Hanley's Impending Rebound

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Today at the Herald, Clark Spencer makes a good point, followed by a nonsensical point. First:
Ozzie Guillen has said repeatedly not to expect defensive wizardry from the former shortstop but never fails to add that Ramirez should at least be adequate. ... I think the bigger question mark is his bat.
No arguments here. Ramirez was not exactly Gold Glove-caliber at shortstop (his career UZR per 150 games is -10.2 - meaning his defense is well below average). Moving to third base will require him to cover less ground, and he should see fewer balls hit his way, and thus have fewer chances to screw up.

Then Spencer follows up with a laughable assertion that will likely be repeated if and when Ramirez' offensive production rebounds in 2012:
It's possible the attention he must now devote to learning his new position will remove some of the pressure off him at the plate.
Let's just get this out of the way: If Ramirez hits .300 coming off last year's abominable .243 performance, it will have almost nothing to do with a move to third base. We hate to keep bringing this up, but Ramirez struggled in 2011 mostly due to bad luck. His strikeout rate (17.1%) was a point above his career average, and his walk rate (11.4%) was almost 2 points higher than normal, so the problem was not plate discipline (indeed he swung at the same percentage of pitches inside and outside the strike zone as he has during his career).

The biggest statistical anomaly from Hanley's 2011 season (besides the batting average) is his batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Hanley's career average BABIP is .339; in 2011 his BABIP dipped to .275 from .327 the year before. Since hitters have little control over the location of their batted balls (apart from pulling vs. opposite field), this stat is largely a measure of luck, and one that can deviate significantly from year to year.

Bill James projects Ramirez' BABIP to bounce this season, up .331 (via Fangraphs). Coinciding with that is a jump in batting average to .298. So if Ramirez' hitting numbers rebound this season, ignore all arguments centered around his move to third base "taking pressure off" him. If Hanley succeeds in 2012, it will be because his luck has evened out, as it tends to do.


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