San Francisco Giants v Los Angeles Dodgers

Hanley Ramirez hit a home run in the third inning of Sunday’s game against the Nationals. It meant a lot of things, including but not limited to:

  • Ramirez has 10 home runs in just 42 games, a pace for nearly 40 over a full season.
  • As part of a 2-for-4 day, Ramirez is now hitting .393/.445./.721 over his 155 plate appearance season.
  • The Dodgers took a 6-0 lead and cruised to the victory; since Ramirez returned in earnest June 19th, the club is 21-8 and have picked up seven games on the Diamondbacks to sit a half-game out of the National League West division race.
  • Ramirez remains clearly the best player in in the National League over the past 30 days. He’s hitting .400/.457/.768 with eight of his 10 home runs over this stretch. His 239 wRC+, .512 wOBA and 2.3 fWAR all lead the league.

The Dodgers have established themselves as the class of the National League West over the last month. Considering any preseason prediction that didn’t have the Dodgers winning the west appeared somewhere between “avant-garde” and “crazy” at the time, we probably shouldn’t be surprised.

The Dodgers still aren’t perfectly healthy — Matt Kemp is headed back to the shelf and the Dodgers have three starting pitchers on the disabled list. But Yasiel Puig can fill Kemp’s spot with aplomb, and the holes are all but plugged. Even Juan Uribe is hitting this year: .269/.339/.406 with five dingers in 223 plate appearances, a 109 wRC+.

But the moment where it all clicked in Los Angeles is clear, and it’s not when Puig broke through. From June 3 through June 16, Puig hit .479/.500/.771. He was dominant. And the Dodgers went 6-7. Puig scored seven runs, and four came on home runs. The rest of the team just wasn’t there, and no single performance could have pushed them over the top.

Since then, Ramirez has been the stud. Puig has still been a very good player — .321/.358/.500 over his last 28 games — but Ramirez is the engine behind the team. He has the ideal hitting profile. Over the same span, Ramirez has more walks (11) than strikeouts (10) and his .369 isolated power is higher than any qualified hitter’s batting average. Ramirez is showing power, contact, discipline, and even speed (four steals in four attempts).

It’s amazing what two years can do for a player’s reputation. Ramirez was the ultimate shortstop – except for maybe Troy Tulowitzki – for four years, from 2007-2010. Every year, he hit at least .300/.375/.475. Then he was hurt, and then he got a reputation as a slacker in the morass of the early-2010s Marlins. He was playing in a giant park without any talent around him. His effort level dropped and he was written off as a productive player, even though he still had a 100 OPS+ as a shortstop in his last two years as a Marlin. Now, in 106 games with Los Angeles, he’s hitting .315/.368/.547.

We write off our talented players too easily. There were maybe five or six players in the entire league capable of doing what Ramirez did from 2007 through 2010, and at age 28, when the Dodgers pulled the trigger on the deal to bring him to Chavez Ravine, there was little reason to believe he couldn’t find at least a portion of that talent again.

It wasn’t supposed to be Hanley Ramirez lifting the Dodgers into the playoffs. It was supposed to be Matt Kemp, or Adrian Gonzalez, or maybe even Carl Crawford or Yasiel Puig. Ramirez was seen as an overpriced indulgence for a team flailing about with newfound riches. But it was a bet on talent, on the unique, elite talent of Hanley Ramirez. We’ve seen those bets pay off countless times throughout the years in baseball, and Ramirez is merely the latest episode.