Hanley Ramirez‘s skills and health have never been more important to the Boston Red Sox than right now. The $88 million, four-year man signed with Boston to play left field, after years of playing the infield, last offseason. That notion has long since fled anyone’s mind, after watching the antics and the injuries that followed. Now, with the reports that Ramirez is poised to play first base when he returns from yet another injury, all eyes will be on him to see how successful he will be. Those eyes include the team, the fans, the media, and especially the rest of the league.
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Rob Bradford of WEEI.com reported that Ramirez’s attitude towards playing out the remainder of the season had changed, since he made commented earlier in the week about only returning if his shoulder was 100% better. When asked about playing soon, Ramirez told Bradford, “I think we’re going to have a meeting [Tuesday] and we’re going to talk about it, […] The shoulder feels stronger. I feel better.” Bradford added that “when asked if he was hoping the meeting would result in the end of his DL stint, Ramirez said, ‘Hopefully. Hopefully everything goes well and they let me go out there and play.’”
While playing first base will give his throwing shoulder a bit more of a break, considering throws are not as frequently made from there as from other positions, Ramirez has never played the all-important position in a live game before. That fact, apparently, does not bother Ramirez in the slightest. When asked about what point that he felt good playing first base in practice, Ramirez replied, “From the first day.” The confident veteran added, “I don’t see anything hard. Ground balls I’ve been doing for a long time. Maybe the pickoff throws, where you have to keep your eye on the pitcher and find the bag. That’s going to be maybe the hardest. But that’s why I want to go out there and see how it feels.”
While his courage to want to know how it feels at first base is admirable, it’s not like this is the first time that Red Sox Nation has heard these words from Ramirez.
Over 30 weeks ago, BoSox Injection published news about Ramirez’s confidence playing left field, when he was moved from being a shortstop. The decision was made so that he wouldn’t be getting injured as often. How’d that go for him? It’s a rhetorical question; we all know how that went.
However, let’s take another look at that point in the year. At the time, Ramirez and first-base coach and outfield instructor Arnie Beyeler agreed to a workout routine of only 15 minutes each day, having a few balls hit to Ramirez to grasp the position. “I can’t hit him 25 fly balls and have him chase them,” Beyeler said. “That would blow him out. We’ve got time.”
That time that Beyeler mentions has proven otherwise.
Ramirez made four errors and recorded a .969 fielding percentage in left field in 2015. The major-league average is .984. His range factor per nine innings was 1.48, while the league average is 1.91. Per game, Ramirez’s range is factored at 1.34 and the league is at 1.90. Throw in the amount of injuries that he sustained in the outfield and you can safely deduce that the experiment was a failure, or at least was not as easy as the Red Sox and Ramirez thought it would be.
Now, Ramirez is set to play one of the most important pivot positions in the game, where most of the action is directed towards him. His shoulder will be required to throw quickly if runners are around the bases, trying to go home on fielder’s choices. These new decisions will be made from a different location than Ramirez has ever found himself before. How many of us are that confident to do a new activity in a new location in front of thousands of people, every day?
Sep 20, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Red Sox first baseman Travis Shaw (right) congratulates Boston Red Sox pitcher Robbie Ross Jr (28) after a win at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Not to mention the fact that the Red Sox already have someone playing first base. Travis Shaw, the 25-year-old lefty-bat prospect, may not have as good a bat as Hanley’s has proven over the years, but his .294 batting average in 177 at-bats has come in handy. Shaw has 11 home runs and 30 RBIs in 53 games, this season. He has a .992 fielding percentage at first base, giving the Red Sox some sure hands after trading Mike Napoli away. To put those numbers into perspective, Ramirez’s righty bat earned a .249 batting average, with 19 home runs and 53 RBIs, in 105 games. Shaw’s skills could be on the way up, while Ramirez’s 31-year-old body seems destined to decline further. If given the opportunity, would Shaw’s numbers surpassed Ramirez’s results? Maybe or maybe not. But, the price tag on Ramirez’s totals cost Boston much more than Shaw’s entry-level contract is worth.
If Ramirez does play first base soon, Dave Dombrowski, the Red Sox president of baseball operations, will be very interested in how he performs this September. Even if it is a success, having players like Shaw playing just as well for less money may influence the boss to rethink former general manager Ben Cherington’s decision to bring Ramirez into the fold. Having Ramirez show that he can handle first base may influence other MLB teams to inquire as to the possibility of acquiring his services in a trade, in this year’s offseason winter meetings.
In any case, the most important thing right now is for Ramirez to do well in yet another new position. Hopefully, he can perform well. However, does anyone else have that scene from Moneyball flashing through their minds of Brad Pitt trying to convince the player that the transition to first base is easy? Some of Red Sox Nation probably feel like the man playing Ron Washington, sitting beside Pitt in utter disgust, rolling his eyes, and saying how first base is actually very, very difficult to play. The Red Sox can’t afford another false hope, when concerning Ramirez.
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