How Will Hanley Ramirez Adjust to Left Field?

Hanley Ramirez is reunited with his old team, but has to learn a new position in the process. Can he do it?

It’s not uncommon for players to make positional changes throughout their careers. Catchers often make the progression (or regression) to first base once they get older. Multiple infielders have moved to the outfield as well. When a player changes positions, it's nothing out of the ordinary.

With the acquisition of both Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval in the offseason, the Red Sox are planning on moving their pieces around. With Sandoval being the choice to stick at third and Xander Bogaerts continuing as shortstop, Ramirez is now left to play a position he’s never played at the professional level: left field.

Boston could be in for a wild ride.

Recent Monstah Men

Since 2001, the Red Sox have had six players serve as their everyday starting left fielder, starting with Manny Ramirez, until the most recent, Yoenis Cespedes. Some guys lasted longer than others, but looking at their Defensive Runs Saved across the board, most players were able to handle Fenway Park’s unique landscape.

The table below displays the total innings the six players played in left field and their DRS during their career with the Red Sox. (Note: Manny Ramirez’s stats only go back to 2003 because DRS was not calculated until that season.)

Manny Ramirez5,948.1-54
Jason Bay1,702.24
Carl Crawford1,344.0-2
Daniel Nava1,733.24
Jonny Gomes1,081.0-8
Yoenis Cespedes380.25

Jonny Gomes is the first guy we should look at. At first glance, his DRS over his season and a half in Boston isn’t much to sniff at. However, in his first season when he played 643 innings in left, the second-highest total of his career, he wasn’t responsible for saving or giving up any runs. His negative total all came from 2014.

The 2013 World Series Champion has had some really rough years, particularly 2010, the most recent year he’d been an everyday start before joining Boston. Gomes logged his highest inning total in 2010 for the Reds, when he played 1037 innings. His DRS total was an atrocious -21. So it’s clear that Gomes reaped the benefits of moving to Boston, and it will be interesting to see how he’ll progress moving forward.

Another interesting player to take note of is Carl Crawford. Crawford, a Gold Glover in the season before he moved to Boston, disappointed fans for multiple reasons during his time in New England. In his last three years with Tampa, Crawford saved 21 runs with his defense, over the course of 3,463.2 innings. As seen with in the table above, hitting wasn’t Crawford’s only issue at Fenway. Furthermore, when he was dealt to the Dodgers, he logged a positive DRS in each season. Although Crawford isn’t the player he was in Tampa, it’s clear that the Monster wasn’t for him.

Manny, Cespedes and Daniel Nava don’t have much to compare their production against. Ramirez didn’t do well in the outfield after he left Boston either, Cespedes had similar numbers with Oakland and Nava has only played for the Red Sox. And this leaves Jason Bay as the last player to evaluate.

Bay was never a defensive wiz. Before he came to Boston, he only had one season where he had a defensive run saved in left. He finished the 2008 season responsible for seven runs scored, but in his 423.1 innings in Boston that year, he actually saved two runs. So Bay actually turned things around at Fenway when he was on pace to have what might’ve been his worst year in terms of DRS. Bay’s 4 DRS is the most he's had with any team in left, and is the only team he finished in the green. His best season came with the Mets next year, saving three runs, but in the very next one, he was responsible for three scoring.

After looking at these players, Bay and Gomes show that the 35-foot, short porch in left can prove to be very helpful for inept left fielders. Manny didn’t see much improvement when he left and Cespedes was just as good as he was before he came to Boston. Crawford was that lone bad egg and, quite honestly, he’s not Tampa-Crawford in any way, shape or form anymore. Having said all this, Fenway might be the ideal place for Hanley to begin his career in left field.

What does this all mean for Hanley Ramirez?

First of all, any change in position is difficult, especially at the major league level. All sabermetrics fans can relate that back to the scene in Moneyball when Billy Beane and Ron Washington try to get Scott Hatteberg to consider coming back as a first baseman.

Thankfully, Hanley had the offseason and still has Spring Training to get accustomed to the new position. While handling the Monster will create issues for him every once in a while, it’s one of the best places for him to get started on his outfield campaign.