By any measure, Hanley Ramirez had a pretty miserable 2017.
He hit a career-low .242. His on-base percentage and OPS+ (a measure of on base plus slugging percentage adjusted so that league average is 100) were both the second lowest of his career, behind only his injury-plagued first year in Boston in 2015. Of the 144 players who qualified for the batting title last year, Ramirez produced the ninth-lowest WAR and was one of the 20 worst base runners and defenders, according to Fangraphs metrics.
And yet somehow it was worse than that. As bad as Ramirez was in normal situations, he seemed to be worst when it mattered most. It felt like every time Hanley came to the plate in high-leverage situations, he would make an unproductive out. Here are a few numbers. It was ugly.
- Runners in scoring position: .209 avg./.317 obp/.317 slg
- 2 outs, RISP: .152/.273/.212
- High-leverage situations: .227/.318/.371
Last year, runners on base scored only 11% of the time when he was at the plate, a career-low. Same with the 31% of runners on third with less than two outs who scored.
Ramirez had 16 plate appearances in which he came to bat with a leverage index (LI) greater than three. In layman’s terms, leverage index helps us to identify points in a game in which the potential to swing a team’s win probability the most. 1.0 is average, so situations with a LI of 3.0 or higher mean that plate appearance has the potential to swing a game’s win probability at least three times as much as an average plate appearance.
In those 16 plate appearances, Ramirez was 1-for-14 with three RBIs and two walks.
You get the idea. Over and over last year, Ramirez came to the plate in key situations and failed to produce.
This year, while it’s still early, Ramirez has been a key part of the Red Sox’s historic start and his production in high-leverage environments is a complete 180 from last year.
Through Thursday, Hanley has knocked in 26% of runners on base, which would be the highest rate in his career. Nine times he has come to the plate with either a runner on third and less than two outs or a runner on second with no outs. All nine times the runner has either scored or advanced a base.
Last season, Ramirez ranked 131st out of 144 players in win probability added (WPA), an indicator of how a player has affected his team’s chances of winning. Through Thursday, Ramirez is now tied for the American League lead in that category.
So far this year, Ramirez has had four at bats with a leverage index of three or higher. He has raked, to the tune of 4-for-4 with five runs batted in. Take a look at those four at bats, because they are a key reason the Red Sox sit at 16-2, the best start in franchise history:
-Ramirez came to the plate with two on and no outs in the bottom of the ninth in the home opener against Tampa Bay with the Sox down 2-0. He hit an RBI single off Alex Colome to increase the Red Sox win probability by 19%. Boston would tie the game later in the inning.
-Three innings later he delivered the Opening Day coup de grace with a bases loaded walk-off single.
-On April 3rd, Ramirez knocked in a two-out two-run double in a tie game in the 13th inning against Miami. That hit swung Boston’s win probability by 45%. They won 4-2.
-On April 8th, also against the Rays, Ramirez hit a two-out bases loaded single to score a fifth inning run and keep Boston in the game, trailing 4-2. The Sox would later score six eighth inning runs to cap off a wild opening weekend at Fenway Park with an 8-7 win.
Leverage index is not predictive, it merely shows us how a player has performed in the most crucial situations, so there’s no guarantee Ramirez will keep producing at this level. In fact, there’s probably no chance he’ll continue at his current clip. But Ramirez’s resurgence at the plate, and in big spots, is a huge reason the Red Sox have come out of the gate so fast. The guy’s got leverage.
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