Boston Red Sox designated hitter Hanley Ramirez has uncharacteristically struggled against left-handed pitching this season.
Anyone who has watched Hanley Ramirez at the plate this season knows he hasn’t met his usual standards. Settling into the designated hitter role for the Boston Red Sox was expected to place him in a comfort zone he would thrive in. Instead, he’s on pace to deliver one of the worst offensive seasons of his career.
We have seen the worst of Ramirez before and this isn’t it. A mere two years ago his ill-advised transition to left field and an unfortunate collision with a wall conspired to turn Boston’s prized free agent acquisition into one of the game’s least valuable players. A bounce back campaign in 2016 elicited hope that Ramirez’ career was back on track, yet here we are watching him trend in the wrong direction once again.
It’s not Ramirez performing this poorly that has taken us by surprise. It’s that his dismal production has been dragged down by his inability to hit left-handed pitching.
So far this season Ramirez is hitting a mere .143 with a .562 OPS against lefties. While that comes in a limited sample size, only four American League hitters with at least 25 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers have a lower batting average.
No one is more shocked by that than Ramirez himself. According to WEEI’s Ryan Hannable, a media session with Ramirez on Wednesday included a baffled reaction to being informed about his low batting average against lefties.
"“You’re kidding me,” Ramirez said. “It took you long enough to tell me that. I didn’t know that for real. So, OK, after this conversation, let’s see what is going to happen now. I’ll say it. Yeah. Bring it. OK? I didn’t know, I swear. Interesting. Thank you.”"
Even if Ramirez was legitimately oblivious to his lack of production against lefties, he didn’t appear to be overly concerned.
"“So it’s not me. I’ve got to get going because I crush lefties. It can’t happen.”"
He’s right, he normally does crush lefties. Ramirez owns a career .300/.381/.523 slash line against left-handed pitching. His sudden ineptitude against southpaws is almost as bizarre as his response during this media session.
How do we explain these results? It may be nothing more than a mirage created by a small sample size. His .154 BABIP against lefties is about half the league average rate. On the other hand, he has struck out in eight of his 35 at-bats against lefties for a 22.8 K% that is well above his typical percentage.
"“Eight, in 45 plate appearances? You think that’s bad? Come back to me with that in August,” said Ramirez."
We shall see if there is any improvement by August, although Ramirez has provided little reason to believe a drastic improvement is on the horizon. He’s been better against right-handed pitching, which isn’t to say that he’s been good.
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It’s hard not to wonder if the shoulder issues that have limited his opportunities to play first base aren’t also hindering his swing. Hanley has denied on multiple occasions that his shoulders are a problem for him at the plate, although his manager admitted it was a possibility. John Farrell explained how Ramirez starting his swing early when his shoulder isn’t reacting as it should could be problematic against lefties who pitch him outside, yet stopped short of blaming all of Ramirez’ woes on that theory.
The one thing that Farrell did make clear is that the Red Sox aren’t giving up on Ramirez. He was out of the lineup for the third straight game after getting hit in the knee by a pitch on Sunday, but is expected to return soon.
As disappointing as Ramirez has been this season, he’s capable of turning it around in a hurry. He put up modest numbers in the first half of last year before catching fire with 22 home runs after the break. A similar late season surge will put his run production in the same territory he was in a year ago. A bit more luck on balls in play will push his average up to a more respectable level.
There are reasons for optimism that Ramirez will improve, although he won’t truly be back to form until he starts mashing lefties again.