On August 25, the Red Sox endured a 5-4 loss to the White Sox that dropped them back to 12 games under .500 at 57-69. There wasn’t a great deal of note from the game aside from this: It represented the last time that Hanley Ramirez donned a glove in a game.
Including that loss, the Red Sox that day had given up an American League-high 4.90 runs per game. Ramirez served as the designated hitter on August 26 (a Red Sox shutout victory), and hasn’t played since – and the Red Sox have looked like a shockingly improved team in his absence.
On Monday night in New York, with Jackie Bradley Jr. covering every square inch of the colossal piece of real estate in left field at Yankee Stadium, the Red Sox coasted to a 5-1 win over the Yankees. They’re now 19-11 in the 30 games since Ramirez last played defense; they’ve allowed 3.67 runs per game in that time – a 25 percent decrease – making them the second most effective group of run preventers in the majors in that time.
The athleticism of the outfield, with varying permutations involving Bradley, Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo, and sometimes Brock Holt, has been impossible to overlook, with the range of the group seeming to extend at times from line to line and the infield dirt to a couple of feet beyond the fences. The difference has been apparent, both to the naked eye and through the team’s performance.
Ramirez makes for an easy target – particularly now that, as Peter Abraham writes, he’s been shut down for the season and has left the team (with permission) for the duration of the season to get a jump on his offseason program. There’s some danger in identifying him as the single problem that ailed the Sox, since to do so could mask other deficiencies in the club.
Still, it’s difficult to ignore the fact that the Red Sox were 46-57 in games he started, including 40-52 (.435) when he started in left field. They are 36-28 when others have started in left – a .563 winning percentage that, over 162 games, would have translated to 91 wins.
The Sox have become a different team since the team undid what proved, in retrospect, a regrettable experiment regarding Ramirez’s change of positions. A revisionist what-could-have-been hovers over last offseason; a fascinating what-can-they-do looms over the coming one, at a time when Ramirez has three years remaining on his contract.
That Ramirez will never again play left for the Sox is obvious enough. Whether he ever again plays for them remains to be seen, though as Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston writes, the fact that he was sent home with the team’s blessing gives the impression of a player who has no place in the team’s plans for its future.
The Sox team he leaves behind continues to impress. Ian Browne of MLB.com examines yet another defensive clinic on Monday by Bradley, whose skills are so far-reaching that they move beyond the comprehension of big leaguers – as evidenced by the confusion of poor John Ryan Murphy, who thought his rocket into the left field corner had yielded a routine double, only to be told while standing on second and removing his shin guard that his liner, improbably, had been caught.
If Bill Belichick coached Jackie Bradley Jr., he’d probably shift him from ballpark to ballpark, perhaps batter to batter, to take advantage of his gifts. Though the Red Sox want to establish a stable outfield alignment for next year, based on what Bradley did in left field in the Bronx, the Red Sox may want to consider flexible outfield alignments that take advantage of Bradley’s adaptable game-changing defense, writes Nick Cafardo.
Follow Alex Speier on Twitter at @alexspeier.