You don’t know how close you came to reading a “Hand-ley Ramirez” joke. I guess now you might.
Hanley Ramirez participated in the recently-concluded World Baseball Classic. He played third base, even though he was to spend the regular season as a shortstop. While attempting to make a play in the field the other day, Ramirez jammed his thumb, and shortly thereafter he was removed. Initial estimates put him out for 2-10 weeks, pending further word. Further word is in, and it’s not good news for Ramirez or for the Dodgers. It is good news for Ramirez’s backups, if they’re selfish.
According to Ken Rosenthal, and since confirmed by others, Ramirez is having surgery to repair a torn thumb ligament. His thumb won’t be able to do anything for three weeks, and it’s estimated that Ramirez could return to action in eight weeks. Depending on the length of any rehab assignment, then, the Dodgers will be without Hanley Ramirez until mid- or late-May. Which means Ramirez is set to miss a quarter or a third of the regular season, barring any setbacks or surprises.
Here’s a slow-motion replay of how Ramirez hurt himself:
The Dodgers, surely, are upset, because they didn’t want Ramirez to play third base in the WBC. If they had their druthers, Ramirez probably would’ve skipped the WBC entirely and practiced at short in camp. There were already concerns that the WBC increases participant injury risk, and this isn’t going to help, but one has to consider that this isn’t an injury of fatigue or over-aggressiveness. This is a fluke injury, sustained while attempting to make a diving stop. This easily could’ve happened to Ramirez at shortstop in Arizona, so blaming the WBC seems to miss the mark. While Ramirez suffered a major injury during WBC action, I don’t think it’s fair to say it’s the WBC’s fault. Sometimes there is just bad luck.
People will be frustrated, they’ll be irrational about the consequences of the WBC, but the WBC isn’t going to change, and ultimately everyone will move forward. The priority now is figuring out where the Dodgers go from here. It’s all pretty easy for Hanley — he’ll recover, he’ll rehab, he’ll get healthy, and he’ll play in the bigs when he’s at or near 100%. In the meantime, the Dodgers have options.
The intended alignment had Hanley Ramirez at shortstop and Luis Cruz at third base. Now Hanley is unavailable, and the Dodgers could simply plug in Dee Gordon at shortstop instead. Alternatively, they could move Cruz to short, freeing up third base for Nick Punto, or Jerry Hairston Jr., or Juan Uribe, or some combination of all of them. No matter the alignment, Cruz will play regularly. So Ramirez will effectively be replaced by some combination of Gordon, Punto, Hairston, and Uribe.
To look at this most simply, let’s glance at projections. Borrowing from the positional power rankings, here are combined ZiPS/Steamer WAR projections per 600 plate appearances:
Ramirez: 3.2 WAR/600
The four potential replacements average out to about 1.2 WAR per 600 plate appearances, projected. This is way too simple of an approach, and we’re not operating like mathematical surgeons, but this does convey the proper idea. Let’s say you think Ramirez is a 3-5 win player. Let’s say you think the backups are 0-2 win players. Let’s acknowledge that Ramirez stands to miss only a fraction of the regular season. He should be good to go when he’s healthy and rehabbed. Based on the probability, today’s news makes the 2013 Dodgers worse, but it’s well short of devastating. Maybe we’re talking about a lost win, on average. Maybe we’re talking about less than that.
It’s not entirely unlike the Yankees’ situation without Curtis Granderson. Granderson comes with a lot of name value, and there’s a hole when he’s not in the lineup, but the hole is only so significant, and Granderson stands to miss only so much time. Even if you don’t think of WAR as being particularly accurate, it does provide a good estimation of how much one individual player can mean to a team. Losing Mike Trout for a year would cripple the Angels, but losing Mike Trout for a fraction of a year would be more manageable, and other players aren’t Mike Trout. Hanley Ramirez, certainly, isn’t Mike Trout, and the difference between Hanley and his replacements on a game-to-game basis is slight. Meaningful, but bigger in the mind than it is on paper.
The issue for the Dodgers, of course, is that they’re looking to contend, and they could and should battle the Giants and the Diamondbacks in the NL West. Because the Dodgers aren’t far and away the best of the group, they’re at a high-leverage position on the win curve, again not unlike the Yankees, so a win here and there is important. If you want to put a dollar value on it, this Ramirez injury might be worth $5 million, or $10 million. This drops the Dodgers’ odds of making the playoffs, by at least a few percentage points, because the competition in the division should be intense.
But Ramirez will return. That should happen before June, meaning Ramirez should be good for at least four months. And Hanley Ramirez presumably isn’t an elite-level shortstop anymore, so the Dodgers should survive barring further injury. Zack Greinke is a bit of a concern, and it’s unclear how much can be expected of Chad Billingsley given what he’s pitching through. Injuries to the starting rotation could really do damage, but losing Hanley Ramirez is survivable. It’s the same lesson for almost all injuries of this sort.