The worst defensive outfielder I’ve ever seen before this season was Wily Mo Pena of the 2006-07 Red Sox. He played every fly ball – OK, that’s hyperbole; it was every other fly ball – with an uncertain nervousness, like he’d been tipped off that the baseball would explode on impact with leather. Even on occasions when he’d catch one, the recording of the out was agonizingly suspensful with what looked like a rain dance and a lunge inevitably preceding the miracle of the baseball finding his mitt.
Now, I supposed you caught the qualifier there – before this year. Good job — that’s more than Wily Mo ever caught. I have no idea how someone who played 1,077 games at shortstop in the major leagues could prove to be the most brutal defensive outfielder I’ve witnessed during my 30-something years following this sport, but it’s happened.
Hanley Ramirez, Red Sox left fielder, is the worst defensive outfielder I have ever seen. Monday night’s terrible blunder, in which Ramirez misplayed a line drive off the bat of Cleveland’s Lonnie Chisenhall while also seeming to attempt to dodge a tornado at the same time, was not the only confirmation of his ineptitude, just the latest. Wily Mo, you’re off the hook.
Here’s a different and yet related question: Who is the worst defensive first baseman in Red Sox history? Hmmm. Well, I’m an old-timer for sure, but not so ancient that I’d remember Dick “Dr. Strangeglove’’ Stuart, whom fans of my dad’s generation claim didn’t wield a glove, but instead welded one. My choice would be a more modern selection — that patron saint of the Red Sox message board, good ol’ Sam Horn. In the vault of ancient Red Sox images in my mind, I can see him staring at his glove quizzically after another baseball – thrown carefully by a teammate, or maybe chopped on three hops in big Sam’s direction by an opposing hitter — somehow eluded the webbing once again.
What’s odd is that baseball-reference.com – which never lies, unlike even our most certain memories from time to time – tells me that he played just four innings over two games at first base for the Red Sox in the 1989 season. Either it was a particularly gruesome, memory-scarring four innings, or the recollections came from Horn’s ultimately hopeless spring training attempts to gain rudimentary defensive skills. I’ll suppose it’s the latter since no errors were recorded in those four innings. Like I said, BR doesn’t lie.
The Red Sox have found out that Ramirez is a butcher in the outfield, worse, somehow, than Wily Mo and everyone else of his defensively challenged ilk.
Now it’s time to find out whether Ramirez is just as awful as Stuart and Horn at first base.
I suppose he probably would be. He might have a knack for scooping balls – did we mention he played shortstop in the major leagues for eight-plus seasons? But he’s considerably more muscle-bound than he was even a couple of seasons ago, and his limited mobility coupled with a general disinterest for defense no matter where he’s situated could lead to multiple disasters per game.
His poor glove in left field has hurt the cause time and again – according to Baseball Info Solutions’ data, he has cost the Red Sox 17 runs this season. His detrimental impact at first base could be considerably more damaging just based on the logic that he’ll be involved in several more plays per game, affecting the entire infield defense. No one ever said left field was incredibly hard. It has been said about first base, at least in the movies.
But on the off-chance that some of his dormant shortstop skills can be jostled into reasonable functionality again, the Red Sox need to find out if Ramirez can play first base, on the very slim chance that it might actually take.
I disagreed with this notion when it began floating around the internet earlier this season. I’m fully on board now.
What changed? Nothing, actually. Nothing changed, which is why I’m now down with the idea. The hope earlier in the season was that the Red Sox would get their act together and Hanley would eventually grow more comfortable in the shadow of the Green Monster.
Both hopes are long lost now. And so here they are 52-66, with nothing of consequence left to lose.
What they should be doing, and what they have just begun to do, is try to solve the issues with their misshapen roster to make sure none of this nonsense recurs again in 2016.
Find out if Jackie Bradley Jr. and Rusney Castillo can be helpful regulars next year. I’m voting yes and yes there, and if this final quarter of the season continues to confirm as much, well, a Castillo/Mookie Betts/Bradley outfield is both intriguing and encouraging, especially defensively.
Of course, that would require shifting Hanley to a different position. He’s not going to move to third base. Pablo Sandoval needs to get in reasonable shape in the offseason and remain there – his bat does not justify a move to first base.
Hanley is not going to become the designated hitter. David Ortiz is slashing .352/.418/.705 with 10 homers in 122 plate appearances during the second half, and his contract has vested for next year. If only the Red Sox could use two DHs.
First base makes the most sense for Ramirez. There is no obvious in-house solution there. Travis Shaw has had a nice run in the big leagues (five homers, .986 OPS in 63 plate appearances), but I’m going to trust the larger sample from Triple A (.715 OPS in 668 PAs over 2014-15) that indicates he’s headed for a replacement-level career.
Maybe there will be a trade, or maybe they’ll pursue someone like Chris Davis in free agency – but that still doesn’t solve the Where Do We Play Hanley? issue.
There are 44 games remaining, and those 44 games don’t mean a damn thing regarding 2015. That’s a decent sample size to find out whether Ramirez can play the position. If he can, hey, there’s a problem solved. If he can’t, well, it’s confirmation that the Red Sox will need to address filling the position in the offseason.
The Red Sox have said they aren’t considering switching Ramirez to first base during the season. That’s foolish, to the point that I’m not sure I believe it. They know the truth. This season, for all intents and purposes, is over. This is about next year.
Don’t wait until spring training to find out whether Hanley Ramirez might possibly be Sam Horn’s superior defensively. The time is now, when all meaningful matters have been settled and nothing about the lost season matters beyond making sure it doesn’t happen again.
Evolution of the Green Monster