Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening– whichever is applicable to you. One year ago at this time Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez were fixtures as second or third round picks, with ADP’s in the low to mid-20’s. Puig posted good numbers in 2014, but it was the underlying skill sets that had many well-respected analysts predicting superstardom for Puig in 2015. Puig showed steady gains in BB% while at the same time improving his K%. Further examinations of plate discipline data showed a better batter’s eye. Puig showed improved patience on balls outside of the zone, a propensity to take more pitches inside of the zone, and an improved rate of contact. Hanley Ramirez had just signed a brand new 4 yr/$88 million-dollar pact with the Red Sox, and while he was coming off a lackluster 2014, his value was still derived from a very solid 2013, and, of course, SS eligibility.
After coming out of the gate strong, right hamstring injuries cut 79 days out of Puig’s 2015. One has to wonder if he was ever fully healthy. When in the lineup his lackadaisical play and look-at-me approach provoked the ire of his coaches and fellow teammates. For Hanley the start of 2016 couldn’t have been scripted better: 10 HR, .293 AVG, and .999 OPS in less than a month’s work. All those warm and fuzzy feelings vanished on May 4th, when Ramirez suffered a left shoulder sprain jumping into the LF wall in foul territory attempting to make a catch. Ramirez returned 5 days later; his bat never did. On August 26th Ramirez’s season mercifully ended with a 15-day trip to the DL.
Today the stock prices of both Puig and Ramirez are below clearance level. Puig’s ADP is 92nd overall (25th among OF), while Hanley comes in at 136th (37th among OF). These one-time building block players have become roster composition selections on draft day. Will owners be rewarded with top-25 talents once again? Or will this year’s stock plunge prove to be the reasonable value point?
The majority of Puig’s positive gains in 2014 vanished. His BB% of 8.4% reverted back to 2013 levels, as did his K% of 21.2%. While Puig did manage to preserve some of the 2014 growth in O-Swing% at 34.8%, his overall propensity to swing was a near match to his 2013 totals at 54.2%. Many will point to Puig’s .296 BABIP in comparison to his career mark of .350 and suggest a reasonable improvement could be expected. While I certainly believe an improvement will occur, to what extent could be the very difference in Puig: The Top-40 Type Talent or Puig: The player who likely wouldn’t earn his 92nd-rated ADP. Last season Puig seemed to make an effort to lift the ball. His career GB/FB rate is 1.46; last season that rate was 1.14. While the increased FB rate is a nice recipe for improved power, Puig’s HR/FB rate of 14.6% suggests it wouldn’t be worth the trade-off in BA potential. As an owner I’d feel much better about a .285 Puig with 21 HR than I would hoping he makes a conscious effort to chase 30+ HR. The underlying numbers for Hanley raised some concerns as well. Come to think of it, have you ever seen a player have a poor season without a hint of trouble in the underlying numbers? For Hanley, 2015 featured his career worst in BB% at 4.9, as well as a low point in soft hit rate at 24.3%. Combine the lackluster soft hit rate with another career high in GB/FB of 1.69, and it’s no wonder Ramirez produced a BABIP 70 points below his career mark.
If I’m attempting to sell you on Puig and Ramirez, my pitch should include trendy numbers defined by acronyms, or it at least sure seems to be that way. It’s as if there’s a mandatory three-stat minimum before it passes through editing. Well I’m here to tell you this post will not meet its quota. For me the answer to the struggles of both Puig and Ramirez in 2015 is so apparent. Injuries derailed what otherwise would have been stellar seasons by both players. Further compounding matters was how neither injury provided a built-in excuse moving forward. Had Puig been sidelined for two and a half months, the narrative this year would have been ‘Can he stay healthy?’, not ‘What type of player is Yasiel Puig?’ The narrative for Hanley would have been quite the same, with no need to look past the 2014 preseason to figure that out. Instead both players managed to play through the injuries, producing well below expected production accompanied with a blooper reel of defensive mishaps and numerous front page headlines constantly reminding us all of their shortcomings.
I’m a believer in both Puig and Hanley this year. For the first time in their careers they’re being properly priced to earn potential gains. Under new leadership Puig has the ever-coveted “fresh start” label. A solid AVG option with some pop and SB potential hitting at the top or in the middle of a solid lineup is a buy every time. Another often overlooked selling point for me is trade value. If you look at Puig’s ADP prior to this season it’s clear the perception of the player is better than the results up to this point. Should Puig come out of the gate hitting .300 with 5 HR and 5 SB in April there’s a better than average chance you can net a bat or arm selected before the 92nd pick in the draft. Much like last season Hanley comes to camp learning a new position. Unlike last season he’s not dealing with the biggest oddity the position has to offer. 1B should suit Hanley; I mean if Pedro Alvarez can survive, surely Hanley can do it. At the least it should save him the embarrassment of his LF exploits. While Hanley doesn’t have the trade value for me that Puig holds, he likely has the better situation as a hitter. Hanley plays in a good ballpark for RH pop, and his lineup figures to be among the top 5-10 in baseball. If you put pencil to paper at this point, today you’re likely looking at the 4th or 5th hitter in that lineup.
Injuries are a part of fantasy. While some apply the tag to players who’ve established a trend, I tend to view it more as a tiebreaker than a scarlet letter of sorts. I don’t want to have an entire roster filled with such players, but if the price is right and there are profits to be had, then I’m happy to take on the risk. Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez have established skill sets. I’m willing to accept that the lost season of 2015 was the result of a season-altering injury and the willingness to play through it. I don’t need the obligatory three-numbered accompanied acronyms to tell me otherwise.
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