by Eno Sarris //
Judging by his inglorious exit from from a Los Angeles Dodgers team that sits five and a half games out of the wild card (before four other teams), one might be forgiven for comparing Manny Ramirez to chopped liver. The prevailing attitude vis-a-vis the mercurial slugger is that he’s injured too often and that at 38 years old, his offensive skills are just not what they used to be.
The prevailing view is wrong on this one. Ramirez has sported an OPS over .900 the past two years in Los Angeles, showing relatively little deterioration in his skills as a batter. There’s also reason to believe that he may be able to stay healthier in his new digs.
First, he’s still a great hitter. Ramirez’s walk rate, strikeout rate, and BABIP have held steady his whole career at above-average levels, making him an excellent bet for a strong OBP and batting average. Even in this ‘down’ period of his career, he should still put up a batting average near .300 and an OBP near .400 – benchmarks he’s hit more often than not in his illustrious career. These two facts alone make him an above-average real-life batter and a decent fantasy baseball option in many leagues.
Power is the real question mark, admittedly. After putting up isolated slugging numbers (slugging percentage minus batting average, ISO is a statistic that focuses on extra-base hits) near .300 for most of his career, Ramirez dipped to .241 last year and has a .199 ISO this year. His positive test for performance-enhancing drugs in 2009 has been blamed for this power outage, but Ramirez still had an ISO of .204 after he returned, which would put him on par with players like Brian McCann (.197 ISO), Aramis Ramirez (.201 ISO) and Rickie Weeks (.203 ISO) this year.
If a .200 ISO does not seem exciting enough, there are reasons to think he can do better in Chicago. According to StatCorner.com, the park factor for home runs for right-handed hitters in Los Angeles was 92. Compare that to U.S. Cellular, home of the White Sox, which has a 134 park factor for home runs for right-handed hitters. That is a serious swing in fortunes. In 213 earlier-career at-bats at the Cell, he’s had a .338/.448/.601 line that suggests he feels comfortable there.
The last piece of optimism arises when we consider defense. Not normally important when considering fantasy baseball, Ramirez has been so poor defensively that it had begun to cost him playing time. Since defensive statistics have been kept at FanGraphs.com, he has ranked in the very bottom of the outfield defensive rankings. Only one player with as many as 350 innings in left field this year has performed worse than Ramirez, for example. With the benefit of the DH – his new full-time position – he won’t have to stumble around the outfield anymore and should get his full share of at-bats. Maybe he’ll even stay healthier without the added stress on his legs and back.
Ramirez probably should have signed with an AL team before the 2009 season, but the Dodgers thought he had enough in the tank to help, even in the outfield. Now that it’s Manny time again in the AL and Ramirez is a DH, he should have enough left to help your fantasy team down the stretch.
For more on Manny Ramirez and other DHs, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.