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January 29, 2009

Prospectus Hit and Run

Manny's Five Easy Choices

by Jay Jaffe

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The most boring standoff in baseball history continues. Manny Ramirez and agent Scott Boras still seek a four- or five-year deal worth at least $100 million working in a bleak financial landscape that has teams looking to cut costs while players prepare to settle for lesser deals than they'd have received via arbitration. Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti hasn't budged beyond an initial two-year, $45 million offer (plus club option), posturing with All-Star form at Boras' failure to dignify his advances with a response. Boras claims to be negotiating with several unnamed and probably fictional teams (the Gas House Gorillas' GM could not be reached for comment), having failed to lure Giants' GM Brian Sabean, the rare exec to publicly express interest in Ramirez, into sparking a bidding war. Yaaaaaawn.

With spring training rapidly approaching and Baseball Prospectus 2009 in the pipeline, we can use our fresh PECOTA projections to estimate the marginal gains several teams would make if they signed the free-spirited free agent. The PECOTA forecasting system (invented by Nate Silver before he began predicting the outcome of presidential elections) compares a player's track record, age, and body type to the most similar players among a database of more than 20,000 major league player-seasons dating back to World War II, generating a range of performance possibilities which are expressed as percentile scores and centered around a weighted mean.

Ramirez's weighted mean forecast for 2009 is 4.3 Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP), a figure that encompasses his offensive and defensive value (or on that latter score, at 13 runs below average, his lack of same) relative to a high minor leaguer or bench player. That may seem like a conservative figure given that he totaled 7.8 WARP last year between Boston and LA, but keep in mind that he'll turn 37 in May-and age carries injury risk as well as the strong probability of a more gradual decline-and that he accumulated just 7.3 WARP in 2006 and 2007 combined due to injuries and poor defense. His 90th-percentile forecast for 2009-a best-case scenario, if you will, and essentially the equal of what he achieved last year-calls for a .324/.417/.609 performance with 38 home runs, good for 6.9 WARP, while his worst-case, 10th-percentile performance comes in at .257/.356/.444 with 17 home runs and 1.5 WARP.

Bearing in mind that great players are more likely to beat the odds of a system like PECOTA, thus increasing the gains estimated by this relatively simplistic approach, here are five potential landing spots for Ramirez:

  • Dodgers: Still the favorites to re-sign Manny given the huge financial advantage they enjoy over the Giants and their NL West brethren, the Dodgers could easily fall back upon free agents Bobby Abreu (forecast for 3.2 WARP in 2009) or Adam Dunn (3.8 WARP) if Ramirez signs elsewhere. For the moment, however, their left fielder is punchless speedster Juan Pierre, who hit .283/.327/.328 last year, and who is owed $28.5 million over the next three years thanks to Colletti's insane largess. Pierre won't go away easily unless the Dodgers can restructure his contract along the lines of recently-released Andruw Jones, spreading out that sunk cost over a series of deferred payments which lower the team's 2009 payroll. Failing that, Juan-Be-Gone forecasts for a more-of-the-same 1.7 WARP, meaning that Ramirez would be worth an additional 2.6 wins in a division where the races have been decided by two games or less in four of the past five seasons.

  • Giants: Given that they finished dead last in the league in scoring and second-to-last in both homers and slugging percentage, San Francisco's offense could use the thunder that Ramirez's bat would generate, providing a potentially strong rotation (including Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Randy Johnson) with run support just like grownup teams do. Furthermore, the Giants' box office would certainly welcome a new superstar after attendance plummeted by 12.5 percent in the first year following Barry Bonds' departure. Beyond the question of whether the team can actually afford Ramirez given their long-term commitments to Barry Zero Zito and Aaron Rowand, incumbent left fielder Fred Lewis actually ranks among the team's most productive hitters, though speed and OBP are his game, not power; he stole 21 bases last year while hitting just nine home runs. While his .277/.354/.436 forecast (2.3 WARP) doesn't impress at a position where the offensive bar is higher than anywhere but first base (or DH), the two-win gain Ramirez could provide wouldn't be enough to close the gap between the Giants and the Dodgers.

