This year, so far, we’ve seen the great Hanley.
Don’t look now, Red Sox fans, but as the Sox prepare to face Shohei Ohtani and the Los Angeles Angels tonight in the opener of a nine-game road trip, the 34-year-old Ramirez suddenly looks like an older, Dominican version of Mike Trout. In 13 games, Ramirez is batting .333 with three home runs, 15 RBI, 10 runs scored, three steals (in three attempts) and a .955 OPS. He has had multiple game-winning hits and played flawless defense, and he has been the best player on the Red Sox.
The reason? Maybe it’s the contract year. Maybe he’s healthy. Maybe Hanley is happy to be playing for Alex Cora (and not John Farrell) or maybe it’s his adoption of the TB12 method. Whatever the case, Hanley looks quick, lean, fast and strong. Most important, he looks engaged.
Hanley’s Looking Great So Far
Two quick examples of how impossible he has been to pitch to at the moment.
First, let’s look at his first at-bat last week against Yankees right-hander Luis Severino, who has one of the best fastball-slider combinations in baseball. This makes Severino a brutal matchup for right-handed batters, mostly because he can fire fastballs on the inside part of the plate and dart sharp sliders on the outer part. Last year, righties hit just .198 against Severino with a slugging percentage of .297.
Now, this might not seem like much, but trust us – it is. Last year, perhaps because of a shoulder injury, Hanley pulled off the plate on too many of his swings, making himself vulnerable to sliders away. (This would be especially true against someone like Severino.) While that may have been a result of his shoulder problems, it also made him easier to get out.
But this year? Different story. Severino throws a nasty pitch here – a near perfect slider – and Hanley is still able to punch it through the middle for a run-scoring single. This is the definition of what hitters would call “plate coverage” – and can only leave someone like Severino to throw his hands up in futility.
OK, now let’s jump ahead to Saturday, Ramirez’ first start after being hit on the hand by a pitch on Thursday night. (He missed only one game.) Orioles right-hander Alex Cobb has first base open and is working off a 2-2 count – a perfect time to go off the outer edge and maybe get Hanley to chase a bad pitch. Instead, the Orioles try to surprise Hanley and go to the inner half, which proves to be a mistake.
In the end, here’s the takeaway: Hanley is locked in. Pitch him away with a good breaking ball and he’ll still produce a run. Pitch him in and miss, and … well … the results speak for themselves. Obviously, few (or no) hitter stays hot for an entire season. But when the Red Sox signed J.D. Martinez late during the offseason, they didn’t merely add one true middle-of-the-order bat to their lineup from a year ago.
With Hanley looking the way he has looked so far, they’ve actually added two.
— By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub
You can hear Mazz weekdays from 2-6 p.m. EST on the Felger & Massarotti program, and from 6-7 p.m. on The Baseball Reporters. And you can get a closer look every Tuesday and Friday with the Behind The Seams blog. Follow him on Twitter @TonyMassarotti.