Hanley Ramirez, lucky 13 (USAT)
Just 12 months ago, Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes were the toast of South Beach, ready to run and rock Miami's new baseball stadium. Okay, that plan didn't exactly come together. Ramirez received his Miami reprieve in the second half of the year, while Reyes was part of the post-season garage sale the Marlins shamelessly held.
Let's look forward with optimism, not back in anger. Which big-name infielder makes the most sense for your fake team in 2013? Dalton Del Don and Scott Pianowski have a difference of opinion. Time to play the feud.
D3, reporting from Hanleywood: After ranking 32nd, 3rd, 8th, 5th and 23rd among all fantasy players over his first five years in the league, Hanley Ramirez has come in at No. 300 and No. 67 over the past two seasons, respectively. The low ranking in 2011 can be blamed on him playing in just 92 games, but he didn't exactly return to star status last season, as his K rate (19.8) was the highest of his career, while his walk rate (8.1) was his lowest since 2007.
[Baseball 2013 from Yahoo! Fantasy Sports: Join a league today!]
The most curious aspect of Ramirez is him transforming into such an extreme groundball hitter. In fact, over the past three seasons, his 1.48 GB/FB rate is the 25th highest in all of baseball. While that's obviously not what you want to see from a young and previously powerful shortstop, what's even weirder is that his BABIP over that span is .301. That seems normal enough on the surface, until you realize it was .351 from 2006-2009 – tied for the fifth highest in MLB. Put differently, Ramirez has suffered a drop in homers thanks to hitting more groundballs, yet his hit rate has also declined precipitously at the same time, as we'd normally expect the opposite to occur (groundballs typically go for hits far more than fly balls). So based on this batted ball data, it's safe to expect either his batting average or his home runs to rise moving forward.
It's also pretty easy to build a case against Jose Reyes, who before appearing in 160 games last season, missed on average 63.7 games over the previous three campaigns. Moreover, Reyes managed a modest 86 runs scored, 11 homers and 57 RBI while accruing 716 plate appearances in the rare season in which he stayed healthy last year. Reyes is a better bet for BA and stolen bases at this stage of the shortstops' careers, and maybe the change in environment in Toronto leads to better counting stats, but Ramirez is actually slightly younger and has the better career line (.291/.342/.433 vs. .298/.371/.495) and will be hitting in what looks like a loaded Dodgers lineup.
Reyes is switching leagues and is the bigger injury risk, and while Ramirez shouldn't be expected to return to his former top-five type elite status, with power down across the league, his HR advantage is key, especially coming from the shortstop position.
New kid in town (USAT)Pianow, reporting from the YYZ: The true Ramirez batting average is a stumper. Razzball's expected batting average calculator says Hanley should have batted .291 last year. Baseball HQ (subscription required) slaps a .262 expected average on Ramirez (and a .255 clip for 2011). You can take either side on that or draw your own conclusion, that's your business (I respect and recommend both sites, that's why I'm dropping their names here). Either way, Ramirez has hit for a crummy average in two consecutive years, and his walk and strikeout rates both moved in the wrong direction last year. I'm having a difficult time whistling an optimistic tune.
Hanley's also running a lot less than he did in his dominant days (just 21 bags last year, a far cry from the 51 counts he posted in 2006 and 2007) and he hasn't topped 24 homers since 2008. What's the big deal with him again? And can you honestly say you're not worried about some of the peripheral stuff with Ramirez? Are we sure on his age? Can we be confident we'll see consistent effort? Does his notable dip in production make you start wondering about a certain three-letter acronym? I'm not slapping a scarlet letter on anyone, but we're foolish if we don't at least consider the possibility of a scientific boost back in the day.
Reyes has easily outearned Ramirez in each of the past two seasons, and now he's going to a loaded Toronto lineup in the hitter's league. While the Dodgers live in a pitcher's park and work without the DH, the Jays enjoy a scoring-friendly stadium and get to use an extra slugger every day. Reyes isn't going to beat Ramirez in the two power categories, but I'm expecting a major edge in stolen bases and batting average, and more runs scored as well. And don't hassle me over injury concerns: Reyes has averaged 139 games over the last three years, while Ramirez checks in at 130. That's a wash, at best, for Hanley.
If you want to go dreaming of the past with Ramirez, that's your business. The recent returns favor Reyes, and he's moving to a better environment for 2013. Do the right thing, gamers; the consensus side in this case is the winning side. Reyes is your man.