Over a four-year stretch from 2006 to 2009, Hanley Ramirez was probably the second-best player in baseball. Albert Pujols was far and away the best, but Ramirez wasn’t too far behind. A Rookie of the Year, MVP runner-up and batting champion all before he turned 26, “HanRam” was a Hall of Famer in the making.
Then, in 2010, his OPS dropped 100 points and his defense deteriorated. He wasn’t an MVP-caliber player anymore — just merely a very good one. He still made the All-Star team, still batted .300 with 21 homers and 32 steals, but it was a down year by Hanley Ramirez standards.
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That, combined with Florida’s frequent losing, is what likely caused his now-notorious attitude problems to emerge that summer.
The following year marked his true fall from superstardom. He batted just .243, .333 and .379 before injuring his shoulder in early August and missing the rest of the season. He was never quite right that season, but the injuries masked the all-around deterioration in his game.
For Hanley Ramirez, and specifically for the Fish, 2012 was supposed to be a fresh start. They moved into a new ballpark, changed their name to the Miami Marlins, and purchased a trio of pricey free agents–Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell. The new-look Marlins were supposed to improve significantly on their 72-90 record from the year before. Ramirez moved to third base to accommodate Reyes–something Derek Jeter would not do for Alex Rodriguez–and clearly wasn’t happy about it.
It all backfired. The Marlins were worse. Ramirez’s glovework at the hot corner was subpar and he struggled offensively while learning his new position. When Miami traded him to the Los Angeles Dodgers a week before the deadline, he was hitting just .246, .322 and .428.
The change of scenery, as well as the move back to his natural position, seemed to revitalize the perplexed Ramirez. He promptly started hitting again, smashing 10 home runs with 36 RBI in his first 38 games wearing Dodger blue. It couldn’t compare with Manny Ramirez‘s first impression four years earlier, but it was enough to salvage what was shaping up to be another lost year for the three-time All-Star.
More importantly, that strong second half was a sign of things to come. This year has marked a return to form for Hanley Ramirez. Though a torn thumb ligament and hamstring injury limited him to just four games through the first two months of the season, he’s been so ridiculously productive when healthy that he’s produced 5.5 bWAR in half a season’s worth of games.
And while he won’t have enough plate appearances to lead the league in anything, his .350 batting average, .653 slugging percentage and 1.056 OPS would all rank first in the National League. Throw in his speed and improved defense, and Ramirez is fast reclaiming his title as one of the sport’s elite.
He is a superstar again, only now he’s surrounded by them — Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, and Yasiel Puig — on the star-studded Dodgers. With all that talent around him, Ramirez is just another face in the crowd, another big name that Don Mattingly gets to write in his lineup card every night. He’s 29 and in his ninth big league season. He doesn’t electrify fans the way he used to, or run like he used to, or get to balls deep in the hole that he used to get to. The novelty’s worn off.
But we should pay Hanley Ramirez more attention. He’s playing the best baseball of his career.