Hanley Ramirez’s Red Sox Season Couldn’t Be Worse

His defense and attitude have been as deplorable as advertised, and his offensive performance has been almost just as bad.

The Red Sox have made a number of bad signings in recent years, but none have worked out worse than the decision to bring Hanley Ramirez aboard.

Over the last five months, Ramirez hasn’t shown a single redeeming quality to his game. He’s been the worst defensive player in baseball, a black hole offensively, and as disturbingly nonchalant as advertised. Even the most ardent skeptics couldn’t have predicted an opening act as discouraging as this one.

When the Red Sox inked Ramirez to a four-year, $88 million contract last offseason, there were questions about his ability to play left field. Former general manager Ben Cherington said at the Saberseminar at Boston University last weekend that the club made a bet based on the history of players who have moved from the middle infield to another position. Shortstop, where Ramirez played for the bulk of his career prior to this season, is one of the best demanding positions on the diamond. Left field is one of the least.

Conventional wisdom said if Manny Ramirez could handle left field at Fenway Park, then so could Hanley. But that simply has not been the case.

According to Ultimate Zone Rating, which attempts to quantify how many runs a player saves or gives up on defense, Ramirez has cost the Red Sox nearly 17 runs in left field this season. A move out of the outfield seems inevitable, but it’s difficult to imagine Ramirez sticking anywhere else on the diamond.

If Ramirez can’t handle left field, where he’s failed in his basic responsibility to just stand there and catch the ball when it’s hit to him, it’s unfathomable he would be able to stick at first base—where you’re involved in almost every play instead of just a select few. But alas, the Red Sox have been trying him out there this week, because desperate times call for desperate measures.

Just two months ago, Ramirez publicly opposed a move back to the infield. When members of the press asked him in Baltimore about possibly transitioning to first base, Ramirez responded with a resounding “Hell, no.” It’s difficult to be more clear than that.

But a lot has changed since then. Most notably, the Red Sox have hired a new president of baseball operations, Dave Dombrowski. Cherington, arguably Ramirez’s biggest benefactor in the organization, won’t continue in his role as GM next season.

When asked earlier this week about a switch to first base, Ramirez changed his tune. He said he’s “blessed” because he can play anywhere, and even called the Boston sports media’s baseball acumen “unbelievable.” It was a performance that probably would have even made Eddie Haskell blush.

Perhaps it’s too cynical to view Ramirez’s newfound apparent team-first attitude with skepticism, but this is a man who’s exhibited nothing but selfish behavior throughout his career. Jon Lester seemingly loathed Ramirez so much when they played together in the minor leagues, he once said there was a better chance of him getting “struck by lightning” than the two sharing a pizza together.

OK, then.

But if Ramirez were hitting, his defensive atrocities and enigmatic behavior would be easier to take. But he’s not, so his shortcomings are crippling rather than bearable. Ramirez is hitting a measly .238 with nine home runs since May 1, and is batting .183 with no round-trippers since the All-Star Break.

That is the most discouraging aspect of Ramirez’s disastrous season. No matter what he did—from being benched for a lack of hustle in Miami to being called out by his manager for a lack of grit in Los Angeles—Ramirez always hit. But now, at 31, his offensive skills appear to have vanished. Ramirez often looks overmatched at the plate, and is on-pace to finish with the worst on-base percentage of his career.

Maybe it will come out that Ramirez is playing through injury. He slammed his shoulder into a wall in early May, and has missed considerable time this month with an undisclosed foot injury. Red Sox fans were ready to run John Lackey out of town in 2011, but then it was revealed he was pitching through the entire season with a shredded elbow.

But given Ramirez’s track record, it’s difficult to give him the benefit of the doubt. He seems so aloof, that it’s uncertain whether he even knows his teammates’ names. When asked earlier this week about the Red Sox’s young outfielders, Ramirez called Rusney Castillo “the Cuban guy.”

It would be interesting to hear what Ramirez’s teammates call him behind his back. They probably all know his name, but the words might not be suitable to print.