Manny vs. Vlad vs. The Muscle: DH Leftovers

With Jim Thome returning to Minnesota, and Johnny Damon reportedly closing in on signing with the Rays (although it isn’t a done deal as of this writing), the remaining designated hitter spots on contending teams are dwindling: perhaps only the Texas Rangers (who missed out on Thome and are now said to be in pursuit of Ramirez) fit into that category if the Rays get their man. There may also be some non-contenders who think it is worthwhile to add someone in a hitter-only spot. With that in mind, it is worth comparing three of the best hitters left on the market who might fit the description “designated hitter”: Manny Ramirez , Vladimir Guerrero, and Russell Branyan.

Comparing players for the DH spot is generally easier than those who play the field because one doesn’t have to worry about position or defense, just their hitting. I’ll be using CAIRO, as it is freely available and has projections for all three hitters. As in other recent posts, I’ve translated the projected lines into custom wOBA (linear weights) from 2010.

For all of his recent (real and/or exaggerated) foibles, Manny is probably the cream of this crop. Yes, he had a down season (for him) in 2010. He only had 320 plate appearances, but the accompanying .298/.409/.460 line (.382 wOBA) was good for about 16 park-adjusted batting runs above average. I’m sure some will say that “you want more power from your DH,” but that’s simply a dogmatic assumption — a .400 OBP is good from any spot, and really, a .382 wOBA is a .382 wOBA. Only 16 qualified hitters did better than that in 2010. CAIRO projects his 2011 line as .298/.406/.540 for a .391 wOBA (in Chicago). That’s 39 runs above average per 700 plate appearances. Of course, Manny won’t get 700 plate appearances. He shouldn’t play the outfield, not only because he’s terrible out there, but so that he can stay healthy. Taking that into account (which rules out starting interleague games), along with recent injury problems and his advancing age, 500 plate appearances seems more reasonable. Over 500 plate appearances, a .391 wOBA is worth 28 runs above average. That’s something like a three-win player, so if Manny gets paid $8 milllion or less for the 2011 season (and given what older, bat-only players have been getting lately, that seems pretty likely), some team is looking at a pretty big bargain.

If Manny is the best, who is the better fallback option between Guerrero and Branyan? Guerrero had a nice comeback last season in Texas. While some players suffer a drop in production when the switch to being a full-time designated hitter, for Guerrero it enabled him to avoid the injuries that plagued him in 2009, as both his hitting line and playing time bounced back from his career-worst season in 2009. CAIRO projects Guerrero to its.296/.356/.501 for a .369 wOBA in Texas, 23 runs above average over 700 plate appearances. Although Guerrero has been a playing-time stalwart in previous seasons, at 36 a reasonable playing-time projection would be 550 plate appearances, about 18 runs above average.

Russell Branyan doesn’t have the same “first-name-only” recognition of Manny or Vlad (I’m not sure how many people actually call him “The Muscle,” but I had to use something catchy…), and despite having a nice mini-comeback the last couple of seasons, he doesn’t seem to be drawing much interest, likely because of back problems that have limited his playing time. His projected .246/.339/.494 (.357 wOBA) line is good, about 21 runs above average per 700 plate appearances. If we think Branyan should only be projected for something like the playing time he received in 2010 — perhaps around 430 plate appearances — due to injury, than he would be about 13 runs above average. That would make Guerrero the obvious second choice behind Manny.

There are a three caveats to be made here, though. First, Vlad’s projected line assumes he returns to Arlington’s hitters paradise, whereas Branyan’s projected line puts him in Cleveland (I’m not sure why CAIRO projects him there rather than Seattle, where he finished the season), so that probably makes a difference of couple of runs. Second, while this post is about the DH spot, which Guerrero certainly is limited to at this point, Branyan also plays a decent first base, which gives him additional utility for a team that needs it (and also makes him an option for National League teams). Finally, if one has the roster room and desire to maximize offensive output, it is much easier to find a platoon partner for the lefty Branyan than for the righty Guerrero. A platoon situation is also more efficient with Branyan involved given his (likely) much lower price tag.

Manny is the best pure hitter left on the market. For those who can’t get Manny, Vlad presents a viable option. Don’t forget about The Muscle, though, who might be the best buy for the money it will take to get him.

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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

17 Responses to “Manny vs. Vlad vs. The Muscle: DH Leftovers”

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  1. Big Jgke says:

    If the Jays don’t sign Manny, it will be one of the great mysteries of this offseason.

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    • Renegade says:

      Unless Farrell trashed him privately to AA, I really do not understand why the Jays haven’t signed him yet. Guaranteed .400 OBP. People spew the “negative attitude, proven steroid user” stuff all the time but I don’t care. The Jays need Manny.

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  2. Scout Finch says:

    Do you give any weight to the reports of Manny’s loss of bat speed ?

    Likewise, any weight to Manny’s occasional loss of touch-with-reality in Manny-World?

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  3. TK says:

    The Fans project Manny at 455 PA. I think that’s better than 500. I’m not sure how well the phrase “distraction” plays at Fangraph’s (I’m guessing lead balloon), but if ever there were one…

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  4. Pedro says:

    Why is Damon now considered a DH? He could play a passable LF, certainly better than Manny or Vlad….

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  5. Matty Brown says:

    I desperately want Manny on my Jays; however, that CAIRO projection seems very optimistic. I was thinking more along the lines of .285/.400/.475 line. Which is still phenomenal.

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  6. robert nitchell says:

    Nice to have Russ mentioned with 2 greats like Vlad&Manny.Thought Toronto would be a fit for Branyan to get ab’s at dh&1st base.Wakamatsu gave him a shot to play every day in Seattle and he hit 31 ding dongs despite missing 46 games in 2009 and would put a word in his favor.Also hit 25 h.r’s in 2010 despite missing 56 games!Needs only 11 homers for 200 and 47 ribs for 500 in only 2,800 at bats.Which is less than 6 500 at bat seasons.Which averages out to 31 taters and 74 rbi’s per.He projects 28 homers and 71 ribbies every 453 at bats. Not Manny or Guerrero #’s to be sure but not bad for a guy who has never played a full season or had 500 at bats in a season and only 1 400 at bat year.

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  7. robert mitchell says:

    That’s Mitchell.Or Branyfan on mlb sites.

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  8. MikeS says:

    Small sample size and all, but I watched Manny have 2 XBH in 88 PA with the White Sox.

    Maybe he wasn’t interested, maybe he was still hurt a little, maybe they were pitching around him. Whatever it was, it was painful to watch.

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  9. grandbranyan says:

    Manny and Vladimir are indeed great names, but I’ll take Oles every time.

    How the hell do you even pronounce the damn thing? Is it Oles like Dorn in Major League or is it Oles like back in the ole days?

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  10. flamefox111 says:

    The mariners broadcasters definatly liked calling him Russell the Muscle

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  11. Brownie19 says:

    Manny hasn’t (and probably won’t) sign with the jays b/c they aren’t very confident that Lind can play 1st base. I thought that was pretty obvious. With Napoli on-board now – no Manny for TO.

    TO is rebuilding too – they never needed Manny in the first place unless the plan was just to deal him before the deadline.

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  12. MO'Toole says:

    I just read on MLBTR that both Damon n Manny have signed with Tampa, Damon for 5.25M an Manny for 2M, that 2M might just turn out to be the bargain of the year if they can keep Manny interested.

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  13. jordan says:

    You forgot another DH- Jose Canseco has announced (in one of his 3am twitter feeds) that he wants to return to baseball, and would lead the league in homeruns- what’s he projected for in CAIRO?

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  14. mediguide69 says:


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