Red Sox: Hanley Ramirez is poised to bounce back in 2018

FORT MYERS, FL - MARCH 16: Hanley Ramirez
FORT MYERS, FL - MARCH 16: Hanley Ramirez /

Hanley Ramirez will be a presence in the middle of the lineup for the Red Sox in 2018.

2017 was a disappointment for Hanley Ramirez, but that doesn’t seem to faze him, or Alex Cora. The new Boston Red Sox manager has been impressed with Ramirez in the early stages of camp and wants him to be a presence in the middle of Boston’s lineup. The day after the Red Sox agreed to a deal with J.D. Martinez, Cora said Ramirez will hit third this year.

Cora’s statement may have been influenced by the fact that Martinez had not yet been signed. However, it shows that he expects Ramirez to bounce back. Even prior to the Martinez signing, most people projected Hanley to hit only 5th or 6th.

While Ramirez is no stranger to the middle of the order, expectations of him have been inconsistent since joining the Red Sox. He bounced back from a dismal 2015 with production that lived up to his $22 million salary. In 2016, he served as the clean-up hitter behind David Ortiz, and put up the following numbers:

2016: 620 PA | 30 HR |111 RBI | .286 BA | .866 OPS | 126 OPS+ | 2.7 WAR

Hanley’s performance was why the Red Sox didn’t feel the need to replace David Ortiz before 2017. The Red Sox passed up the opportunity to sign Edwin Encarnacion, who landed in Cleveland at a discount. Unfortunately, Ramirez was unable to be the presence in the middle of the order he was the year before. Despite having the second most HR’s on the Red Sox, Hanley performed below replacement level:

2017: 553 PA | 23 HR | 62 RBI | .242 BA | .750 OPS | 95 OPS+ | – 0.4 WAR

The Red Sox won’t be as dependent on Hanley Ramirez in 2018, but he remains a positive regression candidate for the following reasons:

1. His manager believes in him

Alex Cora’s most recent memory of Ramirez is of his clutch, 4-hit performance during the 2017 ALDS. It was a sign that Ramirez can still be an offensive leader. Cora surely recognizes this, or he wouldn’t have expressed his confidence that Hanley can hit third.

Cora also surely took notice of Hanley’s raw power during BP this spring:

2. He will be healthy again

In two of his last three years, Ramirez has dealt with right shoulder problems. This injury impacted his swing, and ability to hit to opposite field. Ramirez has always been a pull hitter, but he turned into an extreme pull hitter last year. This pull oriented swing was exploited by lefties, which severely hurt his production. With regained shoulder strength, Hanley should be able to hit lefties the way he used to.

2016 vs LHP: 143 PA | .346 BA | 11 HR | 1.097 OPS
2017 vs LHP: 123 PA | .179 BA | 6 HR | .679 OPS

Hanley Ramirez has also embraced the TB12 method, the fitness plan Tom Brady uses to seemingly never age. He lost weight during the off-season, which will help him stay healthy.

3. He will benefit from J.D. Martinez

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Adding Martinez will mean less playing time for  Ramirez, but he has been extremely supportive of the move. Ramirez was already likely to have less than 497 PA’s this season, which is the required minimum to execute his vesting option for 2019. Extra time on the bench shouldn’t prevent Ramirez from being productive.

At 34 years old, the toll of being an everyday player is amplified, and added rest will help Hanley stay fresh. Splitting time with Mitch Moreland will also allow Alex Cora to get creative with lineups. Martinez is going to take pressure off the entire Red Sox, especially Ramirez.

Next: J.D. Martinez taking BP as a Red Sox

There are a lot of reasons to be excited about the Red Sox in 2018, and Hanley Ramirez is one of them. As always, feel free to leave comments, and don’t forget to follow @BoSoxInjection on twitter.