It’s no secret that Hanley Ramirez has been much better this year. The transition from LF to 1B has suited him quite nicely! The former SS seems much more comfortable on the infield than he ever was in the outfield. He plays like he was born and made to stay on the infield, as his many years of experience have added up to stellar hands and soft touch when working with groundball outs and sharp line drives. Essentially, he has transitioned from originally being a SS to now being a 1B. Interestingly enough, he is statistically better at 1B than he has been at any other position, but I’ll touch more on that later.
The transition from SS to 1B has been done before. Ironically one of the more recent times was when famed Red Sox SS Nomar Garciaparra played for the Dodgers. In 2006, Nomar played 118 games at 1B for the Dodgers, so it’s not something that’s unheard of. One other parallel Nomar and Hanley share is that they both had some problems throwing to first base as a SS, because their natural arm slots would generate undesired movement that made the ball move like a 2 seam fastball.
Hanley has been an above average 1B, both in the field and with his bat. His .994 fielding percentage this year is a career high. He has done an outstanding job filling in the 1B hole vacated by the beloved Mike Napoli. Playing 1B has also kept him relatively injury free. This isn’t to say he hasn’t missed time with injuries, but considering that all of last year he only played in 105 games and he’s already played in 101 this year, it’s a step in the right direction.
Hanley has also not seen a dip in his production at the plate. He has 14 homers to this point, where he had 19 total last year. Those numbers show that he had more homers per game last year, but I’d rather have Hanley produce more at bats, and then have more overall homers. His presence has meant a lot to the team, and has been a contributing factor in David Ortiz being protected at the plate. The protection Hanley offers has been an enormous factor in Ortiz being able to have his record-setting season for a 40 year old.
Now, with all of that being said, there are a lot of other options going into next year at DH. Hanley is a good one, but there is also the injured Panda in the room, Pablo Sandoval. He has been replaced this year at 3B by Travis Shaw and Aaron Hill, and likely could be replaced by Yoan Moncada next year, should his production keep trending upward. Both Shaw and Hill have produced better than Sandoval did last year, so I can’t imagine Sandoval replacing them, barring an unforeseen spring training in which Sandoval outperforms them both. Sandoval could take over at DH, which would allow him the ability to spend half of the game not in the field. This would be a great way to avoid injury. Sandoval has been pretty vehement in his rejection of playing DH, but if he doesn’t keep his weight under control and start performing defensively, it would be unwise to play him in the field.
Option 2 is better, both statistically and in my opinion. Option 2 is that you have Shaw play 1B and Hill/Moncada on 3B, with Hanley as the DH. That obviously leaves Sandoval out of the picture, but he could either find another role (backup DH/3B and PH) or he’d have to move on. What it does for the team is this: It keeps Shaw in the lineup, allows Moncada time to develop, and keeps Hill in the lineup when necessary as well. The 2 time Silver Slugger would be the perfect mentor for an up and coming Moncada, both at learning how to play 3B and how to be a successful hitter in the majors.
It should be said as well that Hanley has hit remarkably well when playing DH in his career, and this year is no different. His slash line of .351/.400/.649 (which adds up to an OPS of 1.049) comes in 9 games of work, and includes 2 homers, 1 double, 12 RBI and 9 runs. Those are staggering numbers!
Much like it would for Sandoval, being a DH would help keep Hanley off the field and would extend his effectiveness. Next year he would be entering his age 33 season. That’s usually the time when most fielders start to notice a dip in efficiency.
If Farrell is smart, he’ll see how important it would be to have Hanley, Shaw and Hill/Moncada in the daily lineup, and he’ll stick with either Shaw or Hanley playing 1B (with the other being the DH). At that point, Sandoval is going to have to find another place with the team or move on. I hate to lose a guy who has won 3 World Series titles like that, but if he isn’t producing it’s hard to justify keeping him. With Shaw being younger, he should take over at 1B and allow Hanley to DH. The numbers don’t lie!