Hanley Ramirez has been struggling all season long, but he remains a confident individual. In fact, he seems confident enough in his own ability that he thinks he will be doing pretty well within a few weeks.
"“By May 30, I will have seven homers. And I’ll be batting .290,’ he told a reporter. “You better take a picture. Write it down.’"
Of course, he said that a little while back, before this past weekend’s series during which he went 2-for-13 with just one extra-base hit. Nevertheless, Ramirez’s claim was still pretty bold even at the time he made it. To bring his putrid season line up that quickly in such a short time span would take quite a performance. How much exactly? Let’s take a look at the numbers.
How much time does Ramirez have to finish his goals? The Marlins have nine games left in the month of May, including the May 30 series final against the San Francisco Giants. The average hitter at Ramirez’s current position in the order received about 4.5 plate appearances a game. Assuming Ramirez starts and finishes each of the nine remaining games, he will have amassed about 41 plate appearances by the end of the month. That is the sort of time frame with which he will work.
Seven home runs
The Marlins shortstop has hit 126 home runs so far in his career, but his power has slipped each of the past three seasons. It’s something I alluded to during the 2009 season and in the middle of 2010 season as well, so it is not a new occurrence. Ramirez’s power drop this season, however, has been particularly precipitous. Last season, Ramirez slugged the lowest total of his career at .475. He also had his ISO drop under .200 for the first time since his rookie season, en route to his worst ISO of his career. Almost all of that was attributable to an increase in ground balls hit; in 2010, Ramirez hit a grounder in 51 percent of his balls in play, a career high by a significant margin.
This season, that problem has gotten worse. Ramirez has hit the ball on the ground on 57 percent of ball in play this season, and I am certain that has something to do with his immensely poor power production. His ISO is down to .082 this season, a similar ISO to players like Darwin Barney, Orlando Cabrera, and Chone Figgins are boasting this season. That is further hurt by the fact that his home run per fly ball (HR/FB) rate is at an all-time low as well at 5.6 percent. So how will he manage to end the month with seven homers?
The answer to that question lies in a regression both in ground ball rate and in HR/FB rate. Let’s use Ramirez’s ZiPS rest-of-season projection as a baseline for some of his rate stats. Under his current projection, Ramirez would be expected to put a ball in play in about 72 percent of his plate appearances. In 41 plate appearances, that would equate to about 30 balls in play. Using Ramirez’s career batted ball profile, he would have to hit those five remaining home runs out of 11 total fly balls or 17 total balls in air. The HR/FB rate necessary for that is a 45.5 percent rate, obviously well above Ramirez’s expected means. Using his batted ball profile from the last three seasons does not change the rate by much, but using his profile from the last two years with his increased ground ball rate makes it slightly less likely, with a necessary HR/FB rate of 50 percent.
Ramirez thinks he may be able to get his average to climb back up to .290 by the end of the month, but that too seems very difficult. His average right now sits at .204, and he only has 41 plate appearances left to fix the hole into which he has dug himself. Assuming the projected 10.7 percent walk rate and 1 percent hit-by-pitch rate, we would expect Ramirez to get 35 at-bats to use to increase his batting average. To make the climb from a .204 average in 147 AB to a .290 average in 182 AB, he would have to collect about 23 more hits by that time, culminating in a .657 batting average along the way. If we assume he completes the five-homer task that he wants and strikes out at the projected rate, he would have to hit .750 on balls in play to accomplish this task.
The realistic endpoint
Needless to say, Ramirez would have to go on a massive hot streak in order to pull this task off, but it isn’t completely inconceivable I suppose. However, the more realistic occurrence is likely to be that he hits about as well as we currently expect him to hit. Let’s look at two rest-of-season projections for Ramirez and see what they think he’ll do for the remainder of the year:
Let’s extend these projections through the 41 PA that Ramirez is expected to receive through the month. Where do we expect him to be by the end of May 30?
If Ramirez hits as expected through the end of the season, we could expect to see him end with a slash line similar to about .220/.310/.340, which would be a step up from what he is currently doing obviously but is a long way from being the .308/.380/.509 career hitter we expected to see this season. And as much as we’d like to claim that it was just an anomaly, some of what Hanley is doing is bound to be significant if it continues going on like this. Ultimately, the team needs him to bounce back the most out of all of the players if they expect to remain in contention.