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June 25, 2009

Future Shock

The Importance of Being Manny

by Kevin Goldstein

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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.

Triple-A Albuquerque

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 Insider.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

14 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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I think my favorite thing about these translations has to be the 1 triple that MinorManny keeps hitting. For some reason that just kills me.

Jun 25, 2009 10:23 AM
rating: 1

KG, what would happen if you plugged in Barry Bonds' 2001 season of .328 .515 .863 and 73 HRs, or his 2002 of .370 .582 .799?

Jun 25, 2009 10:46 AM
rating: 1
Sam Miller

The crazy thing is how close Bonds came to that line a couple times. Obviously not the slugging, but otherwise, wow.

Jun 25, 2009 10:55 AM
rating: 1

Very fun article, Kevin.

Jun 25, 2009 12:37 PM
rating: -1
Dr. Dave

I had the same reaction that locke623 and lyricalkiller had, namely that at his peak

Barry Bonds : MLB :: Manny Ramirez : Hi-A


(I also can't decide whether to hope that "Man-Ram" was an inadvertently unfortunate choice, or a deliberate one...)

Jun 25, 2009 12:50 PM
rating: 0
Adam Madison

If you never pointed it out, I never would've got the sexual undertone of the nickname. It gets old when every guy has to point out anything remotely sexual.

Jun 25, 2009 15:32 PM
rating: -3

I think he's called Man-Ram a lot in the media and by the fans...

Jun 25, 2009 13:29 PM
rating: 0

thanks for the fun article, Kevin.

Jun 25, 2009 13:54 PM
rating: 0
Brian Cartwright

Being serious for a moment, there's something to consider about home run park factors. If Manny hits the ball 400 feet, does it matter whether the fence is 335 or 400? It is going to be a homerun anywhere. The players who are affected the most ontheir homeruns are those who hit balls in that iffy zone, homeruns in some parks, in the park in others. Short story, different players are affected different amounts, and it's the lower HR hitters who get the biggest boost, while the big boppers like Manny are the least impacted, positively or negatively, by the ballpark.

Jun 25, 2009 14:37 PM
rating: 3
BP staff member Kevin Goldstein
BP staff

Wow. That's a crazy great point.

Jun 25, 2009 16:14 PM

But wouldn't a number of his lesser-hit doubles/flyouts then be homers? Furthermore, wouldn't he be better equipped to launch more bombs of the lesser caliber of pitching in those leagues? It isn't all about dimensions

Jun 25, 2009 20:28 PM
rating: 1
Brian Cartwright

In the California and Pacific Coast leagues you also get into altitude, which helps the ball travel further. Yes, the pitching isn't as good, but I was making a point about the parks. And the lesser hit balls do become homers in smaller parks, but if you graph how far guys hit the ball, Manny has more over the fence than he does just short. Lesser players have more of their balls short of the fence, and are more sensitive to the ballparks. Just saying probably wouldn't be hitting 76 HRs...58 maybe!

Jun 25, 2009 21:26 PM
rating: 0

Given his current plate approach, maybe, but if we were to really banish Manny to Hi-A launching pad for an entire season, it stands to reason that he would adjust his swing to benefit from the shorter fences.

If anything, I think his projections are pretty low. I would think Manny facing Hi-A pitchers would be comparable to him at batting practice. I must admit I don't go to many Hi-A games, but how many of the pitchers have more than one real pitch? I suppose they could just walk him every at bat...

Jun 26, 2009 06:59 AM
rating: 0
Brian Cartwright

Here's a link to the second of two articles, which itself has a link back to the first.

Jun 26, 2009 04:59 AM
rating: 0
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