June 19, 2013; New York, NY, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers infielder Hanley Ramirez hits a home run against the New York Yankees during the game at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Munson/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Dodgers: Could Hanley Ramirez Soon Dramatically Regress?

June 22, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez (13) runs the bases after a home run during the seventh inning against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Here come the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Now, you might be looking at the standings, realizing that the Dodgers still occupy last place in the National League West. That’s true. If you’re just tuning into the season, their 38-43 record would be considered a disappointment, and if you been tuned it, it’s still a disappointment given their hefty payroll.

Here’s where the “here come the Dodgers” line comes into play: The boys in blue are 8-2 over their last 10 games and are just 3.5 games back of the first-place Arizona Diamondbacks, who own the NL West’s only winning record. In most divisions, Arizona be hovering around third place. In the best division–AL East–they’d be in fourth place.

So you get the point: the Dodgers are lucky they’re in the NL West.

There’s been no bigger contributor to the Dodgers’ hot streak then Hanley Ramirez. The injury-riddled shortstop has a slash of .477/.521/.886 over his last 13 games. He has a 1.047 OPS and five home runs during that stretch too. Ramirez ranks in the top 10 in each of the aforementioned categories since June 19.

And the most significant number: the Dodgers are 9-4 during that stretch.

June 23, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; (Editors note: caption correction) Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez (13) after a solo home run during the ninth inning against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Yeah, Ramirez is on fire. It’s no coincidence that the Dodgers’ hot streak has coincided with Ramirez’s hot streak. It helps that they’re getting some stellar pitching too.

However, Ramirez’s success comes with some skepticism. Or more specifically, his approach comes with some skepticism.

Ramirez has generally been a patient hitter in his seven-year career. When he finished second in NL MVP voting in 2009, he had an O-Swing% of 26 percent. For reference, O-Swing% measures the amount of pitches outside of the zone that a batter swings at.

Ramirez’s 2009 mark is quite good. Not elite, elite, but good. From 2010 on, here’s how his O-Swing% trend: 29.9, 23.9 and 30.5. Now for his 2013 mark: 40 percent. That’s about a 10 percent uptick, and if he qualified, that would be the ninth-highest O-Swing% in baseball.

But wait, there’s more…

Ramirez’s O-Contact%, which measures the percentage of pitches a batter makes contact with that are out of the strike zone, is 64.3 percent. His career average in that department is 64.8 percent, so we’re not looking at a “whoa” situation. His career-best mark is an even 70 percent.

Jun 29, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez (13) celebrates after scoring a walk-off run in the ninth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers defeated the Phillies 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In English: He’s swinging at more pitches outside of the zone, and he’s not making and his contact rate isn’t particularly good. That doesn’t at least seem like a formula for success.

There have been guys who can succeed on that formula. Pablo Sandoval can vouch. He swings at the most pitches outside of the zone in baseball (49.7 percent), and he leads baseball in that department since 2010, among active players. Since 2010, Sandoval has a solid .789 OPS. He is just one example, and there are more. Think Vladimir Guerrero

But Ramirez can’t expand his zone quite like Sandoval, thus leading me to poke at the dreaded “regression.” word.

Let’s clear one thing up first: Ramirez won’t be able to sustain his .477 mark through September, and I think that’s a given. He’s going good, but only the most steadfast of the steadfast Dodgers fans can genuinely claim that Ramirez’s batting average will border .500 for the remainder of the year.

However, Ramirez’s uncharacteristic plate discipline in 2013 could cause him to regress significantly. For that, we turn to FanGraphs. FanGraphs’ ZiPS projects Ramirez to hit .278/.343/.472 for the remainder of the year. Steamer, meanwhile, projects him to hit .275/.347/.457. Both batting averages marks would keep his season total above .300, for it’s worth.

So it looks like two projection systems would concur. I know, with the way that he’s going, it’s hard to say that he’s going to be a sub-.300 hitter for the rest of the season. A lot of pundits would have a hard time disagreeing with you too, because it would be quite the regression for an elite player like Ramirez.

Eventually, however, poor plate discipline takes its toll, unless you’re Vladimir Guerrero or Sandoval–again, I’m missing a few. You could throw Alfonso Soriano, Josh Hamilton (Consider his MVP year and 2012) and Mark Trumbo into that mix too (since 2010). All five of those guys have found success with an approach on the aggressive side of the spectrum.

Ramirez isn’t in that good “bad ball” hitters group, at least that’s what history suggests. Trends point to a decline, and it’s just a matter to what extent. With his newly-surfaced free-swinging approach, it could be pretty dramatic.

All stats courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference

Tags: Hanley Ramirez Los Angeles Dodgers

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