimmermann as the Dodgers swept the Nationals.
Later that week, we reached the one-year anniversary of the trade that had brought him to the Dodgers, and there was no doubt that the deal looked even better than it did at the time. By August 2, his performance had so crazy that we were actually talking about him on a historic scale and invoking the names Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds, while of course knowing that he wasn’t going to play a full season.
Two days later, I named a post “Worst Case Scenario”. Here’s why:
To which I said, “Ramirez came out of the stands and immediately doubled over in pain, then left the game as we all died a million deaths on the inside” as we once again pondered a world of Gordon and Nick Punto.
Fortunately, he avoided the disabled list, though he didn’t start again for ten days thanks to his injured right shoulder, and hit only .254/.293/.507 in August. Still, that didn’t stop us from wondering what a contract extension might look like, and it seemed like the good times were back when he hit .370/.462/.704 in September. But he missed several games with a nerve problem that was causing back pain, and the injuries woes still weren’t over.
In the NLDS, Ramirez hit .500/.556/1.063 with six extra base hits. That’s good. But you all know where this is headed, because in Game 1 of the NLCS, Joe Kelly fractured Ramirez’ ribs, and the Dodger shortstop either couldn’t play or was extremely limited for the remainder of the series. I still don’t think Kelly did it on purpose, and considering how all that young St. Louis pitching performed it might not have made a different… but it certainly didn’t help, did it?
So the end results of Ramirez’ 2013 is that it was alternately as exciting and depressing a year as we’ve ever seen. In only 86 games, he put up 5.1 WAR, partially because his defense at shortstop seemed improved. That’s… just not right. And it makes his future less clear than ever, I think. He’s one of the best players in the game when he’s healthy, and yes, some of what happened to him this year falls under the “freak injury” category. But when a guy turns 30, it’s not usually a safe bet to expect him to be more healthy. No matter what happens going forward, 2013 was a magical year — and I have high hopes for him in 2014.
Next! Nick Punto was shockingly really good!