Breaking down the Red Sox lineup: Manny Ramirez

Cleanup hitter: Manny Ramirez
[B-R] [FanGraphs] [Josh Kalk] [ESPN] [HitTracker]

Well, if that picture don’t say it all. Manny has already given us a lot of promises this year: he’s not only going to hit 500 HR, but he wants to get to 600 HR. He wants to be the next Julio Franco, playing into his mid-40s. He said that he’s just going to get his two $20M option years picked up by the Red Sox. He wants to win a Gold Glove and prove that he’s the best left fielder ever to play for Boston. Big words, and given his torrid .344/.417/.594 April, it looked like he was ready to back them up. But Ramirez’ bat has cooled off significantly, and he is hitting just .195/.303/.312 with just 2 HR thus far in May. He now stands at .280/.364/.489. Despite the big swing in the stats, there are a couple of disturbing trends in his peripherals that bear watching.

How he’s pitched to
Manny is such a good natural hitter that pitchers have always had to mix it up and change speed and location on him. Their respect can be seen in the fact that he’s thrown very few fastballs (48.9% this year, 44.3% last year). He also sees a lot of sliders from righties (22.2%) and changeups from lefties (25.4%), but there is a higher than average population of curves, cutters and splitters in there too. His evenly spaced fastball scatterplots show that there is no hole in his swing that pitchers try and exploit. Another interesting feature is that he gets a lot of ball calls, even when the pitches are clearly in the strike zone; umpires often give him the benefit of the doubt. Most of his XBHs have come on plate-in pitches this season.

Hitting approach
Manny has always been a patient hitter, and he’s seeing as many pitches per PA as ever, at 4.13 this year (4.03 lifetime). Most stats seem stable, such as GB/FB ratio (steady at around 1.00), BABIP (.341 this year versus .342 lifetime) and LD% (17.9% versus 22.1% lifetime). However, there are reasons for concern. Perhaps the most disturbing trend is the increase in strikeouts and the decrease in walk rate. Ramirez is striking out 26.4% of the time, his highest rate by a good margin since 2001, when he came to the Sox as a free-swinging signee. He is also walking less, to the tune of just 10.3%, compared to 13.7% lifetime. Others have also pointed out his steady decline in ISO and XBH since about 2004.

What’s been causing these changes? Ramirez has been chasing slightly more pitches outside of the strike zone (22.5% this season), and he has also been missing slightly more pitches in the strike zone (82.8% contact rate on strikes, down from 86.5% lifetime). His overall contact rate has suffered as a result (77.3% versus 79.8% overall). Could he be pressing in this contract year? Is the lure of 500 HR on his mind a lot more these days (he’s just 2 short of this milestone)? Or is this the dreaded decline of an over-the-hill slugger?

Everyone remembers at least a few times when Ramirez has stood at the plate to admire a long fly ball, only to have it bounce off the wall, and he ends up with only a single. That’s really frustrating. He also tends to ground into a lot of double plays, partly because he comes up often with runners on, but also partly because he doesn’t run hard all the time on easy grounders. But as ugly as these gaffes can be, the number of bases and runs they cost our offense is relatively minimal compared to his production. Playing for a contract might encourage him to run a little harder this season.

Make no mistake, Ramirez is still in the upper echelon of big league hitters. In April, Manny clearly showed that he is capable of still being Manny when he is locked in. But age as well as pressure about his legacy may be affecting his play somewhat. The good news about that is, I think that Manny will not be taking September off this season, if he stays healthy. He’s in great shape, and his teammates have already attested to how hard Ramirez is working, putting in a lot of cage time, being the first to the ballpark, etc. To be fair, he’s always been a pretty hard workerThat should translate into some pretty good production for Boston. Ramirez has a good shot at topping 30 HR this season, but it may be one of the last times for him to do so, unfortunately.

Other articles in this series:
David Ortiz
Dustin Pedroia
Jacoby Ellsbury


2 Responses to Breaking down the Red Sox lineup: Manny Ramirez

  1. Pat says:

    I think we will have to wait for Manny to pass the 500 mark before we can better see what Manny has to offer. I have a lot of ideas about his batting, but it all might be skewed by the pressure of getting those two home runs.

    I hope he gets by 500 soon and busts out of his slump.

  2. Pingback: Breaking down the Red Sox lineup: J.D. Drew « Red Sox Talk

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