This morning on ESPN’s SportsCenter, Peter Gammons (one of the few guys over there who I still have some respect left for, even if he is too Boston-centric) offered the opinion that since the Dodgers are actually scoring more runs per game without Manny than with him, his suspension will end up being a good thing. Unfortunately, I can’t find the video online, but the general point of Gammons’ argument was that “young hitters like Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, James Loney, and Russell Martin have really stepped up their game and proven they can play without Manny, and that will only make them better when he returns.” (Paraphrased, of course.)
Let’s step back for a moment, because while I also tried to say that there were some good things about Manny’s suspension in the immediate aftermath (fresh, motivated Manny; better defense, etc) that was more an attempt by me to find the silver lining in the epic shitstorm cloud that had erupted in the media; by no means was I actually happy that Manny got caught nor did I think that those positives outweighed the negative press that came with it.
While it’s true that the team hasn’t really missed a beat (as most educated Dodger fans predicted would happen, but let’s forget the “scoring more runs per game” stat, since that wasn’t the case before yesterday’s 16-run outburst), it’s hard to see Gammons’ point that the reason the team is winning is because the young players have taken charge in the post-Manny era:
OPS with Manny (29 games)
Andre Ethier: .995
Matt Kemp: .844
James Loney: .712
Russell Martin: .634
OPS without Manny (17 games)
Andre Ethier: .409
Matt Kemp: .807
James Loney: .771
Russell Martin: .811
Ethier’s been completely awful since, and Kemp has declined as well. Loney’s improved a bit, and Martin’s really taken off. Overall, it’s a decline, as these four combined for an average .796 OPS with Manny, and are now only at .699 OPS without. I won’t go so far as to say any of this is directly related to Manny, but what’s been keeping the offense afloat has really been the contributions of Juan Pierre, Orlando Hudson, and Casey Blake – as much as I hate to admit it, it’s been the veterans. Though not all of them, as the pain in Rafael Furcal’s behind is only a small slice of the pain he’s been in all of ours.
As we’d all said from the very beginning, weathering the 50 games without Manny wasn’t going to be as big of a deal as many thought it would be. But let’s not pretend as though all of the young guys are really carrying the team and are gaining confidence from the Manny-free success, because don’t you have to wonder where Ethier’s confidence is right now? You’ve got young guys contributing, you’ve got old guys contributing, and you’ve even got Juan Pierre helping out. Add that to the surprisingly effective pitching staff, and that’s a recipe for team success.
(Completely unrelated note: Reason #12387123 why wins are a terrible pitching metric. Will Ohman faced three batters yesterday, and walked two of them. Only 7 of the 17 pitches he threw were for strikes. Yet, he gets the win. Love that stat!)