Manny vs. C.C.

by Keith Glab,
February 3, 2009

Manny Ramirez and C.C. Sabathia represent two of the biggest-impact midseason acquisitions of all time.  While Sabathia parlayed his success into the richest contract ever for a pitcher, Manny Ramirez remains unsigned, with only the Los Angeles Dodgers showing more than a passing interest so far.  Obviously, eight years separate the two players and questions surround Manny's attitude, accounting for much of the disparity in demand.  Still, this dichotomy leads to an interesting question: which acquisition made more of an impact, the Brewers' trade for Sabathia or the Dodgers' trade for Ramirez?

Note that for the purposes of this article that I am not interested in which team relinquished better prospects in order to acquire each player, just how valuable the player was individually for the few months that he toiled for his new team.  Keep in mind that the Sabathia deal was pulled off 24 days prior to the consummation of the Ramirez trade, giving Sabathia a big, fat leg up.  For a reference point on how baseball writers gauged their respective contributions, Ramirez finished 4th in NL MVP voting while Sabathia trailed at 6th, although Manny's edge was a meager 17 points (138 to 121).

Let's begin with the simplest measurement: team wins.  The Los Angeles Dodgers went 54-54 (.500) prior to Manny's arrival and 29-25 (.537) thereafter, a difference of +37 winning percentage points.  The Milwaukee Brewers went 49-40 (.551) prior to Sabathia's first start with the Brew Crew and 41-32 (.562) thereafter, a difference of +11 winning percentage points.  If you include the Dodgers' 4-4 postseason record and the Brewers' 1-3 playoff showing, then the differential changes to +32 for Los Angeles/Manny and -6 for Milwaukee/Sabathia.

While these numbers indicate that Manny had a more beneficial impact than Sabathia did, we must also account for the other summer acquisitions made by these two eventual playoff teams.  While the Dodgers would acquire both Casey Blake and Greg Maddux, the only significant acquisition for Milwaukee besides C.C. Sabathia was Ray Durham.  Oddly enough, Durham probably did more to help the Brewers win than Blake and Maddux did for the Dodgers, so we still see Manny pulling more weight than Sabathia.

Now, onto how their individual performances may have translated into wins.  Win Shares estimates the number of actual wins a player contributed to his team multiplied by three (so I've divided by three in parentheses for your convenience).  WARP1 - Baseball Prospectus' Wins Above Replacement Player - estimates the number of wins a player contributed above what a very poor player would produce.  Both Win Shares and WARP1 combine hitting, pitching, and fielding contributions, while Batting Wins and Pitching Wins only measure their individual aspects of the game, and do so above a league average player rather than a replacement level player.  

  Win Shares WARP1 Batting/Pitching Wins
Manny Ramirez 19 (6.3) 5.3 3.3
C.C. Sabathia 16 (5.3) 6.6 3.6*

*To get Sabathia's Pitching Wins, I divided his Pitching Runs by 10.6.

Sabathia has an edge here, particularly given that Ramirez' poor defense isn't accounted for in Batting Wins and Sabathia's .229 batting average and grand slam home run with the Brewers aren't accounted for in his Pitching Wins.  I'll have to ask Bill James sometime why Man Ram tops Sabathia in Win Shares when the other two metrics agree that Sabathia contributed more.

There is one more factor that we must examine for these two players, and that is how they affected their teammates.  It wasn't possible to listen to a Dodgers game in September or October without hearing about how Manny's presence in the Dodger lineup buoyed the other Dodgers' hitting performances.  As for Sabathia, probably not enough was made about how his going 7 2/3 innings per Milwaukee start helped their ramshackle pitching staff survive a grueling September.  So for the Dodgers, we can examine LA batters' OPS before and after Ramirez and for the Brew Crew, we can look at Milwaukee pitchers' OPS against pre- and post- Sabathia..

  Before Trade After Trade OPS Difference
Dodgers .256/.321/.376 .281/.355/.443 +101
Brewers .260/.332/.417 .251/.312/.392 -45

This surprises the heck out of me.  Ramirez was over twice as beneficial to Dodger hitters as Sabathia was to Brewer pitchers?  We do have to remember that this is also situational to a degree.  Ramirez essentially replaced Andruw Jones and, to a lesser extent, Juan Pierre in the Dodger lineup.  Sabathia took starts away from Seth McClung and perhaps Carlos Villanueva as well.  2008 was such a crazy year that McClung and Villanueva were actually much more valuable players than Jones and Pierre were.  The Dodger offense was so pathetic that the addition of Ramirez elevated them to another level entirely, while the Brewer pitching staff was already decent before the addition of Sabathia, and merely got a bit better afterwards.

So who was the better player, C.C. Sabathia with the Brewers or Manny Ramirez with the Dodgers?  I would still give the edge to Sabathia.  But our original question was which of these two players made a bigger impact, and I say that the surprising answer is Manny B. Manny.  Certainly that is the case if we account for their playoff performances.  If both of these trades had transpired on the same day, whether that day were July 7th, July 31st, or any other date, I think that Ramirez would have been both more valuable and the better player post-trade, period.  That is obviously a dicey hypothetical to make, however, especially since the Dodgers would likely have needed to relinquish even better prospects than they did had they wanted to snag Manny three-and-a-half weeks sooner.

What does this mean for the current offseason?  Teams with bad offenses and money to spend should be tripping over each other to sign Ramirez, even if he wants a multiyear deal with a similar per annum salary as Sabathia's $23 million a year deal.  Jack Zduriencik (Seattle), Neddie Colletti (LA), and Brian Sabean (San Francisco) should be getting into fisticuffs trying to corral the man.  Instead, we only see Colletti lazily upping his ante every few weeks.  Even though there is no way that Manny will repeat his 219 OPS+ with the Dodgers, he will likely approach his 164 OPS+ and 55 Batting Runs for the 2008 season.  Moreover, he will elevate the level of the hitters around him.  His presence for a full season would change a 650-run team to a 700-run team, and could be the difference between a third-place finish and the postseason.

Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Keith resides in Chicago, Illinois and can be reached at