Up the Middle: Hanley Ramirez
If you would have told me four months ago that I’d be writing for some of the same sites I read each day with my morning coffee, I would have said that you were insane. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to provide content here at The Dynasty Guru. I’ve always had an affinity for middle infielders, so when it was time to pitch a column of course my brain immediately went in that direction. Not only is it a position that we often see referred to as “shallow” or “premium”, but in dynasty formats we also have situations where prospects grow out of the position or fail to display the fielding skills needed to stick there. So to me it’s a position with a lot of dimensions that are worth exploring.
One of the things I’ve noticed about the championship teams in my leagues over the years is that they all seem to get solid production from their middle infield slots. They don’t seem to have that constant panic of scouring the wire for a slap hitting shortstop currently on a hot streak or a second basemen who might steal a base this month. So the purpose of this column will be to find the talent at middle infield that will help you win your league. Since this is geared towards dynasty leagues, we’ll look at players in both the majors and the minors. This week we’ll start with a player who’s probably on a lot of fantasy owners’ minds: Hanley Ramirez.
There seem to be two camps out there on Ramirez – those who believe and those who don’t. I’m in the believer camp. Coming into 2013, I had the opportunity to acquire Hanley at about half his original cost. In dynasty/keeper leagues, where you have to look at the big picture, I like to buy into talent more than recent stats. I couldn’t resist the chance to grab a former batting champion who was coming off a bad year and about to start the season with an injury that made my league mates turn sheepish. It was the perfect storm to get in while his stock was low. Has it been all gravy? Of course not. Heading into yesterday’s games, he’d had only 210 plate appearances. It’s what he’s done with those plate appearances, though, that has me excited for the future.
Those who don’t believe seemed to disappear temporarily while Hanley went on a tear that only Yasiel Puig could overshadow. In just 55 games this year, he’s slugged over .600 with 11 homers and 37 RBIs. He’s also chipped in 7 stolen bases which is impressive given the nature of his injuries earlier in the year. Flesh that out over the course of a full season and you have a player that can contribute in all categories and provide Top 20 overall production out of your shortstop position. Having a middle infielder with the capability to hit in the middle of the batting order is a rare and beautiful thing, especially when they’re on a team with some offensive weapons like the Dodgers. Given what you’d have to pay for a player like Robinson Cano or Troy Tulowitzki in comparison to Hanley, he could be a steal.
Obviously, Ramirez’s .395 BABIP is a little out of whack, but the fact that he was making contact with about 93% of pitches inside the zone and his line drive rate sat around 25% in those 55 games tells me that he was seeing the ball and mashing the ball like his old self again. Then there’s the power. His 11 homers put him in the top five for shortstops despite the fact that he’s played in about half the games. When looking for reasons for a turnaround like that, I can’t help but just take the simplest explanation – after having surgery on his right shoulder at the end of the 2011 season, maybe he was just finally feeling healthy again. That’s what makes this recent injury important. If the shoulder getting right was what brought out the old Hanley in those 55 games, then this latest injury to the same shoulder could depress his numbers (especially homers) for the remainder of this season. That would definitely be a bummer for this year, but dynasty players could find an opportunity to buy low once again. He’s still just 29 years old, after all.
With free agency around the corner in 2015, a healthy Ramirez could provide monster value in 2014 similar to what we saw a small glimpse of this year. If the shoulder does in fact cause him problems for the rest of 2013, dynasty/keeper league owners can play that up to try to acquire him cheaply. If you can pry him away from an owner who can’t see the forest of talent through the injury trees, you could be looking at elite production from your shortstop position this time next year, and that’s the kind of gamble that can win a championship.