  • Mets: After another agonizing near-miss of the playoffs, GM Omar Minaya addressed the team's biggest shortcoming, its bullpen, by signing Francisco Rodriguez and trading for J.J. Putz. However, Minaya has yet to substantially upgrade his corner outfielders, who ranked fourth-to-last in the league in homers (27) and OPS (747) via a combined .278/.338/.409 line amid a plague of injuries. Rookie Dan Murphy hit a promising .313/.397/.473 in 151 plate appearances, though almost exclusively against righties, but PECOTA isn't sanguine about a repeat, forecasting .263/.327/.405 and just 1.8 WARP. The system doesn't see fellow rookie and platoon-mate Nick Evans as much better (.256/.319/.428, 0.5 WARP), and keep in mind that both players' figures are projected over more than 500 PA apiece. Furthermore, Fernando Tatis, who rose from the dead to hit .297/.369/.484 in 306 PA, forecasts for just a .245/.325/.402 line and 0.7 WARP in part-time duty, while Ryan Church, ostensibly the starting right fielder, is penciled in for 1.2 WARP, again in part-time duty. If we assume some positional flexibility and project those four players' combined performance over 1200 PA, that comes out to 1.6 WARP apiece at each corner, making for a gain of 2.7 wins if the Mets instead sign Ramirez. When you've missed the postseason by a single game in each of the past two seasons, that ain't hay.

  • Angels: Having lost Mark Teixeira to free agency despite a $160 million offer, the Angels apparently have money to spend, as well as a gaping hole in their lineup. Their .413 slugging percentage was ninth in a 14-team league last year; without Teixeira's video game-like .358/.449/.632 performance for them over the final two months, they'd have slipped to 11th. PECOTA loathes Teixeira's underpowered replacement, Kendry Morales (.253/.295/.389, -0.2 WARP), and it's none too keen on Juan Rivera, who will be given first crack at the everyday left-field job after signing a three-year, $12.75 million deal. Extrapolating the forecasts for Rivera, Gary Matthews Jr. (the world's most expensive fourth outfielder, with three years and $33 million remaining on his deal), and forgotten man Reggie Willits across left field and the otherwise-vacant DH slot yields 2.2 WARP apiece at two premium offensive positions. Adding Ramirez in either slot thus gains 2.1 wins, with the difference between bad left-field play and DHing coming out in the wash mathematically, but nevertheless proving a solid win on aesthetic grounds. Alas, given that the Angels won the division by 21 games last year, they've likely got less incentive to pursue Ramirez relative to the more tightly clustered NL teams.

  • Indians: Could the prodigal son return to the team where he made his name destroying AL pitching from 1993 through 2000? It's an admittedly far-fetched scenario with little basis in reality, but such a homecoming makes some sense on paper. Ben Francisco is Cleveland's incumbent left fielder, and his forecast for .260/.328/.424 and 1.7 WARP, paired with that of platoon-mate David Dellucci (.254/.316/.425, 0.2 WARP) offers little hope that the team's seven-year trend of mediocrity from its corner outfielders-a topic spotlighted in this year's edition of our annual-will end. The drawback is that with a supposedly healthy Travis Hafner at DH, Ramirez would lose that potential alternative for playing time. Marginal gain: 2.4 wins in a division that needed a one-game play-in to be decided last year, though the Indians aren't going to show Manny any money.

  • The rest: The Yankees have Johnny Damon (3.3 WARP) and Hideki Matsui (1.4 WARP) in left field and at DH, but with each making $13 million and enjoying some amount of no-trade protection, they won't go away easily, a problem given a team payroll pushing $200 million. Though the Red Sox won't pine for their departed man-child, it's worth noting that PECOTA does not love Jason Bay (2.2 WARP, including 15 runs below average on defense). The Diamondbacks, who lost Dunn, would seem to be an ideal home for Ramirez, and while the gain over Eric Byrnes (1.4 WARP) would trump the Dodgers, the Snakes are on the hook for $22 million worth of Byrnes over the next two years, and they've already made a conspicuous show of belt-tightening this winter by foregoing the Big Unit and laying off 31 employees back in November. Atlanta's Matt Diaz/Brandon Jones platoon (1.9 WARP) appears ripe for an upgrade, but the Derek Lowe contract likely represents the end of their big spending this winter.

The feeling here is that the inflexibility of both Boras and Colletti will lead Ramirez into the arms of the Mets. Don't bet on this drama to end anytime soon, however.

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

Related Content:  Manny Ramirez,  The Who,  WARP,  Year Of The Injury

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

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Hoff

One met fan sure can hope. They do seem to be towing an awfully hard line. Here's hoping Boras won't let them walk too far away when it comes time for that last 5 million.

In other news, I take it from the wording of your PECOTA toss that Nate didn't run the monkey this year? Does that mean he's gone?!

Jan 29, 2009 06:31 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

He ran PECOTA as usual. I just have the honor of being the first one to break the shrinkwrap.

Jan 29, 2009 08:07 AM
 
lucidmatt

If Minaya values defense in the new outfield, Manny will not be a Met. Citibank is going to be alot like Shea, and the thought of ManRam trying to patrol all that ground should make Mets fans wary of the signing.

