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June 25, 2009
The Importance of Being Manny
You're traveling through another dimension. A dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of thr imagination. Next stop, the Manny Zone!
Unless you've been living under a rock, you are well aware that Manny Ramirez has begun his return to the big leagues with some warm-up games in the minor leagues to get his swing back after a long layoff. While his performance will be over-scrutinized on a ridiculous level, keep in mind that these will be small, if not downright tiny sample sizes that really won't tell us anything. In 2002, Ramirez played 11 games for Triple-A Pawtucket while recovering from a hamstring injury, going just 3-for-30, but that wasn't indicative of, well, anything, as he hit a remarkable .349/.450/.647 in 120 big-league games. At the same time, in six rehab games in the Indians system in 2000, he slugged four home runs in just 13 at-bats. Ramirez' performance this year in the minors will likely be something in between those two extremes, so instead of over-analyzing that which shouldn't be analyzed at all (look, we know the guy can hit), let's just have some fun with this.
Our statistical guru, Clay Davenport, is the king of translating performances. He's spent years making painstaking adjustments to his system that on the most basic of levels, attempts to create an even playing field for every team, player, and league, so that we can figure out what the big-league equivalents are for those playing outside of the majors. But what about reversing these formulas, and taking a player out of the major leagues, and making him spend a whole year in the minors? Let's pretend that Manny is a prospect, only one who is as good as he is right now, and see what he can do.
The Pacific Coast League remains a hitter's league, but really only on the left side of the county, as the teams that play from the old American Association remain in a somewhat offense-neutral environment, and there is little cross-division play. However, not only is Manny in a hitter's league right now, he's also in a hitter's park for the double advantage. It's a place where some fringy prospects, or the kind of guys who are well past their primes, put up some gaudy numbers, as the middle of the Isotopes' order has featured a trio of players with .600-plus slugging percentages who are not really considered prospects:
Player AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB/CS AVG/ OBP/ SLG Dee Brown 184 40 57 15 0 13 46 20 25 3/2 .310/.377/.603 Mitch Jones 192 37 56 12 1 21 50 18 49 4/1 .292/.351/.693 Hector Luna 204 44 72 13 5 13 47 21 33 4/1 .352/.420/.657
A first-round pick by the Royals in 1996, Brown is a 31-year-old career minor leaguer whose tools never really came together. Also 31, Jones has 221 career minor league home runs, including 39 at Double-A for the Yankees in 2004, but also 1,097 strikeouts in 1,016 games; he's perhaps keeping Manny's roster spot warm for him, having just been called up to LA last week for his big-league debut. Finally, while Luna was once a highly regarded infield prospect, he had never hit more than 11 home runs in a season before finding hitter's nirvana in New Mexico.
But what about Manny? Manny isn't some washout or Quadruple-A guy, Manny is a monster, one of the best right-handed hitters in baseball history. What would his numbers look like if he had been an Isotope all of this season? Clay's translations say that, yes, this would certainly be a lot of fun:
Player AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB/CS AVG/ OBP/ SLG Man-Ram 175 39 64 14 0 14 47 38 30 1/0 .366/.478/.686
And that might be conservative, as Albuquerque is playing at an even higher octane level than it has in the past, and most historical numbers are used for Clay's adjustments.
High-A Inland Empire
Later this week, Ramirez will transfer to the Dodgers' California League affiliate in order to stay close to the big-league club. A full two levels below the Pacific Coast League, plenty of players whom Manny will be playing with and against will never sniff the big leagues, and many will never even see Triple-A. In addition, it's the best offensive circuit in professional baseball. The Inland Empire 66ers are not a prospect-heavy team by any stretch, especially offensively. Scott Van Slyke (Andy's kid) leads the club with 11 home runs, and only one regular is hitting over .300, despite all of the advantages that hitting in this league provides. Drop Manny into their lineup however, and everything changes. To really have fun, let's put him in the Cal League for a full season, as opposed to just two months:
Player AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB/CS AVG/ OBP/ SLG Man-Ram 496 145 200 37 1 65 180 142 65 2/0 .403/.536/.875
Those numbers may be shocking, but when you think about the numbers that are being put up in this league by players who are nowhere near big league-ready (forget about MVP-caliber ballplayers), it suddenly makes a bit of sense. Let's take two players this year who have some of the loudest stats in all of the minors, Mariners-affiliated High Desert teammates Joe Dunigan and Alex Liddi:
Player AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB/CS AVG/ OBP/ SLG Joe Dunigan 226 43 76 19 2 17 60 28 54 12/5 .336/.406/.664 Alex Liddi 270 54 92 21 3 16 60 22 64 6/2 .341/.390/.619
Keep in mind that both of these players entered the year as somewhat fringy prospects. Dunigan was a fifth-round pick in 2007, and is a massive guy with real power but a lot of holes in his swing. Liddi is a 20-year-old third baseman originally signed out of Italy, and is also a player who certainly has some tools, but has never provided anything approaching this kind of production. They were teammates last year at Single-A Wisconsin in the pitching-friendly Midwest League; there, Dunigan hit .240/.299/.421 with 14 home runs in 437 at-bats, while Liddi put up a .244/.313/.360 line with just six bombs in 127 games. Clearly, some real progress has been made here, but the change of leagues has helped immensely, as has their ballpark-High Desert is an absolute pinball machine, even by California League standards.
So let's have some more good times, and trade Manny to the Mariners for a year, but force them to leave him in the best hitter's park in the best hitter's league in professional baseball. What kind of numbers would we get? Think about your most optimistic line, and then multiply it by two:
Player AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB/CS AVG/ OBP/ SLG Man-Ram 496 185 230 47 1 76 220 142 65 2/0 .464/.581/1.022
Needless to say, Manny would be a monster at Triple-A, and a demigod in the California League, so the point of the exercise is to help you look at minor league numbers a little differently. Often a player will have good numbers, and people will ask what else a guy has to prove in order to get his parent club to give him a shot. When one looks at the differences between the minors and the majors in terms of the level of competitiveness, more often than not the answer is that it's quite a bit.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .