Hanley Killing Soft Stuff, Chasing the Flying Dutchman
According to the man himself, 2013 has been the best year of Hanley Ramirez's career. And, while the Dodgers shortstop has played in just 81 games due to thumb, hamstring and back ailments, it's easy to see why. The Marlins refugee is going to the playoffs for the first time ever, as L.A. clinched the National League West last night behind Ramirez's 19th and 20th home runs of the season. His park-and-league adjusted on-base-plus slugging percentage is a career-best 94 percent above average (194 OPS+). That's tops among batters taking at least 300 trips to the plate this year and is the second-best OPS+ ever for a shortstop with at least 300 plate appearances in a season. Who's first? Some dude named Honus.
Highest single-season OPS+ for shortstops, min. 300 PA
How is Hanley, who rarely made an impact at the plate the previous two seasons (101 OPS+ in 2011-12), hitting like The Flying Dutchman? By taking to the air, of course. Ramirez is lofting far more "soft" pitches (curveballs, sliders and changeups) and depositing them deep into the left field at Chavez Ravine.
Last year, Ramirez hit a ground ball about half of the time that he put a curve, slider or changeup into play, above the 46% major league average. All of those weak choppers led to a .363 slugging percentage versus breaking and off-speed stuff, slightly below the .372 MLB average.
Ramirez's slugging percentage vs. soft pitches, 2012
This year, though? Ramirez is hitting grounders just 34% of the time against soft pitches. He's making those extra fly balls and line drives count, too.
Ramirez's slugging percentage vs. soft pitches, 2013
Ramirez is slugging .711 against soft stuff, trailing only home run king Chris Davis (.725) among big league hitters seeing at least 450 breaking and off-speed pitches in 2013. Compared to Hanley, even Rookie of the Year contender and break-dance enthusiast Yasiel Puig (.576) looks pedestrian. Enjoy the pool party, Hanley. When you're clubbing pitches like Honus Wagner, you've earned a few post-game cannonballs.