As the Los Angeles Dodgers get set to crash the October party, their roster is not lacking for star power or high-level performers. Between Clayton Kershaw and Yasiel Puig, the Dodgers could have the National League Cy Young winner, Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year.
When you include the recent return of Matt Kemp, dominance of Zack Greinke and steadying presence of Adrian Gonzalez, it's easy to forget a member of the roster in the midst of a great season: Hanley Ramirez, team MVP candidate.
Remember this guy, baseball fans? The star shortstop who looked poised to take the mantle of 'best player on the planet' from Albert Pujols. The power-speed combination at shortstop not seen since the best days of Alex Rodriguez. The player who sat even with Rickey Henderson and close to Barry Bonds in OPS-plus through their respective age-26 seasons.
He's back, but in a bigger and better way. Due to playing fewer than 90 games, Ramirez won't truly factor into the National League MVP vote, but a real case can be made that his re-emergence, after an injury-plagued spring, set the stage for the Dodgers' rise to prominence in the National League.
All of the narratives around Yasiel Puig (Los Angeles' other June arrival) are fair. His presence electrified Chavez Ravine and made Vin Scully's nightly calls the second reason to tune in to Dodgers baseball. Yet it was Ramirez's production that jolted the Los Angeles lineup into a contender.
From the minute Ramirez arrived for good (he played four games during two separate stints in April and May), he's crushed the baseball more than any point in his career. Since June 4, Hanley has posted a 1.033 OPS, slugged 19 home runs and driven in 56 runs. Those numbers, compiled in 79 games, would put him on pace for one of the best full seasons in the history of the shortstop position. In fact, as the table below shows, Hanley currently sports the second-best OPS for a shortstop season in the history of the sport.
As Dodgers manager Don Mattingly recently told the Los Angeles Times, Ramirez is one of the best on the planet and needs an October showcase for the fans to witness.
"This is one of the best hitters in baseball,” Mattingly said. “He can really hit. I want the whole world to see this.”
According to Fangraphs, he's been the second-most valuable shortstop in the sport behind Troy Tulowitzki, despite playing 39 games fewer than the great Rockies infielder.
As you can easily see, the numbers are staggering. Ramirez has been a star in every way, but his case as the MVP of the Dodgers is enhanced by how excellent the Dodgers play with him in the lineup compared to how anemic their record is without his services.
When Ramirez plays, the Dodgers are 55-28. When he doesn't, the team has gone 36-38. If those splits are broken down by winning percentage, Los Angeles is essentially the equivalent of a 108-54 team (.667) with him and a 79-83 (.487) team without him.
Determining MVP awards, real or imagined, solely on winning percentage has many flaws (just ask Mike Trout), but those numbers are hard to ignore. Essentially, we're talking about a Dodgers team that has played as well as the 1986 Mets or 1970 Orioles when they have their shortstop but floundered like the current Los Angeles Angels when Ramirez wasn't present.
If you weren't sold on Ramirez's season, presence in Los Angeles' lineup or all-time great campaign, NL West clinching victory in Arizona last week should have done enough to solidify any excess Ramirez love. While his night (four hits, two home runs, two runs and four runs batted in) should have been the headline, baseball's unwritten rule police decided to make it about swimming in a pool.
Of course, Hanley's season isn't about one night or a big home run. It's about a dominating presence in the middle of Don Mattingly's lineup.
Ramirez isn't just the most crucial hitter in Los Angeles' attack, he's the type of player that can carry a team through the postseason. Don't expect any real regular season accolades for him, though. On the other hand, Ramirez might just garner a few bigger awards in October.