March 13, 2011
We all have questions about the 2011 season and Alex Remington luckily has some answers. The Stew's resident stats guru will address the big questions as opening day approaches.
The Situation: Manny Ramirez(notes) is getting old. On May 30, he'll join Jack Benny by turning 39. The Tampa Bay Rays picked him up for the bargain price of $2 million, and they hope that he can do what Jim Thome(notes) did for the Minnesota Twins last year. Namely, shepherd a team to a division championship by producing a glorious half-season at DH. Manny won't be playing the field, and with the Rays' deep bench (including Manny's fellow ex-teammate and Idiot, Johnny Damon(notes)), he probably won't be playing every game. But if the Rays are going to hold off the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees for their third AL East title in four seasons, they'll need Manny to keep being Manny for one more season.
The Analysis: Manny actually hit very well last year. He didn't do much in his month with the Chicago White Sox, but he posted a .420 OBP in Chicago and a .409 OBP overall. His power has been dropping the past six years (and he served a 50-game suspension for HGH in 2009), as he's posted slugging percentages of .601, .531, and .460 over the past three years. His control of the strike zone is as sublime as ever, but the power is noticeably falling.
PGP at DRaysBay speculated on whether the declining power implied his bat speed was similarly declining, and found the data inconclusive. It's especially hard to separate the effects of aging from injury, considering that he missed about a month and a half with calf and hamstring injuries. In this video from two weeks ago, Manny and a Rays trainer work on improving his mobility. Last year Manny made three separate trips to the DL, so his conditioning will be crucial to his success.
Just as crucial for the team is keeping his glove on the bench. He was a terrible fielder as a 25-year old, so putting him in the field as a 39-year old would be unconscionable. If Damon (or Desmond Jennings(notes)) can hold down left field and ensure that Manny is a DH for the entirety of his Rays career, it will be better for all parties involved. It's sort of a cliche to mention at this point, but Ramirez is has long been one of the worst defensive players in baseball. Yet despite playing nearly his entire career in the American League, he has only played 323 games as a DH. (Some players claim they hit better when they play the field, notably Pat Burrell(notes), but Manny has hit about as well as a DH as he has as an outfielder.) It would be nice if letting Manny DH would keep his body fresh for hitting, but it's far more important for the team's statistical bottom line. Over the past eight seasons, his glove has been cost his team an average of a game a year. He should have been turned into a full-time DH a decade ago, but at least the Rays have a chance not to repeat past mistakes.
Also, as Rob Neyer mentioned in an interview with Erik Hahmann of DRaysBay, there's a reason for his Manny Being Manny nickname:
EH: Getting Manny Ramirez for $2 million. Greatest signing ever, or greatest signing ever?[Rob Neyer]: Greatest signing ever if he's productive OR if management ships him out the moment he's more trouble than he's worth.
The Rays made a savvy investment in a high-risk, high-reward player. It's amazing they were able to land him for a one-year, $2 million contract, two years after Ned Colletti spent $45 million to bring him back to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Before the White Sox claimed him on waivers and paid him the final $4.25 million of his paycheck, Manny played a total of 170 games for $40 million, a butcher in left field who missed 50 games for HGH and made three trips to the DL. He was a great hitter when healthy, but he brought a lot of baggage, and the Dodgers were glad to be rid of him, less than two years after he won the city over by propelling the team to a division championship in 2008. Because Tampa has him on such a cheap deal, it will cost them very little if they need to be rid of him.
The Forecast for 2011: Those caveats notwithstanding, there's a very good chance that Manny will be productive in Tampa, particularly if he gets 450 at-bats and is a full-time DH. His on-base percentage will probably stay between .375 and .400, but his power is a bigger question. The Bill James Handbook projects him at .286/.394/.479, with 20 HR and 69 RBI in 529 PA, while ZiPS projects him at .249/.374/.436, with 15 HR and 57 RBI in 414 PA. I think the optimistic Bill James projection is well within reach for Manny if he's happy and healthy. And, his indifferent Chicago month notwithstanding, he has a knack for a good impression, introducing himself in Boston and Los Angeles with a real bang. I'll predict .280/.390/.470, with homers in the teens depending on playing time. Maybe not the greatest signing ever, but a pretty damn great signing by a really smart team.
Previous questions: Can the Red Sox win 100 games?, How many games will the Astros win?, Will the Phillies miss Jayson Werth?, Will Buster Posey experience a sophomore slump?, Will Trevor Cahill be a Cy Young contender?, Will Justin Upton solve his strikeout problem?, Will Neil Walker be a top 10 second baseman?, Can Zack Greinke win the NL Cy Young award?