We continue rolling on in our season preview series by discussing one of the few positions at which the Marlins have had stability over the past five seasons. There is not a player in the game I would rather have manning shortstop than Hanley Ramirez, though there may be a a better player in the league to actually play the position in the field (more on that later). Ramirez “struggled” last season, in the sense that he did not play up to his standards,
Minor league depth: Osvaldo Martinez
Last season Ramirez posted his worst season line (.300/.378/.475) and worst wOBA (.373) since his rookie season. He also posted his worst defensive season since the 2007 year according to the defensive metrics (-10 runs compared to average over the course of the season), and the Fans seemed to agree that his defense was worse this year than it was last year. Whether it was or was not is up for debate, but Ramirez’s hitting stroke definitely left something to be desired. From 2007 to 2009, only four hitters had a better wOBA than Ramirez, who batted .325/.398/.549 with a .409 wOBA.
What happened to cause such a drop in Ramirez’s hitting? A cursory glance at the numbers reveals a BABIP of .327, the lowest mark of his career. From 2007 to 2009, Ramirez’s BABIP was at a strong .354, and this sort of mark does not seem like a stretch for a player as fast and as strong as him. We would expect some regression, but a .327 mark is probably a bit low for a player like Ramirez, who has shown that he has some BABIP skill. The projection systems seem to think so as well; all of them have him pegged for a mark around the .340’s.
However, the problem went beyong a mere BABIP issue. Ramirez posted the lowest ISO of his career, recording only 27 doubles to go along with 21 home runs. One would think this may be a problem with HR/FB rate, as that is a hot spot for year-to-year fluctuation, but Ramirez’s 14.2 percent mark was one of the highest of his career. The problem wasn’t in getting fly balls to leave the yard, but rather in getting fly balls at all. For the first time in his career, Ramirez hit more than 50 percent of his batted balls on the ground, culminating in 51 percent GB rate and a drastically reduced power output. The fact that his power in fly balls remains is a good sign heading into next season; Ramirez actually had one of his best ISO on fly balls in his career (.545). If he can return to hitting balls in the air more along the lines of his career 37.8 percent rate, we should expect to see his power back up to 2007 to 2009 levels.
Projection: 675 PA, 6.0 WAR
This projection is a full win less than the projection we saw from last season. At the time, Ramirez was coming off a second consecutive 7-plus win campaign and a third straight season with a .400 or better wOBA. It was easy to expect more brilliance from him, but the down year in 2010 brought those expectations down a notch. However, the projection systems seem to have good news on the horizon.
Once again, for a veteran like Ramirez, the projection systems are in general agreement. Each of the systems, from the crudest ones like Marcel and my own projection to the more sophisticated ones like PECOTA, are using weighted averages of the past three to four years to determine the future projection. Even the Fans are probably doing something like this to a degree, though they are being more subjective. You can see that the systems only really differ on the power aspect of Ramirez; all of us have him at around a .300 to .310 AVG with a .380 to .390 OBP. That alone is bringing significant value; the difference between ZiPS’s optimstic .512 SLG (.203 ISO) and PECOTA’s .493 mark (.190 ISO) does not amount to more than a run or two over a full season. Add on the bonus that Ramirez could regain all of his power back by returning to a heavier fly ball style, leading to more of a .210 ISO, and what you have is still a valuable player.
One question remains about Ramirez and his future with the organization, and it is one that I haven’t discussed much here in the past. With Osvaldo Martinez in the minors potentially developing as a middle infielder of the future, the day the team considers moving Ramirez off of shortstop may soon arrive. Baseball Prospectus’s Kevin Goldstein says that Martinez’s arrival date could be late 2011, and if he is ready and able to man shortstop, the Marlins may ask Ramirez to move to possibly second base or center field. That would certainly affect his value, as shortstops are much more difficult to find and inherently more valuable, but if the return of improved defense may be enough to compensate for that tradeoff. There is no indication that the Marlins are thinking about moving their franchise player to a less valuable position, but if Ramirez’s defense does not improve to their liking, it is something they should consider.