|ESPN.com: Fantasy Baseball||[Print without images]|
Manny Ramirez, a fantasy superstar of a decade and a half, was suspended by Major League Baseball for 50 games beginning Thursday for violating the MLB Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment program. The specific infraction was not announced by the league, but Scott Boras, Ramirez's agent, told ESPN's Peter Gammons that the slugger did not test positive for steroids, but for a drug prescribed by a doctor for a medical condition.
|Manny Ramirez will be on many fantasy benches during his suspension, but he can't take up a DL spot.|
But for our purposes, what's most painful, and what's the most immediate impact, is this: If you own Ramirez, prepare to be without the man drafted 23rd overall in the preseason and currently sitting at No. 37 on the Player Rater until July 3.
More frustrating: Ramirez will not be DL-eligible in ESPN leagues, as suspensions are not considered one and the same with the MLB disabled list. If you own him, you're going to have to burn a bench spot to retain him, and considering the type of hitter he is, in most every circumstance you're going to have to do it. However, he has been removed from the undroppables list, so if you feel like you have to cut him from your roster, you now have that option.
But let's not claim fantasy owners are the ones most hurt by this news; the impact on the Dodgers' lineup will be potentially devastating.
Consider that in the 80 games that Ramirez has played since coming to L.A. at last year's trade deadline, the Dodgers as a team have scored 399 runs, or almost exactly five per game (4.99 to be precise). In the 111 games the Dodgers were without Ramirez since Opening Day 2008, which includes both his three days off since his trade and the portion of 2008 before the trade, they have scored 462 runs, or 4.16 per game.
Breaking that down further, consider the performance difference between Ramirez and the man most likely to replace him in left field for the next two months, Juan Pierre.
In 302 games in his Dodgers career, Pierre has a .291 batting average and 72 RBIs. According to Baseball-Reference.com, he has 133 runs created during that time (an average of 0.4 per game). By comparison, Manny Ramirez has a .380 batting average and 73 RBIs in his Dodgers career -- in just 80 games. He has 100 runs created in that time, or 1.3 per game. In fact, Manny has as many extra-base hits in his Dodgers career as Pierre does in his (46), and Manny has also drawn more walks (61-57). As a result, his OPS as a Dodger is more than 500 points higher than Pierre's (1.200-.677).
Now, that undercuts the fact that for fantasy, Pierre is a heck of a lot more valuable commodity than for the real-life Dodgers over the next 50 games. A two-time National League stolen-base leader and four-time 50-steal man, Pierre becomes an instant steals gold mine, at the low, low price of a free-agent pickup in many leagues; as of the Ramirez news' breaking, he remained available in 96.6 percent of ESPN standard leagues.
Not that Pierre's year-to-date statistics -- a .355 batting average and one stolen base in 21 games -- are paces he's likely to maintain back in an everyday role. Expect the batting average to drop and the steals to rise, at least until Ramirez's July 3 return date.
A stat to support that: Since the Dodgers traded for Ramirez, Pierre has made 18 starts and appeared in 61 of 83 games, batting .303 and being successful on only five of 10 steals attempts, attempting a steal once per 11.8 plate appearances. Before the deal, by comparison, he had made 233 starts and appeared in 241 of 270 games in his Dodgers career, batted .290, been successful on 100 of 122 steals attempts and averaged one per 8.6 plate appearances. I'd argue, having watched Pierre regularly during his Marlins days, that he's the kind of player whose "wheels" -- his legs, which are his true moneymakers -- work best when they're spinning on an everyday basis.
|Speedster Juan Pierre becomes fantasy relevant again in replacing Manny Ramirez, though he'll be stealing bases, not hitting homers.|
What of the man called up to replace Ramirez on the active roster, Xavier Paul? The 2003 fourth-rounder isn't much different from Pierre in size (6-foot, 195 pounds, to Pierre's 6-foot, 180), is left-handed like Pierre and might not vary much in skill set, either. Paul is more likely to provide the Dodgers with a little pop if he can sneak in a handful of starts during Ramirez's absence, but he's less experienced than Pierre, and a little less likely to make consistent contact, having averaged one strikeout per 4.1 at-bats for his minor league career. Owners in deep NL-only leagues might want to stash Paul for the help he might provide in the stolen-base category, but he shouldn't play more than once or twice a week.
A few others who will suffer:
Orlando Hudson: One of fantasy's most pleasant surprises, Hudson can't help but cool off without Ramirez batting behind him in the order. Hudson was a .345 hitter in the No. 2 hole in 28 starts this season, and if that still doesn't make you a believer in the "lineup protection" that Ramirez can provide, this might: After the Ramirez trade, Andre Ethier batted .368 in 45 games the final two months of 2008, largely batting in Hudson's current spot.
Andre Ethier: Though not as drastic a hit as Hudson will take or that he might have had he remained in that No. 2 spot in the order, Ethier nevertheless plated either Hudson or Ramirez on 11 of his 27 RBIs this season. One must assume his current pace of 151 RBIs is bound to tumble a bit as a result.
Dodgers starting pitchers: Naturally, fewer runs scored means less run support. Check out how the Dodgers' current five have fared in run support per nine innings: Eric Stults (13.31), Chad Billingsley (8.63), Clayton Kershaw (7.64), Randy Wolf (4.91) and Jeff Weaver (3.00). Billingsley, the one with the best ERA (2.21) and WHIP (1.03) of the group, is the only one who shouldn't be particularly affected, and that's more because of his potential to keep up his pace.
And now one who might benefit:
Jonathan Broxton: Not that fantasy owners are about to complain about eight saves, a 0.64 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 13 relief appearances, but Broxton's value could improve or at the very least stay somewhat close to its current level atop the relief-pitcher position on the Player Rater. After all, fewer runs mean closer leads to protect.
Might Ramirez himself suffer even after his July 3 return? Let's not call that possibility impossible; that's more than two months' missed time and it could be difficult for him to find his groove immediately upon returning. Unfortunately we have no way of knowing for sure, and it's that lingering doubt that does put his remainder of 2009 in slight question for fantasy. Chances are he'll remain productive, though what will be interesting to see is the impact on the option year of his contract for 2010. If Ramirez can't come back as his usual self in the season's second half, surely he'll exercise the option. Keeper-league owners should keep that in mind, as this does increase the level of uncertainty regarding his prospects for a productive 2010 campaign.
One thing's for sure: Ramirez's reputation has almost assuredly been tarnished, no matter the end result to his career.