Today we move from some of the positions of contention and lesser production to the one position the Marlins can count on for excellent production: shortstop. If you are anything of a Marlins fan, you should know who will be manning this position for 2010 and hopefully many years after. So what can we expect of Hanley Ramirez this season?
Starter: Hanley Ramirez
Backup: Emilio Bonifacio
Hanley has been a legitimate superstar for the last two seasons, playing at a spectacular level for a mid-20′s player at his position. In 2008, Ramirez broke out in a big way, bopping 33 home runs from the leadoff spot and batting .301/.400/.540 en route to a .405 wOBA. Ramirez did not disappoint in 2009 as well. Concerns about moving him from the leadoff spot to the third in the batting order were quickly erased; Ramirez won a batting title, knocked another 24 homers out, and hit .342/.410/.543, good for a .410 wOBA. For the last three seasons, Ramirez’ hitting prowess has been unquestioned.
The questions had always been on the defensive side for Ramirez, and now the answer to that question seems to be steadily improving. After a disastrous 2007 season at shortstop by all accounts (scouting and defensive metrics), Ramirez has posted two more or less league-average seasons according to most defensive metrics and has appeared much more comfortable and smooth over at shortstop. This has allayed concerns that Ramirez would have to be moved to third base or center field in the coming years, and allows us to keep him where he is most valuable.
All in all, the team has perhaps the finest young player in baseball, under contract until 2014. But for 2010, what can we expect?
Projection: 650 PA, about 7.2 WAR
That’s an impressive projection prior to the season; few players hit the 7 WAR mark without having played a game yet. Still, I do have some concerns. Ramirez showed an increased walk rate and patience in 2008 that I found very encouraging. However, in 2009 that plate discipline went away in favor of a more hacking approach. Note the differences in swing percentage in zone (Z-Swing%) and out of zone (O-Swing%) as noted by FanGraphs.
2008: 63.5% Z-Swing%, 18.3% O-Swing%
2009: 70.7% Z-Swing%, 26.3% O-Swing%
Those are some drastic changes in plate approach. It did not hurt Ramirez this season, because he made plenty of contact (around his career norms) but had a massive BABIP. His 2009 .379 BABIP simply isn’t going to stick, no matter how good a contact hitter Ramirez is. A likely drop in batting average should ensue, and if that unintentional walk rate remains low, Ramirez’ OBP will be affected. The projection systems on FanGraphs (minus the Fans) all have Ramirez putting up below a .400 OBP for the first time in the last two seasons, and that’s with a walk rate of around 9-10%. It’ll be interesting to see if Ramirez continues this approach in 2010.
The primary backup for Ramirez will be Bonifacio again this season. Previously, the team had relied on super-sub and defensive whiz Alfredo Amezaga to backup multiple positions, and this year Bonifacio will play that role. At shortstop, we can expect few problems however, as Ramirez has yet to land on the DL, though he missed around a week last season with various injuries. I should not need to tell you that if Ramirez is out of the lineup for any significant period of time, the Marlins are drastically reduced in talent, especially with the batless Bonifacio replacing him. Just hope we don’t have to see Boni manning short for more than a day in 2010.