Jan 29, 2009 07:51 AM
rating: 0
 
ScottyB

Church and Beltran are excellent in CF and RF, so having a hack in LF isn't sooooo bad (besides, it's not like former 3B Tatis and former 2B Murphy are great out there).

I think Omar is smart enough to make the move if the price comes down far enough (in terms of years and/or $)- much like the looooong wait for Santana.

I think the moves that make the most sense for the Mets are:
sign Adam Dunn to a Burrell-esque 2 year deal. Have him "play" LF this year (then turn it over to FMartinez) and 1B next year (when Delgado moves on).

Before the DBacks signed Lopez to play 2B, I though the best arrangement was a straight-up trade of Luis Castillo for Eric Byrnes and their awful contracts. For the Mets, Byrnes can be ok batting 7th and playing good LF defense; for the DBacks, Castillo could be an OBP asset. O well.

Jan 29, 2009 10:50 AM
rating: 2
 
R.A.Wagman

Any word on when the 09' Pecota's go live?

Jan 29, 2009 08:23 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

No idea at all. History says it should be pretty soon, but we all know that Nate's got a lot more on his plate these days than in past years.

The street date of the book according to Amazon is 2/16/07 so you've at least got that going for you, and I for one will probably try to work some bit of PECOTA content into my upcoming columns.

Jan 29, 2009 11:33 AM
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

oops, 2/16/09, obviously.

Jan 29, 2009 12:03 PM
 
Nater1177

I'm a PECOTA backer, but how can Bay possibly come out as a worse defensive fielder than Manny? I didn't go looking just now, but I don't recall any 'he's a nice hitter, but....' type analysis when the trade went down. If anything, there were plenty of 'he's not Manny with the bat, but consider the defensive upgrade....' type comments going around. Seems bizarre to me.

Jan 29, 2009 08:48 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

This year's PECOTA uses our new play-by-play defensive component (the 2005-2008 numbers in the book are all PBP based, I believe). And it's not just BP's defensive stats which are down on Bay. Via Fangraphs UZR, he was at -11.5 in 2007, and -15.5 last year.

Jan 29, 2009 10:42 AM
 
dianagram

Does PECOTA take into account (make any adjustment for) a player changing teams/parks in mid-season, and cutting them some slack in terms of learning the nooks and crannies of the new park for defense purposes?

(I suspect the answer is no ...) :-)

Jan 30, 2009 07:37 AM
rating: 0
 
gophils

that seems like a real reach

Jan 30, 2009 07:57 AM
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dianagram

agreed ... but certain parks are tougher to defend that others, and thus there IS a "learning curve"

Jan 30, 2009 08:14 AM
rating: 0
 
HonusCobb

So doesn't Manny going to the Angels just make the most sense? They've got the money and there he could DH.

The Dodgers have made inefficient use of cash recently. AS you've mentioned - Andruw Jones, and Juan Pierre to name a few. Another inefficient use would be paying Manny 45 million over two seasons.

Giants probably won't and shouldn't happen.

Indians - won't happen.

Mets might, but I just don't like Manny in the National League. I think you maximize his value by playing him a DH where he's going to get more at bats and he won't be a negative defensively.

Yankees won't - they've spent enough big bucks...

And I know the Angels said that they're not going to pursue him but doesn't it just make the most sense?

Jan 29, 2009 09:56 AM
rating: 0
 
John Carter

I agree. It's crazy. He should be an Angel. But then, where is Barry Bonds? It seems that baseball teams weigh "chemistry" or something very heavily that we can't measure.

Jan 29, 2009 10:13 AM
rating: 0
 
Aaron/YYZ

Any thoughts on Joe's comment yesterday that possibly Manny "signs for a pittance on a one-year deal wherever he wants to play the most, and goes nuts for the six months" ?

Jan 29, 2009 09:58 AM
rating: 0
 
Richie

Yeah, I got a thought on that. Scott Boras.

Jan 29, 2009 11:27 AM
rating: 1
 
James Martin Cole

Also, it's not likely that his stock is going to rise, no matter how crazy he went. Is he going to put up a 10 WARP season? Is he going to win a gold glove? He crushed the ball last year, and it's unlikely he'll do any better than that next year. His earning potential at 38 isn't going to be any higher than age 37, even if the nation's depression turns out to be less severe than Greinke's.

Jan 31, 2009 12:35 PM
rating: 0
 
amazin_mess

Another Mets fan that is so sick of Fred Wilpon pretending he doesn't have a team from the biggest market in baseball. Just sign Manny.

Jan 29, 2009 10:31 AM
rating: 0
 
Teraxx

What, Tim Redding wasn't enough? ;-)

Jan 29, 2009 17:17 PM
rating: 0
 
amazin_mess

No. But Cory Sullivan did the trick.

