Oh, Manny

I didn’t have much time for surprise yesterday when the news hit that Manny Ramirez had drawn a 50-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s drug policy. Before I could untangle my own emotions, catch my breath, dig into this week’s Hit List or get the full breadth of the rapidly evolving story, I’d been assigned a piece for Baseball Prospectus and ESPN Insider examining the cost on the field to the Dodgers, one that specifically re-evaluated a “reality check” piece I’d just published for the two sites examining the NL’s first month.

Here’s a taste:

Just as looked as though the Dodgers might run away with the National League West, they were hit with a bombshell on Thursday, namely Manny Ramirez’s 50-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s drug policy. Leaving the specifics of his violation to the reporters except to note that he won’t be eligible to return until July 3, the question is whether his absence will put the division in play. The answer — sorry, Diamondbacks fans and Manny haters — is probably not.

Despite haggling with the Dodgers over his contract into early March and suffering a hamstring strain during his second week of spring training, Ramirez had picked up where he left off last year, hitting .348/.492/.641 and leading the NL in OBP and walks. His performance has helped power the Dodgers to the majors’ best record (21-8), run differential (+55) and Equivalent Average (.286), not to mention a modern major league record 13-0 start at home. The team currently leads the Giants by 6.5 game and the Diamondbacks by 8.5 games.

At the outset of the season, our PECOTA projections pegged the Dodgers as a 93-win team with a 47.8 percent chance of winning the division and a 9.4 percent chance of taking the Wild Card, with the Diamondbacks at 88 wins, 34.7 percent, and 10.3 percent, respectively. Updating today’s “Reality Check” piece to include Wednesday night’s results and their ramifications in the PECOTA-based version of our Playoff Odds report, the Dodgers are projected to win 100 games (a .619 winning percentage), with an 84.1 percent chance of winning the division and a 4.7 percent chance of taking the Wild Card, while Arizona is projected to win 84 games (a .521 winning percentage), with 10.7 and 12.1 percent shots at the division and Wild Card. In other words, the Dodgers have widened the gap considerably on their closest rivals. The Giants, meanwhile, are still projected for just a 78-wn season, with a 3.4 percent shot at the division and 4.6 percent chance at the Wild Card.

After running through the Marginal Lineup Value Rate-based cost in runs of the Dodgers’ three in-house candidates to replace him — Juan Pierre, rookie Xavier Paul, and third baseman Blake DeWitt, who would force Casey Blake to the outfield — I suggested another means of calculation:

As an alternative way to gauge the impact of Ramirez’s absence, suppose we segment the Dodgers’ season into three unequal parts, namely the 29 games they’ve already played, the 50 games they’ll be without Ramirez, and the 83 games they’ll have left once he returns. For the first segment we pencil in the team’s actual scoring rates to date, and for the latter two segments, we use the team’s PECOTA-projected scoring rates, applying the worst-case “Manny Hit” (-0.568 runs per game) for the course of his suspension:
Segment     RS     RA
First 29 5.55 3.66 Actual
Next 50 4.49 4.39 PECOTA minus 0.568 r/g offense
Final 83 5.06 4.39 PECOTA
Overall 4.98 4.26

Using Pythagenpat, that’s a .573 winning percentage and a 93-win pace, or right where we pegged the Dodgers at the outset of the year. While this math is effectively saying that the cost of losing Ramirez may be enough to undo the extra advantage they’ve gained with their quick bolt from the gate, that still leaves the Diamondbacks having to find about 10 wins to overtake the Dodgers.

The bottom line is that Ramirez’s absence likely won’t cost the boys in blue the NL West flag. It could tighten the race, but the only real certainty is that it will be less colorful.

Before the day ended, I wound up doing radio hits for ESPN’s Austin affiliate as well as my regular WWZN Boston spot, and this morning, like clockwork, I’m making the rounds on the Fox News Radio network. Catch me yakking with your local drive time host:

WJNO West Palm Beach, FL
0710AM ET

WSYR Syracuse, NY
0735AM ET

WTVN Columbus, OH
0742AM ET

WGIR Manchester, NH
0750AM ET

KTRH Houston, TX
0805AM ET

WOAI San Antonio, TX
0840AM ET

KCOL Fort Collins, CO
0935AM ET

KOGO San Diego, CA
1007AM ET

Back later with more.

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