Hanley Ramirez’ peculiar All-Star year


Over the weekend, the All-Star teams were (mostly) selected, and two Marlins were selected to play for the National League. Unsurprisingly, those two Marlins were Josh Johnson and Hanley Ramirez. Johnson has had a monster year and should be in contention to start for the team, but it is likely that either Ubaldo Jimenez or Roy Halladay will get the nod. On the other hand, Ramirez will be starting at shortstop for the third year in a row.

However, Ramirez has had an odd year this season compared to his last three. Very few players in baseball would find a .298/.382/.498 season with the bat as “disappointing,” but Ramirez is one of those players. Compare that line and the .383 wOBA that comes with to his career .314/.386/.527 slash line and .395 wOBA and you can see why some fans, while appreciative of Ramirez’ play, are also a little confused and disappointed that he isn’t more dominant. It may seem like complaining about nothing, but the Marlins need the most out of their superstar shortstop to win games. What is up with Ramirez in 2010?

Two interesting things are happening with Ramirez that seem odd compared to his career marks. The one thing that stands out a lot is his BABIP. Currently, Ramirez is collecting hits on balls in play at a .313 clip, easily his worst career marks. His previous worst season was in 2008, when he had a .329 BABIP, supplemented by his best ISO (.239) and walk rate (12.1% unintentional). This season, that .313 mark has led to a .298 BA that is solidly below his career averages. ZiPS is projecting a BABIP going forward of .343, and that seems correct given the career .347 mark. Hanley isn’t likely to get a .347 AVG like he did last year (BABIP of .379), but that should bump his average and get the other marks up as well.

One of the interesting things about Ramirez’ 2010 is that his peripherals seem better than ever. After dropping to a below average walk rate in 2009 (7.4% unintentional BB%), he has once again been taking free passes. This year he’s walked in 9.5% of non-IBB plate appearances, despite the fact that he still is swinging at tons of pitches. Last year, he swung at 26% of pitches out of the zone, and that has not changed much this year (27.1%). This habit has been made up for by increased contact, as Ramirez is contacting almost 72% of pitches outside the zone, well above the league average. As a result, he’s made contact in just over 85% of total pitches, which is helping him stave off strikeouts and maybe stay in PA long enough to draw walks. Pitchers are throwing slightly more pitches out of the zone to Ramirez than in years past as well.

Ramirez’ ISO for this season and 2009 are almost identical, but this is odd given his batted ball distribution. This season Ramirez has hit ground balls in over 52% of balls in play, well above his career high of 45.8%. This abnormally high total has not prevented Ramirez from hitting home runs, as he has knocked 16.8% of his fly balls (including infield flies) out of the park. ZiPS has Hanley finishing the year with 26 home runs, more than acceptable for our standards. Ramirez also has a .286 BABIP on ground balls this year, still well above average but below his career .314 mark and his ridiculous 2009 mark of .386. Similarly, he is hitting just .641 on line drives, a mark also likely to go up. These are encouraging signs that Ramirez is likely to look better going forward.

Overall, ZiPS expects a .315/.391/.523 line (.405 wOBA) the rest of the season, and that would not be far-fetched. With a modest increase in BABIP on line drives, moving him closer to .700 on LD, and a slight decrease in those ground ball numbers, we should approach a .310-.320 average once again. I am skeptical as to whether Ramirez can maintain this walk rate in the face of increased swinging, and the projections generally agree. Nevertheless, even if he finishes the season with a wOBA less than .400 (something that has not happened since his rookie year), he would still be in line for a 5- to 5.5-WAR season. It is not the 7-win campaign that Marlins fans are accustomed to, but it is pretty good nonetheless.