Originally posted on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 1/6/12

When the Marlins signed Jose Reyes to a six-year, $106M contract, much of the attention shifted to the Marlins’ former shortstop, Hanley Ramirez. How would he respond to the free agent signing and the news that he would be shifting to third base?

Multiple reports began to surface:

  • Ramirez voiced displeasure over potential move to third base and demanded a trade.

Most recently, Hanley Ramirez will reportedly accept his move to third base and is excited to be a part of the 2012 Miami Marlins. Whether that is simply public relations posturing or his true attitude toward the positional change, nobody knows, but the move will improve the Marlins big league squad as a whole next season.

Jose Reyes is a more valuable shortstop than Hanley Ramirez. Reyes possesses better better defensive skills at short and is coming off a phenomenal — albeit a bit lucky — season at the plate in which he hit .337/.384/.493 and posted a .386 wOBA, while Ramirez struggled with BABIP issues and a declining line drive rate that resulted in a career-low .317 wOBA.

The difference in value between the two shortstops was more pronounced in 2011, however, than it probably is in actuality. Reyes was worth almost five wins more than his fellow Dominican native — yet Reyes has actually been less valuable since 2006 (+28.2 WAR) than Ramirez in that same time frame (+31.1 WAR).

However, despite the fact that he has produced more WAR than his new teammate, Ramirez has shown signs of decline in terms of pure offensive production. His GB/FB rate has sky rocketed from 0.93 in 2009 to 1.56 and 1.53 over the past two years, respectively. That means more baseballs on the ground and less power, which is evidenced by his declining ISO numbers the past two years. In fact, Hanley Ramirez had an ISO below the league-average (.136 vs .144) for the first time in 2011.

This is not to suggest Hanley Ramirez did not provide value to the Marlins last season. His .317 wOBA was still above-average offensively in the National League amongst active shortstops. Reyes is simply trending to be a more valuable shortstop — if healthy, which is certainly not a guarantee — than Ramirez in 2012. Thus, Miami wedged him into the existing lineup ahead of Ramirez and asked him to move positions.

The position change will not only provide the Marlins with improved performance at shortstop, but it will also upgrade third base. Ramirez is clearly a better player than Greg Dobbs, the Marlins primary third baseman last year. Dobbs has never been worth more than +1.1 WAR in a single season and was merely a half-win player in 2011. His power numbers are not fit for a corner infielder — nor do they profile well in what should be an extreme pitcher’s park in Miami — and he is below-average defensively.

The positional adjustments that are based upon the defensive spectrum and that are utilized to calculate the WAR statistic suggest that Ramirez should improve defensively once he moves to third base. It is an easier position. His range will certainly be above-average at third base instead of being below-average at shortstop. His throwing accuracy must improve a bit, to be sure, but the prevailing thoughts suggest that he should be more productive with the glove than he was at shortstop — though it is important to note that this article by our own Wendy Thurm suggests history may not be on Ramirez’s side in that regard.

Defense aside, Ramirez should continue to be above-average with the bat at his respective position. He compiled a .317 wOBA in his worst offensive season to this point in his career, while the National League average amongst active third basemen was just .312. Even that career-low wOBA would be a significant improvement over the .305 wOBA provided by Greg Dobbs in 2011 — not to mention that Hanley Ramirez is a prime candidate to bounce back, at least somewhat, next season due to his .275 BABIP (career .339 BABIP). He should also be fully recovered from the various injuries that plagued him last year.

This will then allow Dobbs to move back to a bench bat role, which suits his skills as a player much better. He will not have to face left-handed pitching with any regularity, and his defensive innings will be limited.

Slotting in Jose Reyes at shortstop and moving Hanley Ramirez to third base does have a deeper affect than just moving Greg Dobbs to the bench, though. It also marginalizes prospect Matt Dominguez and leaves him without a true home through at least the 2014 season. Of course, one could argue that Dominguez didn’t really have a home with the Marlins at third base, anyway, as he only hit .258/.312/.431 in Triple-A last season, but he does have the reputation for being a sterling defender and should hit double-digit home runs if given regular time at the big league level. Dominguez could be an interesting trade chip heading into the summer Trade Deadline, especially if the Marlins are competitive and ready to deal.

All in all, this move has the potential to give Miami one of the strongest left-sides of the infield in all of baseball. Jose Reyes must stay healthy and Hanley Ramirez must bounce back from both a shoulder injury and a down season at the plate, but it’s difficult to ignore that Miami now has two players that have both posted six-win seasons within the past three years. And with both players at just 28-years-old on Opening Day, it’s tough to argue that their finest years are necessarily behind them.

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