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A Rational Look at the Impact of the Manny Ramirez Suspension

By now we've all seen the story about Manny Ramirez's 50 game suspension for a positive drug test. We've seen the reactions, from pathetic to the insane to the overdramatic (The first line of Jon Heyman's story is, "One of the last funny, happy stories in baseball is over". Funny, I get lots of enjoyment and happiness out of baseball, but that's just me.). All of us have felt the urge to slam our fists through our computer monitors. But now that the drama is (hopefully) over, what really is the outcome of this mess? Yes, Manny is suspended for 50 games, but how much does that hurt the Dodgers as a team?

First of all, let's remember that Manny Ramirez is not the only good hitter on the Dodgers. Yes, Manny's .468 wOBA is leading the team, but we've got three other starters whose wOBA is over .390. Orlando Hudson, Andre Ethier, and Matt Kemp have put up .425, .412, and .392 wOBA's respectively, all of which are in the top 25 in the NL. Anyone who says the Dodgers can't hit without Manny doesn't know what he's talking about.

In fact, Manny hasn't been much more valuable than either Hudson or Kemp. According to Fangraphs, Manny has been worth about 1.5 wins above replacement level so far in '09, while Kemp and Hudson have both been worth 1.3 wins. Kemp's value comes from his plus defense in center field, which combined with Manny's poor defense in left, almost makes up for their differences hitting-wise. The O-Dog plays second base so he is not expected to provide nearly the same offensive output that Manny is. There's also Chad Billingsley, who's stellar pitching has been worth 1.2 wins above replacement level already.

So, what will be the impact of Manny's suspension over the course of 50 games? Well, the Dodgers have played 30 games, which is 19% of the season. If you prorate Manny's numbers over the course of the whole season, he'd be worth 7.9 wins above replacement level. Of course it's very doubtful that he keeps this up over the course of the whole season (Only Pujols and Utley were worth that much in '08), but even assuming that he does we've only lost 2.45 wins over 50 games. And this scenario assumes that Juan Pierre will play at replacement level, which he has been above since he bacame a full-time starter (although only slightly last year).

If Manny plays to my own projections (made by combining CHONE, Marcels, and ZiPS preseason projections), the Dodgers would only lose 1.15 wins. That's right, this entire fiasco could boil down to one measly win! But I don't think that's fair either. I think the most accurate approach would be to average the preseason projections and his performance so far in '09, which brings us to 1.8 wins. That is probably the best estimate of the value lost over the 50 games, and it shows how little the suspension really affects the Dodgers. The range of possible outcomes is probably 1-3 extra losses, but no more than that.

And remember that the Dodgers don't have to play great the rest of the season to win the division, thanks to their hot start. If the Dodgers have merely a .500 record the rest of the way (66-66), they will win 87 games. This is not just when Manny's gone, this is if they go .500 for the rest of the season. Just to get to 87 wins, the Giants would have to go 73-62 the rest of the way and the Diamondbacks would have to go 75-58. Those are some pretty good records needed just to catch up if our team is mediocre. If the Dodgers win 93 games (as projected by Jay Jaffe at Baseball Prospectus) the Giants and Diamondbacks would have to go 79-56 and 81-52 respectively, just to match the Dodgers. I'd say we're still the favorites.

One silver lining is the possibility that Manny will not opt-out of his contract after the season anymore because of how much his reputation has been tarnished. In the above linked Ken Rosenthal article Ken writes:

Oh, and so much for Ramirez rushing to opt out of the second year of his two-year, $45 million contract with the Dodgers. His agent, Scott Boras, will want him back on the open market, but there is no chance — none — that another team will match Ramirez's $20 million salary for 2010.

Buster Olney had this to say of Manny's contract situation after the suspension:

There is no way he will walk away, because starting today he is an outfielder who will turn 37 later this month and now is connected with the use of performance-enhancing drugs, and no team with any sanity is going to match the money that Ramirez stands to make in the second year of his deal. If you thought Ramirez was a pariah after the way he dogged his way out of Boston, well, you ain't seen nothing yet.

So 50 games could get the Dodgers an extra year of Manny's services, albeit with a $20 million dollar price tag. I think that's still a pretty good deal when the alternatives include a whole year of Juan Pierre or a rushed Andrew Lambo up in the big leagues. Also note that the Dodgers don't have to pay Manny's salary while he is suspended (approximately $3.1 million saved) which could help bring in a free agent pitcher (Pedro Martinez, Ben Sheets, or Odalis Perez) or help to pay for a veteran brought back in a trade. It's impossible to quantify the value of this extra money until we see what moves are made but the right move could be worth a win easily over the course of the season.

While Manny Ramirez's suspension has many ready to declare the Dodgers in meltdown mode, there is no reason to panic. The Dodgers still have a big lead in the division and have very good odds of remaining there until Manny returns, when he can wreak havoc on the rest of the National League once again.