When the Dodgers acquired Hanley Ramirez in July 2012, my thoughts were "great, he's not Dee Gordon". Hanley quickly established himself as one of the best shortstops in game in his rookie season with the Marlins, and followed that up with two more excellent years. However, in 2010 his numbers dipped sharply, and they sunk further in 2011. He looked to be on a fairly common career path, have a few great seasons in your early to mid 20s, then hang on for five to 10 years with more name recognition than talent. Unless you have the power of the Red Sox PR team you end up in the Vada Pinson section of baseball history.
Hanley's first three months with the Dodgers looked to be more of the same. An early home run binge turned into a deep September slump and final numbers looked a lot like 2011s. Combine this with Offermann-esque defense and my opinion on Hanley coming into 2013 hadn't changed from being thankful for his non Dee Gordoness.
I may have been a little off in my expectations.
In last September's news, Hanley had a monster season increasing his 2012 105 OPS+1 by 85 points to 190. When the season ended his huge jump in numbers got filed away in the part of my brain that stores useless trivia, probably never to be seen again.
A New Year's Eve Twitter conversation2 managed to bring it back. Finding the most steroid loaded teams ever3 lead to me doing a countdown of the most roided seasons of all time. I noticed that Brett Boone had the greatest single season jump in WAR and suddenly Hanley's 85 point OPS+ increase came to mind. Boone's OPS+ "only" jumped 59 points. Looked up some more huge roid seasons. Brady Anderson, Sammy Sosa, Rich Aurilla? None of them saw even a 50 point increase. How about some of the great fluke seasons of the past? Oscar Gamble, Cleon Jones, Bobby Mercer? All were nowhere near Hanley's 85 point jump. I could be on to something here.
There is one big asterisk on Hanley's season that will keep it from being remembered by anyone but hardcore Dodger fans, and that's the scant 330 plate appearances he had last year. To see if he had a historic season I had to set some selective end points. I looked for players who had the biggest jump in OPS+ where they had at least 300 PA that season, and 300 PA in the previous year. Also, I left the search to post integration years since it's easier to have huge OPS+ numbers when you're playing against drunken longshoremen, plus I'm doing this by hand and it cut down half my work. Finally, I only looked at players who had a season with an OPS+ over 150 since I assumed no one would jump from "should be out of baseball" type numbers to MVP candidate.
With these caveats in mind I dove into Baseball Reference and it looked like Hanley wouldn't even be touched. The decades ticked by and I couldn't even find anyone with a 75 point increase, let alone an 85. It looked like Hanley had made history but then the last vestiges of the steroid era hit. I discovered a huge season that's been largely forgotten, but blew Hanley's out of the water. So here it is, every season since 1947 where a player has increased their OPS+ by at least 70 points.
|Year||Player||OPS+||OPS+ in previous year||Difference|
Javy Lopez had the kind of crash at age 31 that a lot of players who caught for a decade experience. In most cases it signals the end of a career6. Javy on the other hand came back with not only a career year, but the fourth highest OPS in a league that included Bonds, Albert Pujols, Gary Sheffield, Vlad Guerrero, and so many other guys that will be the subject of very serious Hall of Fame articles.
While I would have liked for Hanley to do something totally obscure that's never been done before, he is the clear number two. Over the course of 70 years that's nothing to sneeze it. Still I think we can all agree with Greg Maddux on this one, nuts to you Javy Lopez.
1OPS adjusted for park and strength of league. 100 is average. I'm using OPS+ for this post because it's the best rate stat I can search for on Baseball Reference's Play Index↩
2Welcome to New Year's Eve with a 10 month old, childless folk↩
41941 is pre-integration but since Williams post integration years came up in my search I included it↩