Aging Manny can still hit but his future remains uncertain
Is Manny Ramirez done? To put it another way, is he the next Vladimir Guerrero or the next Gary Sheffield? Ramirez's unproductive 2010 season was remarkably similar to the 2009 seasons for Guerrero and Sheffield. Guerrero signed a $5.5 million contract with Texas and bounced back with a Silver Slugger season. Sheffield never got a job.
The table at right shows the similarities in the walk years of these three prolific righthanded sluggers who had almost no defensive value. (Ramirez's stats are his combined numbers with the Dodgers and White Sox.)
Scott Boras, Ramirez's agent, is positioning Ramirez as the next Guerrero, and why not? When Texas GM John Daniels signed Guerrero, this is what he told me: "We're betting on Vlad being more like Oakland signing Frank Thomas [for 2006] and Cleveland signing Juan Gonzalez : MVP caliber players off down and injured years. We still think he has more in the tank and is highly motivated."
Daniels was dead right on his call. Thomas and Gonzalez each finished in the top five in MVP voting in their bounceback years. Guerrero hit .300 with 115 RBIs.
Ramirez does fit the same profile as Guerrero, but with one important difference: he's four years older. There is no question that Ramirez still can hit (albeit with diminished power), but there is a question about his durability.
Here's one more issue that clouds Ramirez's future: The market for aging sluggers with reduced defensive value has more supply than demand. Ramirez is competing with hitters such as Jim Thome, Lance Berkman, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Magglio Ordoñez, Pat Burrell, Jermaine Dye, Russell Branyan and Guerrero.
The Cy Young Award for 13-game winner Felix Hernandez may be hailed as some great moment in the sabermetric revolution, but the truth is that he blew away the field with the stats that go on the back of baseball cards: ERA and innings while missing the strikeout title by one. He was the best pitcher in the league even without needing to mine miles down statistical shale.
The overwhelming margin of victory -- he took 75 percent of the first-place votes (and, incredibly, one vote as low as fifth place!) -- reflected his obvious dominance, not any hair-splitting exercise.
When it comes to brilliant pitching with little to show for it, this was a freakish season for Hernandez. It's almost impossible to make 34 starts with an ERA as low as 2.27 and not win more than 13 games. In fact, only one other pitcher was so unlucky: Walter Johnson, who had a 2.22 ERA but went 13-25 for the 1909 Senators, a team that lost 110 games while averaging 2.4 runs per game. Yikes.
Hernandez was an extreme case, but the fact is the Baseball Writers Association of America electorate, like everybody else in baseball, has learned over the past five years or so to put statistics such as wins and RBIs in their proper context. I dare say that if you took a re-vote on the 2005 Cy Young Award, the winners might be Roger Clemens instead of Chris Carpenter in the National League and Johan Santana instead of Bartolo Colon in the American League.
And so if wins no longer a Cy Young winner make, what best defines a Cy these days? I decided to take a look at the past 14 Cy Young winners and see what sort of statistical leaders are most represented. And for fun, the way I looked at them was to hold a competition: old school stats vs. new school stats.
The old-school team is represented by Wins, ERA, Winning Percentage, Strikeouts and Innings Pitched. The new-school team is represented by Wins Above Replacement, Adjusted Pitching Wins, ERA+, WHIP and Strikeout-to-Walk Rate. Here's the scoreboard, the number of leaders in each category from 2004-10 that were voted the Cy Young Award:
The New School clearly wins. That tells us that we have developed better ways to define greatness and that the electorate is embracing them.
What really jumped out at me was the recent track record for Adjusted Pitching Wins, a stat based on formulas developed by Gary Gillette, Pete Palmer and others that estimates a pitcher's contribution to his team's wins. Turns out it's pretty good at predicting Cy Young Award winners, too. APW has identified six consecutive Cy Young winners and nine of the last 10 -- the only exception being CC Sabathia in 2007, and he finished second in APW to Fausto Carmona.
So next year when you're curious who is going to win the Cy Young Award, do yourself a favor and don't check who has the most wins; check who is the Adjusted Pitching Wins leader.
Let me get this straight: the general managers were asked if they liked the idea of expanding the playoffs -- translation: improving the chances of them keeping their jobs -- and they endorsed it? Gee, what a surprise. And of course they would like a best-of-three wild card round and a best-of-seven Division Series because the longer the series the more "fair" the outcome. It's like asking a kid if he wants more candy.
What commissioner Bud Selig needs is an honest-to-goodness study commission, which includes researchers, statistical analysts and broadcasting experts. The GMs have no idea that in recent years Selig was presented with statistical research from analysts that adding a second wild card team in each league would have negatively impacted previous races. Why? The entry level to qualify for the postseason becomes so low that the division leaders operate with a bigger safety net.
Selig can't put too much stock in the preferences of managers and GMs because they are motivated too much by self-preservation and not the overall good of the game. A team that failed to win its division after playing 162 games has no "right" to a "series" of play-in games, especially at the cost of more non-clinching playoff games and more days off for the best teams. It's either a one-game elimination game or keep the playoffs as they are.
And the GMs might want to remember this, as they "reward" six division winners with sitting around for five days while four second-place teams get the stage to themselves for games few people will care about: Over the past six postseasons there have been seven teams who entered a series with five or more days of rest. Those teams lost five of those seven series.