Long time Fake Teams readers know that I was down on Dodgers third baseman/shortstop Hanley Ramirez heading into the 2012 season, as his power was in the middle of a 3 year down trend, and he was coming off a 2011 season marred by a shoulder injury. But, Hanley improved in the power categories, as his ISO improved to the .180 level last season, while his 24 home runs was his most since 2009.
For the season, Hanley hit .257-.322-.437 with 24 HRs, 79 runs, 92 RBI and 21 stolen bases, and was one of only 10 hitters to put up a 20-20 season. He joined hitters like Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Ryan Braun, Chase Headley and a few others in the club, and he should do the same in 2013. And it appeared that he liked the move to Los Angeles from Miami, as he hit .271-.324-.450 with 10 HRs and 44 RBI in just 64 games with the Dodgers.
It is no secret that Hanley is not the same hitter he was back in 2009-2010 where he hit .342 and .300 respectively. I don't see him hitting .342 again, but what are the chances he hits .300 again? There is a higher than zero chance for him to improve the batting average, with a few changes in approach and the presence of hitting coach Mark McGwire. McGwire has been credited with the success of Cardinals first baseman Allen Craig, third baseman David Freese and catcher Yadier Molina.
Two seasons ago, Molina was a catcher who could hit for a good average, but little power. Prior to the 2011 season, Molina's ISO ranged from .088 to .106 in his previous six seasons. Then in 2011, he hit 14 home runs and 32 doubles, after a 2010 season where he had just 25 extra base hits. In 2012, his ISO improved to .186 from .160, so the improvements he made at the plate were real. Over the past two seasons, Molina has hit .305 and .315 respectively, in addition to seeing his power output double over the same time period.
Can McGwire make the appropriate changes in Ramirez's approach that allows him to return to being the great hitter he was three seasons ago? I imagine Ramirez and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez are at the top of McGwire's list of hitters he wants to focus on in spring training.
The first thing Ramirez needs to improve upon is his O-Swing%, or percentage of times he swings at pitches outside the zone. Last season, his O-Swing% rose from 23.9% to 30.5%, the highest of his career. Ramirez is also seeing more first pitch strikes over the last two seasons, which tells me he is either not swinging at the first pitch as much as he used to, or pitchers are not afraid to throw him a first pitch strike.
The combination of him reducing his O-Swing% and not getting behind in the count should result in a lower strikeout rate, and possibly a higher batting average at the plate in 2013.
Another stat to consider is that it was easier to hit a home run in Dodger Stadium than at Marlins Park last season. By a wide margin. Dodger Stadium increased home run production by 12.5% last season, while Marlins Park depressed home runs by a whopping 28%. According to STAT Corner, hitters hit .252 at Dodger Stadium last season, while hitters hit just .244 at Marlins Park, so Ramirez could see his batting average improve as a result.
Finally, Ramirez has a real shot at improving his HR and RBI totals in 2013, as he is hitting in a more home run-friendly stadium, and in a better lineup. All he needs is Gonzalez returning to the hitter he was in 2010, the hitter that gets on base at a .400 clip, along with Kemp being the hitter he was before the shoulder injury last season, and Hanley will have plenty of RBI opportunities batting fifth in the Dodgers lineup.
Can Hanley Ramirez return to the hitter he was in 2009-2010? Or will he continue his free swinging ways, putting up 20-20 seasons with a .250ish batting average?