2013, when Hanley Ramirez was the best player in baseball

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

Yes, Mike Trout played baseball in 2013. So did Andrew McCutchen and Miguel Cabrera. But Hanley Ramirez was the best player in baseball.

Hanley Ramirez was Miguel Cabrera in 2013. That is, if Cabrera was a decent shortstop instead of the worst fielding third baseman in baseball. Ramirez was Mike Trout if the Millville Meteor traded some of his baserunning and on-base skills for a whole lot more power production.

All told, Ramirez produced a .345/.402/.638 slash line for a 191 wRC+. He would have led the majors in slugging and finished second in batting average if he had received enough plate appearances to qualify. Among major league shortstops, only Troy Tulowitzki with 5.6 fWAR could top Hanley with 5.1 fWAR and it took Tulo nearly 200 more plate appearances. Look at this table comparing Ramirez and Trout's seasons.

Player PA BB% K% BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Def fWAR
Trout 716 15.4 19.0 .376 .323 .432 .557 .423 176 3.3 10.4
Ramirez 336 8.0 15.5 .363 .345 .402 .638 .442 191 3.3 5.1

Extrapolate Ramirez' performance so that he receives the same number of plate appearances as Trout, and Hanley produces a 10.9 fWAR season. Barry Bonds in 2004 was the last season of at least 10.9 fWAR. As a shortstop, Alex Rodriguez never had a wRC+ higher than 159. In fact, you have to go back to Arky Vaughan in 1935 and Honus Wagner in 1908 to find a season where a shortstop produced a wRC+ over 190.

Hanley's remarkable season occurred after most of us, myself included, had written off Ramirez as a nothing more than an average player. Over more than 1000 plate appearances from 2011-12 he produced a .252/.326/.416 line with 34 home runs for a 103 wRC+ and 3.9 fWAR. Put another way, Alcides Escobar and Jamey Carroll were just as productive over that time span and Ryan Roberts had nearly as many home runs.

Of course, there's a problem with extrapolating Ramirez' performance from a half season to a full season. Namely, that regression is a thing. Ramirez had a .363 BABIP in 2013, but he's been a high BABIP player for quite some time now, with a career mark of .334 including a .379 season in 2009. Jeff Zimmermann's xBABIP calculator thinks there was a lot of smoke and mirrors to his 2013 numbers, and Steamer and Oliver project some regression as well. Nevertheless, a very high BABIP is in the realm of possibilities.

It's also hard to see Ramirez maintaining a 21.1 percent HR/FB ratio while playing half his games at spacious Dodger Stadium. He did have one of the highest average flyball distances, and, it appeared that Ramirez was both swinging more aggressively and more frequently. A look at the Pitch f/x data confirms this suspicion.

Year O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% SwStr%
2008-12 27.1 62.4 44.1 66.0 89.3 81.9 7.8
2013 36.2 71.1 52.3 60.4 92.8 80.7 9.9

He swung more often at everything, and and swung and missed more frequently, except for pitches in the strike zone. No doubt pitchers will adjust to this approach, and his swing-happy approach might not be as productive.

Even with a lot of regression, Ramirez looks like a pretty great player. Oliver is much more optimistic about his offensive production than Steamer, but he looks like a top-notch shortstop in either system.

System PA AVG OBP SLG BABIP wRC+ Def fWAR SS rank
Steamer 564 .279 .349 .463 .309 129 3.7 4.2 2
Oliver 600 .302 .365 .537 .325 152 2.1 6.1 1

Ramirez was excellent the moment he made his Marlins debut, and was one of the best five players in baseball by his age-24 season, so it might seem odd that he only just turned 30. He's in the last year of a six-year, $70 million deal, and his resurgence might cost the Dodgers a mint if they want to retain him.

No, Ramirez probably won't have the best shortstop season of all-time in 2014. Yes, Mike Trout and at least a few other players will probably produce more fWAR. Still, let's appreciate the fact that when Hanley Ramirez was on the field in 2013 he was the best player in baseball.

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.

Chris Moran is a former college baseball player and current law student at Washington University in St. Louis. He's also an assistant baseball coach at Wash U. In addition to Beyond The Box Score, he contributes at Prospect Insider and DRaysBay. He went to his first baseball game at age two. Follow him on Twitter @hangingslurves

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