Watch out, National League pitchers. Hanley Ramirez is back.
The .313/.385/.521 hitting machine from 2006-2010 has regained his form, helping to transform the Dodgers lineup alongside Cuban sensation Yasiel Puig.
During the 2011 and 2012 seasons, Ramirez became a shell of his All-Star self, falling to career lows in on-base percentage, batting average, extra-base hits and OPS. When the Miami Marlins moved on from their former franchise player last summer, it looked the Dodgers were buying low on a player past his physical prime.
Now, Ramirez is healthy and having his best season. Since returning from the disabled list in June, the 29-year-old infielder has posted a 1.012 OPS, good for a full 82 percent better than the league average. His 182 wRC+ (weight runs created plus) would be good for third in all of Major League Baseball if Ramirez had enough at-bats to qualify. The only hitters providing more offense this season: Miguel Cabrera and Chris Davis.
That's right, on an at-bat by at-bat basis, Ramirez has provided more offense in his lineup than Mike Trout, David Ortiz or Joey Votto.
The question, of course, becomes: How did Ramirez get back to this level? In other words: What lead him to crushing baseballs all summer long?
First, as always with Ramirez, it begins with health.
For the first time in years, the former 30-30 man is healthy, featuring the athleticism and power that made his future look so bright during his time in the Marlins' organization. Despite entering 2013 feeling healthy, the Dodgers star endured multiple setbacks, including an injured thumb at the World Baseball Classic and hamstring injury upon his first return this season.
Now, after all the setbacks, Ramirez is playing everyday and hitting as well as anyone in baseball.
When ailments aren't compromising his swing, there's little doubt that Ramirez has enough bat speed and power to generate big results. This season, those results are stemming from an extraordinarily high BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of .377 entering play on Wednesday evening.
While Ramirez is no stranger to above average BABIP marks (his year-by-year BABIP from 2006-2010: .343, .353, .329, .379, .327), the way he's achieved the mark this season can't be attributed to luck or variance.
Simply put: Hanley Ramirez is hitting line drives at the highest rate of his career.
In 217 official at-bats, the Dodgers infielder has struck 23.5 percent of batted balls for line drives. This represents the first time that he's surpassed the 20 percent mark since 2006. As recently as 2011, that percentage dipped to 15.9. In other words, Ramirez wasn't hitting the ball with authority and his numbers reflected it.
As the season moves closer and closer to October, the Dodgers have become the main attraction in baseball because of their outstanding record since June, emergence of Yasiel Puig, star-studded roster and late-blooming dominance.
If Ramirez stays healthy and continues to hit at an MVP clip, fans and the media will gravitate towards his story.
In 2008, Albert Pujols would have been the player to build a franchise around, but Hanley Ramirez wouldn't have been far behind in the discussion. Now, as Pujols continues to fade, Ramirez has re-emerged to give the Dodgers the production baseball fans once took for granted.
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