fb-pixel Skip to main content
Alex Speier

Will Hanley Ramirez’s bat be more valuable this year?

Hanley Ramirez hit a solo home run in the fifth inning Tuesday.AP

Hanley Ramirez has a .717 OPS, a mark that is noteworthy because it’s precisely the same as the one with which he finished the 2015 season.

It’s still a small sample, of course, and far from an indication of where he will end up in 2016, but it nonetheless raises the question: Will Ramirez be a more valuable lineup member in his second season with the Red Sox than he was in his first?

It’s too early to know, particularly given that, in approach, he’s far removed from his offensive plan of attack in 2015. Last year, he seemed intent on clearing or at least knocking down the left field wall with every swing he took. Whereas he emerged from this season’s first month with just one home run, he’d clobbered 10 by the end of last April.

Advertisement



“And after that?” Ramirez noted wryly, alluding to the fact that after hitting .293/.341/.659 last April, he hit just .238/.277/.367 over his remaining 84 games.

Those marks, Ramirez and the Red Sox coaching staff believe, reflected partly on the left shoulder injury that left him unable to get to good fastballs and cover the entirety of the plate, and partly on a pull-happy approach that made him vulnerable to rollovers.

Ramirez’s second homer of the season in Tuesday night’s 4-1 loss to the White Sox thus represented a potentially significant sign. Though seemingly fooled by the arm speed of Chicago starter Jose Quintana, Ramirez managed to keep his weight back on a changeup and react, flicking his barrel to the outer edge of the plate (slightly up, but still a good pitch location for a changeup) and driving the ball over the fence in right.

That ability to make hard contact on a pitcher’s pitch anywhere in the strike zone — and sometimes even out of it — offered at least a glimpse of what Ramirez has been at times in his career, and what they hope he might be able to channel anew.

Advertisement



Yet in the early portion of the season, even as he’s started to make more regular hard contact in the last week to 10 days, Ramirez acknowledges a measure of disappointment that he hasn’t been able to deliver such results more consistently.

“I don’t have a strike zone,” he explained last week. “When I feel good, the pitch can be in the other dugout, I’ll put the bat on it and the ball is going to go. I just can’t miss my pitch. I cannot. I’m not supposed to miss my pitch when I get it.

“When you’re missing the ball on the barrel of the bat, it doesn’t matter where the pitch is. I’m just missing my pitch. The hitting coach is telling me the same thing: ‘You’re just missing your pitch.’ We make our living off the mistakes that a pitcher makes. When that happens, you cannot miss your pitch.”

In the early part of the season, Ramirez has missed his pitches at a career-worst rate. According to Fangraphs.com, he has swung and missed at 22.7 percent of all pitches at which he’s offered — considerably higher than his previous high rate of 19.3 percent (in 2009 and 2013, the two best offensive seasons of his career).

Perhaps Tuesday’s homer represented the renewed ability of Ramirez to cover the strike zone. Perhaps it didn’t. The season is young.

Advertisement



To date this year, Ramirez has not yet found his way back to being the sort of productive hitter he was with the Dodgers, but it hasn’t hurt the Red Sox, who lead the American League in scoring.

Ramirez remains mindful that, just as last April offered little evidence of what was to follow, he’s capable of emerging as a different sort of contributor over the final five months of 2016.

“It’s a long season,” he said. “You’re going to have ups and downs. When you’re down, you’ve just got to try to not go way down. Especially when you’re playing good baseball and your team has your back, that makes you relax a little bit.

“They’ve got my back and I’ve got their back. It’s a long season. You’ve got to keep fighting every day, grinding, and at the end of the day, the numbers will be there.”