Throughout Red Sox history, left field has been the most prestigious position on the team. It's just coincidence, but a list of the best Red Sox of all-time is littered with left-fielders. Duffy Lewis from 1910 to 1917. Ted Williams from 1939 to 1960 (with a few years missed due to war). Carl Yastrzemski from 1961 to the 1970s. Jim Rice from 1975 to 1987. Mike Greenwell from 1988 to 1995. Then Manny Ramirez from 2001 to 2008.
This may be Manny's last year with the Red Sox. He's turning 36 in May (unbelievable, right?), he's in the last year of his $160M contract, and quite frankly his production dipped in 2007.
Manny's average (.296) and OBP (.388) were fine last year, but his slugging was down. Way down. His .493 slugging percentage was by far his lowest since becoming a full-time player. That .493 is exactly .100 lower than his career slugging percentage of .593.
What caused this fall in slugging? A lack of homeruns. Manny only hit 20. He hit 17 his rookie season (in 193 fewer ABs). Since then, he hadn't hit fewer than 26. And since 1998, he hadn't hit fewer than 33.
Manny didn't win a Silver Slugger for outfielder in 2007. The last time he didn't win one was 1998. He also wasn't in the top 20 of MVP voting for the first time since 1997.
But then all of a sudden, he got his stroke back in the playoffs. He had 4 homeruns, 16 RBI, a .348 average (including .409 in the ALCS), a .516 OBP, and slugged .739.
What should we expect from Manny this year? He'll miss some time due to injury, real or exaggerated. But not much time. And I don't think his homerun hitting will return to him. But he can still be an extremely productive player. With Youkilis and Ortiz in front of him, he'll have plenty of RBI opportunities. And if JD drew turns a corner, and Mike Lowell stays solid, they'll be people behind Manny to knock HIM in.
Manny should pass a few milestones in 2008. He's 10 homers shy of 500, which doesn't hold the same cache as it once had, but is still a milestone. He's 29 doubles shy of 500 for his career. With 31 or more HRs, he'll be in the top 15 all-time. 100 more RBI will get him into the top 20 of that category. And he's just 22 away from 1,000 career extra base hits.
Who will play when Manny sits or disapears to Florida for two weeks? Bobby Kielty looks like the backup outfielder for the year. If the Sox can't deal Coco, expect to see either him or Ellsbury patrolling left-field.
Brandon Moss had a nice little stint with the Sox last year and will be in AAA Pawtucket. If Manny hits the DL, look for Moss to be the call-up. For all the hype surrounding Ellsbury last year, people may not have noticed Moss's 7 hits in 25 at-bats. Or his .282 average in Pawtucket. These aren't earth shattering numbers, but at least Moss can be a fill-in for Manny just in case.
The Baseball Cube