The Boston Red Sox are saying all of the right things about Hanley Ramirez learning to play first base. Hanley, however, may not be on the same page, again.
Scott Lauber of The Boston Herald had a report about how the Red Sox and Hanley Ramirez spoke to the media, recently. Lauber stated, “Ramirez was an unmitigated trainwreck in left field last season, statistically the worst defensive player in the American League, according to the metrics at FanGraphs.com. As much as he struggled with the physical aspects of his new position, his critics called into question his willingness to work to get better.”
Lauber continued by reporting that the Red Sox organization, including manager John Farrell and infield teammate Dustin Pedroia, have been in close contact with Ramirez throughout the winter. Judging by all of the attention that he’s getting from not only the media but his own team, one would think Hanley has figured out just how important it is for him to improve from last season in left field.
However, Hanley may have other ideas.
Lauber wrote, “Once David Ortiz retires after this season, it makes sense that the Sox would make Ramirez a designated hitter, a role he already seems to be relishing. Consider his answer to the question of whether he’d be interested in DHing: ‘Hell, yeah,’ he said.” Hanley continued by saying, “I told them last year, just throw the ball in this area […] I just want them to feel comfortable. That’s the key. When you’ve got a good first baseman, that’s very important.”
Before the eye-rolling begins by some Red Sox fans, let’s be careful about how words can be misunderstood or twisted to fit an agenda. Ramirez didn’t say, in Lauber’s article, that he is just waiting out 2016 so that he can replace Ortiz as the designated hitter in 2017; Hanley, apparently, is just really excited about the possibility. Ramirez never said in the report that playing first base is easy; he just said that if anyone throws the ball near him that he will catch it, and that’s all that they should worry about, instead of him.
Now, let the eye-rolling begin!
First of all, of course the man is going to say he would love playing as the DH. Ramirez gets hurt on a regular basis, as if grass makes him allergic and break out into bruises and muscle strains. His .296 career batting average looks more like .400 when he’s healthy.
In April of last year, Hanley hit 10 home runs and 22 RBIs, with an effortless swing that made former Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington look like a genius. A few injuries and a sudden stop by a foul wall in left field later, Ramirez hit only nine more homers and finished with 53 RBIs and a .249 batting average, just one of the many factors that led to Cherington’s exit near the end of the season.
With that in mind, if you were Ramirez, wouldn’t you want to avoid defense at all cost? The only problem is Ortiz is still with the team, which means Ramirez still has to think about one more season on defense. One more season for Red Sox Nation to possibly be disappointed by a man already thinking about next year. It may be only one more year for Ramirez in a long career, but it’s also possibly 160 nightmare-riddled games for Boston’s faithful fans. Is his mind where it should be?
That question leads to the next point: this is the same man who said left field wouldn’t be that big of a deal to figure out. The MLB’s average fielding percentage by left fielders was .984. Not the leading percentage; just the average. Ramirez posted well below at a .969 fielding percentage, last season. This is the same guy who only took about 20 fly balls in practice a day to prepare for his new defensive duty in spring training for the 2015 campaign.
After all of that, Ramirez is saying that all of his teammates should just worry about throwing it in the ‘area’ that he happens to be standing in, and not that he will miss it or something possibly worse?
His statement is coming more from his experience as a three-time All-Star shortstop, so it is understood that he means, at least partially, that the others can’t worry about him catching it or they will make errors, themselves. That part makes complete sense.
It’s also worth noting that, with all of his achievements, Hanley has not won a Gold Glove; all of his awards are strictly for batting at the plate.
History shows that he was never necessarily a terrible infielder. Hanley showed some great glove work over the years at shortstop and at third base. However, he only either tied or surpassed the MLB fielding percentage average at any position three times in 11 seasons, these statistics coming from 2009-2012.
For him not being an elite defensive player at one of the most important positions in the game for seven seasons, before being plunked in the outfield, to then say that nobody needs to worry about him learning his fourth defensive position in just under two years is ludicrous. It’s good that Hanley wants his teammates to have faith in him, and his words were of a reassuring tone, but his past experiences with keeping his head on defense as well as offense has not given the rest of the baseball world that comforting feeling.
If anything, combining his words with the fact that he’s eyeing the DH role in 2017 might start making Red Sox fans, and maybe even the entire Boston organization, feel terrified at what will happen in April if Ramirez doesn’t get his footwork right on the other side of the diamond.