Fantasy baseball Burning Questions: Is Ramirez worth the injury risk?
It's easy to see the appeal of Hanley Ramirez. First of all, he's a phenomenal player whose one true down season was an injury-wracked 2011. Some of his final years with the Marlins were perceived as underachieving, but that was only because of the sky-high expectations he set for himself in 2007 and 2008. When your average season is .302/.373/.506 with 22 homers and 31 steals, your going to get a lot of attention from the fantasy community. When you do it at an offensively deficient position, you're going to face a fair amount of obsession. Such is the case with Hanley.
If you take all the players worthy of fantasy owners' obsession and guarantee that one will falter this year, though, my bet would be on Hanley. It's not a knock on the player, just an acknowledgment of the risk inherent in using likely your first pick on a player who brings a checkered injury history to the table. In the next installment of our Burning Questions series, we examine whether or not Hanley is worth the risk.
Hanley only played 86 games last year, but they were 86 of the best games in the league, as he hit .345/.402/.638 with 20 homers, 62 runs, 57 RBI and 10 steals. Yasiel Puig gets a ton of credit for catalyzing the Dodgers' lineup in the summer, but it was Hanley's return that morphed the team from a failure into one of the best in the majors. He had a ridiculous .442 wOBA and 101 weighted runs created plus, and he slashed .375/.414/.672 in June and .365/.421/.644 in July. On a per-game basis, there may not have been a better player in the majors last year. If you pro-rate his numbers over 150 games, his counting stats jump to 35 homers, 17 steals, 108 runs and 99 RBI. That's a slightly unrealistic way of projecting what he lost, but you get the picture that despite playing just 86 games, 2013 was one of the best seasons of his career.
So why does he worry me more than other players in his stratosphere? Why do I have him ranked 17th when his industry average is 10th? Let's start with those 86 games. It was the second time in the last three seasons he failed to register 100 games played. He missed nearly all of April after tearing a ligament in his thumb during the World Baseball Classic that required surgery. He returned earlier than expected, only to suffer a hamstring injury running the bases that cost him another month. The final insult of the season came in the playoffs, when he broke a rib after being hit by a Joe Kelly fastball in Game 1 of the NLDS against the Cardinals. In 2011, shoulder and back injuries limited him to 92 games. The maladies may be isolated incidents, but it's disconcerting to see the same player injure five different parts of his body. Hanley turned 30 in December, and all these injuries can really start to add up for a player once he's out of his 20s.
However, it's not just the injury woes that are reason for pause. There are a few troubling numbers in Hanley's advanced stats from last year. His impressive slash line was built partially on a .363 BABIP that seems due for some regression. Thanks in part to a 14.7-percent popup rate, Hanley's xBABIP last year was just .322, meaning his BABIP outpaced what it was expected to by 12.7 percent.
He also posted a career-high 21.1-percent HR/FB ratio. His previous career-high was 19.2 percent in 2008, but he has not eclipsed 15 percent in any of his six other seasons in the majors. Now Hanley wasn't hitting cheapies last year. His average true home run distance of 406.4 feet tied with David Ortiz for 21st among hitters with at least 18 homers, and his average fly ball distance of 309 feet was seventh longest in the league. However, that song remains the same for his entire career. Only once, in 2007, has Hanley's average true home run distance been less than 400 feet. The 406.4 feet last year wasn't even the best of his career -- that came in 2008 when his 33 bombs averaged 413.3 feet. Hanley has always hit long fly balls. It was just last year that an inordinate amount of them left the yard.
The top of your draft should be about mitigating risk and locking in high statistical floors. Few players have a ceiling as high as Hanley's, but no one who currently projects as a first-round pick has anywhere near his risk level, either. If he's sitting there in the middle or end of the second round with guys like Troy Tulowitzki, Jacoby Ellsbury and Yu Darvish, you should absolutely snag him. But if you have to draft him ahead of Chris Davis, Adrian Beltre, Prince Fielder and the like, as you almost certainly will, it's a risk too great to take the plunge.
MORE BURNING QUESTIONS:
• Part I: Can Starlin Castro bounce back in 2014?
• Part II: Is Masahiro Tanaka a worthwhile risk for owners?
• Part III: Should Doug Fister be considered a top pitcher?
• Part IV: Is Eric Hosmer a top-10 first baseman?
• Part V: How will Chris Davis follow up his successful 2013?
• Part VI: Will Brandon Phillips rack up 100+ RBI again?
• Part VII: What can owners expect from Josh Donaldson?
• Part VIII: Is Hanley Ramirez worth the risk of injury?
• Part IX: Can Josh Hamilton rediscover his power stroke?
• Part X: How should owners value Javier Baez, George Springer?