Dodgers 1, Cubs 0: Worst Case Scenario

ramirez_injured_2013-08-04Stephen Fife was actually very good today as the Dodgers finished off a sweep of the Cubs and OH LORD HANLEY NO. Other than Clayton Kershaw, I’m not sure the Dodgers have a more irreplaceable player right now than Hanley Ramirez, not only because of how phenomenal he’s been this year but because of the complete lack of depth behind him.

Because I’m a sadist, here’s a GIF of what happened when Ramirez tried to track down a David DeJesus pop fly in the eighth inning:

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. The injury appeared to be to his right (throwing) shoulder, as opposed to the left shoulder that he injured and eventually had surgery on in 2011 with the Marlins.

That’s not to gloss over a tight 1-0 game, because Fife was quite effective, and that was necessary because the Dodgers managed just two hits — an Andre Ethier double in the fourth, and an A.J. Ellis single in the second that pushed across Ramirez (who had walked) for the only run. Chris Withrow, J.P. Howell, and Kenley Jansen combined for 3.2 perfect innings as the bullpen continues to excel, though I can’t pretend that the fact that Jansen’s appearance was his ninth in 13 days doesn’t concern me.

You’d think that leaving Chicago with a four-game sweep, extending the club record for consecutive road wins, and tossing back-to-back shutouts at Wrigley for the first time since 1949 would be nothing but good feelings as they head into St. Louis tomorrow. Yet here we are, terrified about what the medical reports are going to be on Ramirez, because if they’re not good… well, you can’t rely on Nick Punto for more than a few days at a time, and I am absolutely not prepared to turn back to the Dee Gordon era again. Be well, Hanley. You’re our only hope.

Hanley Ramirez Is On Pace For an 11.3 WAR Season

ramirez_giants_2013-05-03I briefly thought of presenting that stat without any context, because, wow. But that’s probably a bit unfair, so check out the batting leaderboards at FanGraphs if you would. Hanley Ramirez, you’ll note, doesn’t appear. That’s because his injuries and missed time have limited him to merely 201 plate appearances, so he doesn’t qualify for the batting title. Now pull down the “minimum PA” selector to 200 plate appearances, and there he is, tied with Edwin Encarnacion, Dustin Pedroia, and Adrian Beltre for 27th at 3.5 WAR.

ramirez_war_200paOf course, when you look at the other guys in that 3.5-4.0 range, from Jason Kipnis on down, you’ll notice that most of them have well over 400 plate appearances. Pedroia actually has nearly 500, as you can see at right. (The two columns at right are “games played” and “plate appearances”.)

Since WAR is a counting stat rather than a rate stat — think of it in the same way that you can’t hit 40 homers in three games, but you can hit .500 — that means that Ramirez has been roughly as valuable as Pedroia despite playing only 40% of the time. (Insert “WAR isn’t perfect and defensive metrics are still improving” disclaimers all over the place here.)

Ramirez has been worth about 1.75 WAR per 100 plate appearances so far, and if you set a standard regular season at 650 plate appearances, Ramirez has played about 30% of a full season. (He’s actually topped that number several times, but his years of 700 plate appearances were somewhat inflated because he often hit leadoff in Miami.) Were he to keep up this current pace over 450 more plate appearances, you end up with 11.37 WAR for the full season.

If you’re trying to put that into historical context, well, that’s a number that’s been topped just 18 times in the history of baseball, and nine of those are Barry Bonds or Babe Ruth. So, yeah, it’s good.

Obviously, this is just a fun thought exercise, because it’s not really rooted in reality. Ramirez can’t play a full season, because that time is gone, and if he stays healthy he’ll likely top out at around 420 plate appearances or so. Even if he could, he’s not sustaining a .401 BABIP for an entire year, and I’ll admit I’m not totally buying a defensive ranking that has him being average or above for the first time since 2008. (He’s been better than expected, but I don’t believe the times that he’s been unable to complete a double play that many other shortstops would have are taken into account.)

The point is not to try and rank Ramirez on a historical scale, nor to expect him to be this good indefinitely. The point is simply to try to stop and realize… good lord, has he been unbelievable. For all the credit given to Yasiel Puig, I think we know who has really been the focal point of this season turning around, and it’s going to be really fun down the stretch if he keeps this up and gets himself into an NL MVP conversation that has no obvious front-runner and just lost Yadier Molina to injury.

We see you, Hanley. We see you.

A Whole Year of Hanley Ramirez

ramirez_i_see_you_2013-07-20One year ago today, the Dodgers traded Nathan Eovaldi and Scott McGough for Hanley Ramirez (and the remaining $37 million or so on his contract) and Randy Choate. How’s that looking a year later?

Ramirez: .313/.367/.542 with 20 homers in 444 PA with Dodgers, 4.7 WAR, two trips to disabled list
Choate: 4.89 FIP in 13.1 IP for Dodgers in 2012, signed shocking three-year deal with St. Louis
Eovaldi: 67/42 K/BB in 18 starts (97.2 innings) with Marlins, missed 2.5 months with shoulder trouble
McGough: 45/13 K/BB in Double-A this year, Southern League All-Star, made Triple-A debut July 12

Ramirez has been a superstar when healthy, which was never going to happen in Miami. Eovaldi is still just 23 with a bright future, McGough is a decent-if-less-than-elite prospect, and Jeffrey Loria got to save a whole ton of money. Sure seems like a trade that worked out all the way around to me, though the edge always has to go to the team that got the best player, and right now, that’s the Dodgers.

