Monday, January 31, 2011

Hanley Ramirez Motivated for 2011

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reports that Hanley Ramirez has a new attitude, and will come to Spring Training with the "hunger of a rookie."
“I’m going to be the first player to win Rookie of the Year twice,” Hanley Ramirez playfully told the Marlins and his agent this winter. That’s obviously impossible, but his message – as agent Andy Mota explained – is clear: Ramirez “has the hunger of a rookie” after a humbling 2010.
Ramirez, 27, started his offseason workouts a month early and is extremely driven to rebound from last year, when his average dropped 42 points from 2009 (.342 to .300) and his RBI total plunged from 106 to 76. His errors rose from 10 to 16 in nine fewer games (142)."
While I think it's great that Ramirez is coming into 2011 with a renewed motivation, his problem in 2010 wasn't motivation--well, at least not entirely.  His problems (and I use that term very loosely) stemmed from the fact he wasn't squaring up pitches in the same way he did in previous seasons, which is evidenced by his batted ball rates.  In 2010, Ramirez produced the lowest line drive rate (16.3% versus a career rate of 18.5%), and easily the highest ground ball percentage of his career (51.0% versus 43.7%).  Not surprisingly, a low line drive rate combined with a high ground ball rate isn't particularly conducive to high batting averages and home run totals. 

So what was the root cause of Ramirez's misfortune with regards to his batted ball rates?  It's tough to pinpoint exactly.  Some analysts have said his performance was the cause of small sample size variance and possibly poor luck.  While the 162 game baseball season is a fairly sizable sample, it's important to note that it's still small enough to be swayed by unexpected swings in performance.  One or two below average months could have a significant impact on a player's year end statistics. 

The scouting side of the house has made the claim that pitchers finally stopped throwing Ramirez so many of high pitches he typically jacks, and started throwing him more sinking fastballs.  This makes sense because good sinking fastballs, particular those thrown low and away, frequently lead to weakly hit ground balls that are converted to outs.  Provided Ramirez makes the adjustment and lays off of those sinking fastballs (as it appeared he did in September when he posted a 26.3% line drive rate and a 1:1 GB/FB ratio), he should have no problem turning his performance around in 2011.  If he doesn't make the adjustment, we should expect either another season on par with 2010, or a season of lesser quality as pitchers continue to exploit this weakness. 

One other important thing to note.  In 2010, Ramirez put up a .373 wOBA and 4.4 fWAR.  By most standards, he put up a monster season for a shortstop.  It seems we've gotten a bit spoiled by Ramirez after back-to-back 7 WAR seasons in 2008 and 2009.  It's important to keep in perspective that even though he had a "down" year, he was still one of the best shortstops in baseball.

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