Is Hanley Ramirez the next 40/40 player?
In his third full year in the majors, Hanley Ramirez hit .301/.400/.540 with 33 homers and 35 steals. And yet, there’s reason to believe that next year, Ramirez could be even better.
First of all, Hanley ran less this year than before – he attempted only 47 steals, as compared to 66 and 65 attempts in the previous two years. Is this a case of Hanley understanding that the season is long and pacing himself, or is this flukey? If Ramirez’s stolen base attempts fall somewhere in between his first two years and last year, he should end up with at least 40 steals.
Secondly, Hanley struggled against lefties last year, posting a .790 OPS. However, he improved drastically against righties, posting a .983 OPS. This is quite a change from the previous two seasons, when he posted an OPS nearly 200 points higher against left-handed pitching.
Chances are, Hanley’s improvement against righties is relatively real, but his numbers against lefties are a sample size fluke. If he hits lefties better in 2009 – which he should – his overall numbers should improve.
Additionally, Hanley improved his power a lot last season, but some of this was obscured by the fact that the number of fly balls he hit was down. In fact, 19.1% of his fly balls became homers, as compared to 12.7% in 2007 and 9.7% in 2006. However, he hit fly balls on only 36.7% of his balls in play, as compared to 41.9% in 2007.
Also, Hanley struck out more often in 2008 (perhaps as a result of trying to hit for more power), striking out in over 20% of his at bats, as compared to less than 15% in 2007.
In order for Hanley to hit more homers in 2009 than he did in 2008, he has to either strike out less or hit more fly balls. Chances are the increase in the amount of fly balls becoming homers is for real – it’s certainly not unusual for a toolsy young player to increase his power output around age 24. It’s quite reasonable to assume that at least one of the previous conditions will occur, and perhaps both, thus making 40 homers well within Ramirez’s reach.
Certainly, a lot of things have to go right for Hanley Ramirez to hit 40 homers and steal 40 bases. But it’s a very possible for him to reach both milestones, along with hitting (at least) .300 and playing shortstop. Hanley Ramirez should be a first-round pick in most drafts, and may even deserve to be the #2 pick in your draft (and there may even be an argument for taking him first overall), as he carries very little risk and a tremendous amount of upside.