At the time, we liked the deal

This is in no way a trade without a substantial amount of risk, which we’ll get to in a second, but my first impression is that I really, really like taking the chance here. We’ve been over so many times how impossible it was going to be to find a bat in this market, particularly one who can play third base and isn’t able to walk at the end of the season, and to be able to do that and get a decent lefty bullpen arm without having to give up your top prospects is just phenomenal.

…while acknowledging the risk.

So the concern is obvious: Ramirez is expensive, moody, and a poor defender. (Why does that sound so familiar?) Yet he’s on the right side of 30 and undeniably talented, and players like that rarely come available in the free market. Offense, particularly infield offense, is so hard to find these days that you’re going to have to take some risks in order to try to find production. The hope is that Ramirez can be a good change-of-scenery guy, and while his attitude is indeed a concern, running a solid clubhouse is one area where Don Mattingly has proven to be adept.

How do we feel a year later? We’ve seen absolutely no problems in that area, at least publicly, other than some grumblings that the team wasn’t all that happy with the limited amount of shortstop he was playing over the winter. Ramirez, by all indications, has been an outstanding teammate.

When he’s been healthy — and of course, he hasn’t always been — he’s been outstanding, and that 4.7 WAR doesn’t even really tell the entire story, because the guys we’ve had to suffer through in his absences (Dee Gordon & Justin Sellers, mainly) have been decidedly less than replacement value. If you consider Gordon & Sellers to be the “replacement level” that the Dodgers have, it’s not overstating it to say that Ramirez has been worth something like six-to-seven wins over the guys behind him. That’s close to MVP level performance.

If the true test of a trade is “would you make it again knowing what you know now,” and while Eovaldi has value and McGough has done well, I can’t imagine any Dodger fan would even briefly consider undoing this one. Really, this deal was the first one that showed just what Guggenheim money could do, because it allowed Ned Colletti to acquire a talent like Ramirez without having to give up any of his truly top talent.

One year on, this trade looks just as good — better, even — than it did when it happened. If it feels like we don’t get to say that often enough, enjoy this feeling.

Dodgers 3, Nationals 1: One Game Out

ramirez_i_see_you_2013-07-20I guess I don’t know how many different ways I can say “Hanley Ramirez is awesome,” but… wow, is Hanley Ramirez awesome. With three more hits tonight, including a tenth-inning double to break up a 1-1 tie, Ramirez is hitting an unbelievable .390/.444/.706 on the season. It’s a good thing, too, because Yasiel Puig went 0-5 with three strikeouts and hasn’t had a hit in approximately six weeks.

I suppose a fair amount of credit here has to be given to Washington manager Davey Johnson, who inexplicably had reliever Craig Stammen pitch to Ramirez after Adrian Gonzalez doubled. I’m sure there’s a good reason why the call wasn’t to intentionally walk Ramirez in order to pitch to Juan Uribe… but I’ll be damned if I know what it is.

That the game even made it to extras was due in no small part to the Dodger bullpen, who followed Zack Greinke with three shutout innings from five different relievers before Kenley Jansen nailed the win down in the tenth. Chris Withrow picked up his first major league win, and while pitcher wins remain stupid, I’m pointing it out because he was both filthy in his one inning of work and looks like a really bad-ass late-inning type now.

The Dodgers are, for the moment, within a single game of first place. They could get as close as a half-game if Arizona loses to San Francisco tonight (the Giants are winning 4-2 at the moment)… and Clayton Kershaw starts for the Dodgers tomorrow. I’d say things are lined up pretty well, wouldn’t you?

Dodgers 3, Nationals 2: Nothing But Homers

nolasco_2013-07-19Someday, Hanley Ramirez is going to stop hitting. In fact, that’s part of my next ESPN article, going up tomorrow, which discusses how he and Yasiel Puig simply can’t continue the paces they’ve put forward over the last month, because it’s just not possible.

Today is not that day, apparently. Ramirez’ third-inning blast off Stephen Strasburg provided the first two runs the Dodgers would need, and Andre Ethier‘s ninth-inning tiebreaker off Rafael Soriano was the difference in a 3-2 Dodger victory. For Ethier, it was his first homer in more than a month, since going deep off of Ian Kennedy on June 11, and had he waited just a little while longer, we could have said he’d hit just one homer in two months, since his previous homer before that had been on May 20 in Milwaukee. Ethier now has six homers on the year, but after three in April, he’s got one apiece in May, June, & July.

Fortunately for the Dodgers, the pitching was once again effective. Ricky Nolasco wasn’t dominating — he allowed 10 baserunners and struck out only two in 5.1 innings — but he managed to limit the damage, and Jose Dominguez, Paco Rodriguez, Ronald Belisario, & Kenley Jansen cleaned up with 3.2 innings of nearly perfect relief. Don’t look now, but between those four and J.P. Howell, the Dodgers actually have something resembling a decent bullpen. Let’s hope Ned Colletti keeps that in mind before Joc Pederson gets traded for John Axford.

As for Puig, he struck out twice in four plate appearances before being inexplicably double-switched out, but he did at least manage to provide this bit of excitement, courtesy of complex.com:

Bryce Harper was clearly out, though the umpire badly missed the call. Harper eventually scored, though fortunately it didn’t impact the outcome of the game. In the meantime, the Dodgers are just two games behind Arizona as the Diamondbacks are just kicking off a game in San Francisco. Does this mean we have to root for the Giants? I suppose it does, and good lord does that make me feel dirty.