A Manny Comeback?

When Manny Being Manny gave way to Manny Being Bannied last season, Manny Ramirez chose to retire from the Tampa Bay Rays after 17 putrid plate appearances rather than face a 100-game suspension for a second PED violation. But, just when it seemed as though we had seen the last of the Green Monster-whizzing slugger with 555 career home runs, Manny is swimming, swinging and showing humility in hopes of getting a Spring Training invite from a club looking for a designated hitter.

Ramirez, 40 in May, still faces a 50-game suspension if a team gives him a chance. We don’t really know what type of shape he’s in or what he has been up to over the past nine months — cutting off outfield throws in Beer League softball games, selling giant grills, pointing at David Ortiz on TV (and wondering why he doesn’t point back)…your guess is as good as mine. And, as Matt Klaassen opined earlier this week, the Manny Market may consist of only Texas, Minnesota, Toronto and Tampa (though I really doubt that last one). But, assuming Manny does get an offer and a chance at playing time come June, what might his batting line be? To get a rough idea, let’s look at his recent performance and the history of greybearded DHs.

There’s not much of anything to be gleaned from Manny’s brief trial at the Trop in 2011, so let’s focus on the two years prior to that. Ramirez was still an offensive force as recently as 2009, hitting .290/.418/.531, swatting 19 home runs and rocking an on-base-plus slugging percentage that was 53 percent better than the league average during a PED suspension-shortened season. In 2010, however, Manny stopped mashing as much. Check out this graph of his Isolated Power by season (in green), with the league average in blue:

His ISO tumbled from .241 in ’09 (in the top 30 among batters with at least 400 plate appearances) to .162 in 2010, which wasn’t all that far from the .155 big league average that season. Manny’s superb plate discipline still allowed him to post a .409 OBP, but his adjusted OPS declined to 38 percent better than the league average. The main reason for the power decline was a big uptick in ground balls hit:

He grounded out about 33 percent of the time in 2009, but that shot up to 43 percent in 2010. Manny was bothered by a strained calf that limited him to 320 plate appearances, so that could have contributed to his worm-burning woes.

It seemed like a move to Tampa as a full-time DH in 2011 would help him rest his legs and regain his power stroke, but we’ll never know how that might have worked out. What we’re left with is a guy with a great eye, declining pop and a year without seeing live pitching. The Hardball Times’ Oliver projection system has a .272/.374/.452 forecast for Manny in 2012. There’s obviously more uncertainty around that projection than most, but that translates to about an OPS about 13 percent better than the league average if run-scoring levels remain similar to last year.

History suggests that even that level of performance would be very rare for a bat-only player who has celebrated his 40th birthday. According to Baseball-Reference, there are just 10 player seasons in which a 40-plus year-old DH managed an above-average OPS while getting at least 400 plate appearances. And of those ten, only four really raked at the plate (all at age 40): Edgar Martinez (141 OPS+ in 2003), Dave Winfield (137 OPS+ in 1992), Harold Baines (135 OPS+ in 1999) and Brian Downing (132 OPS+ in 1991). Should Manny meet his 2012 Oliver projection, he would slot in between Reggie Jackson and Carl Yastrzemski at number six all-time:

Rk Player OPS+ PA Year Age Tm
1 Edgar Martinez 141 603 2003 40 SEA
2 Dave Winfield 137 670 1992 40 TOR
3 Harold Baines 135 486 1999 40 TOT
4 Brian Downing 132 476 1991 40 TEX
5 Reggie Jackson 116 517 1986 40 CAL
6 Carl Yastrzemski 110 523 1982 42 BOS
7 Carl Yastrzemski 106 437 1983 43 BOS
8 Dave Winfield 105 594 1993 41 MIN
9 Paul Molitor 104 597 1997 40 MIN
10 Darrell Evans 104 522 1988 41 DET

I have no idea whether Manny can be a role model, but this is where his career is at: he’s closing in on 40, showed less pop and durability prior to a hasty retirement and will go something like 14 months between regular-season at-bats, if he can find a team to give him playing time. Projections and history suggest it would be an upset if he can put up more than an OPS in the low .800s.

There’s no risk in keeping an eye on Manny this winter and spring. If everything breaks right, he could be a high-OBP, moderate slugging batter who gives your team a cheap boost come June. Maybe he even has a Winfield or Baines-esque season in him. But that’s if he’s healthy and if he can convince one of a small number of suitors that he’s still got something left to offer. As always, we’re left wondering what Manny will do next.

A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

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Maybe if 17 PA’s in 2011 is too few to talk about, it’s too few to include in the graphs too? Especially the GB/FB/LD chart.

Besides that nitpick, good discussion.
I agree he’s not going back to TB, and I can’t see the Twins thinking that he’d fit there either.