Manny Ramirez Resigning Makes Dodgers Dangerous in NL
by Trevor Whenham - 03/12/2009
It took forever and was way more like a soap opera than anyone needed it to be, but in the end Manny Ramirez ended up in the place where it most made sense for him to be. Manny loves playing in L.A., Dodgers' fans love him, and the league certainly doesn't hate the exposure of having their most entertaining star in the world's entertainment capital. On an anecdotal basis it's obvious that having Ramirez is much better for the Dodgers than not having him. Just what kind of an impact will he have on the team and on the NL West, though? Here's a look:
Value over replacement - I'm not a hardcore stats guy, so I won't go into all of the statistical measures you can find to show how much better this team is with Ramirez than they are with anyone else. Just accept that it's a lot. Without needing a math degree, though, we can get a sense of how key the signing was by looking at what the team would have done in his place. In short, they don't have a good replacement. Likely, they would eventually have wound up moving Casey Blake to left field and putting Blake DeWitt at third, but that clearly would have made the team worse. There are very few guys in the league that can have as much of an impact by joining a team - maybe Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez if he has his head together, perhaps Ryan Howard, and that's close to it. Similarly, only a couple of players would instantly make their team worse by leaving to the same extent as Ramirez would have - with another Ramirez, Hanley of Florida, at the top of that list.
Impact on batting order - Ramirez is a hitting god, and he will drive in a slew of runs. His impact goes far beyond his stats, though. Ramirez is so dominating and intimidating that he forces opposing teams to make decisions that they wouldn't otherwise make. That provides an incredible amount of protection and freedom for other hitters to do what they do best. That's important for a team like the Dodgers, because you have to note that they have a pretty good average outside of Ramirez. Russell Martin is a big hitter for a catcher, fielders Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp are the going to put up more than solid numbers, and Blake, Orlando Hudson and Rafael Furcal all more than hold their own as infielders. This is a team that was going to be able to score at the best of times, but with Ramirez on board you can expect several of those guys to do even better.
Fan fever - L.A. is a notoriously fickle city. They love winners, ignore losers, and leave early unless it's the playoffs. That doesn't make Dodger Stadium a bad place to play, though it can be lonely in the ninth inning of a game that is pretty much decided. Or the seventh, for that matter. Ramirez can't make L.A. any less phony, but he certainly has people excited and energized, and that isn't going to change. Just look at the press conference he gave when he was re-signed - he was the funniest guy Hollywood has seen in 10 years. He'll make sure that the fans keep coming to the stadium, and that they keep the team energized when they are there.
Comparison to Diamondbacks - The Giants could surprise everyone and get their act together behind an impressive rotation and some promising youngsters, but the only real contender that will likely challenge the Dodgers is Arizona. The Padres are incredibly bad, and the Rockies, unless they pull off another miracle resurgence like they did a couple years ago, are a pitcher-starved disaster. I'm not as optimistic about the Diamondbacks as many people are. I think that their rotation has big questions beyond the top two, and I'm not even convinced that Dan Haren can be the pitcher that he was last year. I also don't think that the team has nearly the batting order that the Dodgers do even if you don't consider Ramirez. Their best average hitter last year, Orlando Hudson, is now a Dodger. They don't have a whole lot of power, and their best RBI guy - Mark Reynolds with just 97 - also led the majors in both strikeouts and errors. The Diamondbacks just don't stack up to the Dodgers in my mind.
Regardless of whether you were more optimistic than I was about Arizona before, the unavoidable fact is that this addition gives the Dodgers a significant boost in the head-to-head battle - probably a boost of several wins. I would go so far as to say that this division is definitely the Dodgers' to lose at this point. L.A. also shed $20 million from their payroll from last year, so if things are closer than they should be then they likely have more flexibility than Arizona will to add the help they need to get over the top - likely pitching in this case.