The decline of Hanley Ramirez

The Dodgers are taking a risk with Hanley Ramirez, but his bat could help their playoff run. Sarah Glenn/Getty Images

In his first four seasons, Hanley Ramirez was a Hall of Fame player. He hit .316/.387/.531, won a batting title, averaged 42 doubles, 26 home runs and 41 steals per season -- enormous production from a shortstop. Although his defense never drew raves, he improved, and in 2009, when the Marlins won 87 games, he finished second to Albert Pujols in the NL MVP vote.

He was arguably the second-best player in baseball. A search on Baseball-Reference.com

indicates Ramirez's Wins Above Replacement from ages 22 through 25 ranks 36th since 1901. Twenty-eight of the 35 are in the Hall of Fame or will be (Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., Derek Jeter) The others: Dick Allen, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Evan Longoria, Andruw Jones, Grady Sizemore, Jim Fregosi and Cesar Cedeno.

In May 2008, the Marlins had signed Ramirez to a $70 million contract that would take him through the 2014 season. It looked like a bargain for the Marlins; they'd get three post-free agency seasons at $15, $15.5 and $16 million -- well below market value for an MVP candidate still in his prime years.

Instead, after hitting .300 in 2010, he hit .243 in 2011 and is hitting .246 this season. Some have explained his decline as the result of added weight and a bad attitude. This was best exemplified in May 2010, when then-Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez yanked Ramirez midgame for not hustling after a groundball he had booted, allowing two runs to score. Dan Uggla, who had called out Ramirez in 2009 for not playing hard, backed Gonzalez's decision. So did Josh Johnson, among others.

Ramirez's response about being benched by Gonzalez: "It's his team. He can do whatever he f------- wants."

As South Florida Sun-Sentinel columnist Dave Hyde wrote at the time, "Ramirez has been coddled since Joe Girardi left the clubhouse. He feels entitled to act however he wants. He's Hanley being Manny, as has been feared for a while."

ESPN.com's Jayson Stark wrote then that teams were already calling the Marlins, willing to take Ramirez off their hands. "This is now, officially, a defining moment in the career of one of the most talented players most of us have ever laid our eyeballs on," Stark wrote.

Two years later, the Marlins finally traded Ramirez, shipping him to the Dodgers as their big offseason splash with a new ballpark, new uniform and new free agents didn't even last 100 games. The Marlins are still the Marlins. Good luck getting that fan base back any time soon after Johnson is inevitably traded later this week.

As for Ramirez, I think it's unfair to blame all of his troubles the past two seasons on a bad attitude. He did eventually apologize to his teammates in 2010 and hit .300 with 21 home runs, despite playing through an elbow injury that ended up sidelining him most of the final two weeks of the season.

In 2011, he hit .243 while playing just 92 games. For a while, he played through a bad back ("I can't even put my shoes on. To get up from bed, I have to take 10, 15 seconds. I have to do everything slow," he said in late May) before finally going on the DL for a couple of weeks. His season was shut down in August because of a shoulder injury suffered diving for a pop fly, an injury that eventually required surgery. This season, he's battled a sore knee.

Check out this map of Ramirez's batting averages on inside fastballs in 2009-10 compared to 2011-12:

This would seem to reveal a player with a slowing bat -- he can't get around on the inside stuff like he used to. Now is this because of a premature decline or lingering effects of the shoulder issues? Either way, it's not because Ramirez isn't trying.

Now the Dodgers take on Ramirez. It's not a cost-free risk, with Ramirez owed nearly $38 million or so, but a good risk considering they didn't give up much. Who knows, maybe a new training staff and change of scenery will rejuvenate Ramirez.

Or maybe that player we once saw is a thing of the past, beaten down by the injuries and ailments. Check out that list above. Fregosi, like Ramirez, was a power-hitting shortstop (although without Ramirez's speed). For a few years, he was one of the best players in baseball, a six-time All-Star. But injuries got the best of him; his last good season came when he was 28 years old.

Ramirez is now 28.