The Silver Lining in the Hanley Ramirez Injury: An Elite Infield Defense?

March 21, 2013 at 6:14 pm | Posted in Hanley Ramirez | Leave a comment

hanley_smiles

Hey, Juan. You remember when you got one plate appearance over the last six weeks last season and now might be starting on Opening Day? That’s why I’m laughing so hard. That’s a real thing that’s happening!

I’m not going to pretend that Hanley Ramirez‘ thumb injury is a good thing, because it’s not. It takes plate appearances away from him and gives them to Juan Uribe, or Nick Punto, or Dee Gordon, and none of that is good. It takes away a middle-of-the-order righty power bat and potentially makes Don Mattingly bat lefties Adrian Gonzalez & Andre Ethier back-to-back. It’s not only bad for the time Ramirez is out, it’s bad for the initial stages of his return, since hand injuries are notoriously difficult for hitters to overcome and because he’ll be essentially starting from scratch, having missed most of spring training to the WBC as it is.

It is, as you don’t need me to say, bad.

But in the interest of trying to prevent everyone from trying to jump off the mountain, let’s try to look at the one bright side to all of this: Hanley Ramirez is a lousy defensive shortstop, and he’s not going to be in the lineup. In fact, depending on how the Dodgers play this, their infield defense could suddenly be pretty good.

That was always going to be the case on the right side of the infield, of course, where Gonzalez and Mark Ellis are rightfully regarded as plus defenders by both traditional standards and advanced metrics. (I’m assuming at this point that Skip Schumaker sees more time in the outfield than he will at second base.) But the left? I hardly need to remind you that we’ve been spending the entire offseason saying that the Dodgers simply can’t go into the season with Ramirez at shortstop and Luis Cruz at third, because it’s a simple misallocation of resources.

Now they won’t, though obviously not for the reasons we’d wanted. Cruz has been rated highly at both short and third in his short career, and for all the things Uribe can’t do — so, so, many things — he’s got a 10.3 UZR/150 in nearly 2,000 innings at third base. Even Punto, who we pan endlessly, has a career 17.3 in over 2,200 innings at the hot corner.

Really, from a defensive point of view, the only way this can go poorly is if Gordon gets the call to play short with Cruz moving back over to third, but all indications are that’s unlikely. Gordon hasn’t shown he can hit or field, and at least the other guys can do one of those things. Assuming Gordon is not starting at shortstop, an infield foursome of Gonzalez / Ellis / Cruz / Uribe or Punto is actually… well, that’s potentially quite good.

None of that makes me feel better about the offensive hit, or especially what might happen if Cruz can’t hit enough to justify keeping him in the lineup. But for Zack Greinke & Chad Billingsley and everyone else who could use a little help from their defense — especially their shortstop — there’s at least something positive to take away from this.

All that being said, I now realize I’m trying to find the bright side in Juan Uribe potentially being in the Opening Day lineup. Come back soon, Hanley.

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