Jan 29, 2009 18:08 PM
rating: 0
 
coolpapabell

Great info! Thanks! 2.7 huh.......so that must mean that Abreu or Dunn would mean about 1.7 wins for the Mets? If not, and they provide more, then it might be time to go the sales rack for Dunn or Abreu.

Jan 29, 2009 10:41 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Dunn's at 3.8 so without adjustment that's a half-win step down, according to PECOTA, while Abreu is about a win below.

Keep in mind though that these numbers are based on projecting them in the parks in which they finished the 2008 season, so Dunn is getting a slight boost as a lefty in Arizona (which increases offense 8.7% according to this here spreadsheet), while Abreu's offense is depressed by 3.2% in Yankee Stadium, and Manny's by 3.6% in Dodger Stadium. CitiField is expected to be pitcher-friendly but pretty neutral for handedness, depressing offense by 3.0% for righties, 3.3% for lefties, which would mean it's really only Dunn whose value you'd have to adjust here.

Jan 29, 2009 10:57 AM
 
coolpapabell

Wow! Dunn is about a full run above not with standing the adjustments and at about a fraction of the cost? Did not see that one coming. I hope Omar does.

Jan 29, 2009 12:38 PM
rating: 0
 
Tom Stahlecker

We can really get one decimal place precision on Citi Field, which hasn't been opened yet? Really? That seems like a bit much...

Jan 29, 2009 15:26 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

It's a starting point via a park factor model "based on a host of factors like field dimensions, altitude, average temperature, and the like," which Nate introduced (http://www.baseballprospectus.com/unfiltered/?p=677) in the service of Nationals Park last year but likely had to employ even before then (Busch II?). The spreadsheet he shared contains L/R component factors for the new parks too (1B, 2B, 3B, HR, BB, SO), some of which are presumably dimension-based, and I'm sure those factors are fed into a run-estimation calculation, which is how you wind up with something that purports to be that sensitive.

Of course we won't really get a full read on any park's effects until we've got a few years of data, but you have to start somewhere, and if you want to say that Citi is anticipated to depress offense equally from the left and the right, it's close enough.

FWIW, for Nationals Park, Nate estimated it would reduce offense by 2.0% for righties, 1.1% for lefties. In the first year, it was -1.6% for righties, -4.5% for lefties, who had a sample half the size.

Jan 29, 2009 20:11 PM
 
awayish

most teams have winning as a component of running the business. all this chemistry bullshit is just cover for shifting scale of operation. they don't want to spend money in a recession.

Jan 29, 2009 11:53 AM
rating: 1
 
Rowen Bell

I'm really intrigued by Jay's offhand comment: "Bearing in mind that great players are more likely to beat the odds of a system like PECOTA...."

Is this really true? Has anyone studied this?

What is probably true is that, in any given season, the players who had the best statistics that season outperformed their median PECOTA projections, as a group.

However, it's not clear to me that we should expect prior to a season that a group of "great players" are likely to outperform their median PECOTA projections, as a group. Were this true, Nate could build that tendency into PECOTA and correct the projections accordingly.

Jan 29, 2009 13:23 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

It's an admittedly offhand comment, one that Nate might phrase differently.

But think about it for a moment in the context of PECOTA's strongly pessimistic view of players as they age. Certain players stay great into their late 30s and even 40s by beating the averages relative to the broad selection of comparables generated by the system. They're the outliers, stringing together a bunch of 60-75 percentile seasons in a row into their late 30s, defying the gravity of age as their cohorts wither and fade away.

Jan 29, 2009 14:07 PM
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

A reader asked me about Manny-to-the-Cardinals as per Albert Pujols' comments. If one assumes a simple swap-out of Rick Ankiel (weighted mean of 2.2 WARP for 2009) for Manny, the gain is 2.1 wins. If one does something similar to what I did above for the Mets and Angels by taking multiple players across two positions into account (here Ankiel, Skip Schumaker, Brian Barton, Chris Duncan and Ryan Ludwick) you get 2.5 WARP apiece at the outfield corners per 600 PA and thus 1.8 win gain via Manny.

Jan 30, 2009 12:02 PM
 
treerat

Yes, yes...Barry Zero. I wonder if he would consider combining his first and last names and simply go by "Zero". Or "Ziro". Don Quixote meets Zorro. It rhymes with Ichiro and is considered a hero in certain circles. Randy Johnson could play Big Bird in the Sesame Street version of the extravaganza bonanza that will be the San Francisco Giants 2009 season. Manny Ramirez would make an awesome special guest star.

Jan 31, 2009 11:49 AM
rating: 1
 
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