The soon-to-be-official acquisition of Manny Ramirez by the Tampa Bay Rays is the latest attempt to solve an issue that has plagued them for five seasons -- how to get the most production out of the designated hitter slot.
RamirezIn the last five seasons, Rays DHs have never hit higher than .246. They rank among the least productive in all three slashline statistics (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage), as well as home runs.
Despite his age, Ramirez still does something that makes him worthy of a low-cost risk for certain teams -- he gets on base at a high rate. Ramirez ranked eighth in the majors in on-base percentage last season, among those who had at least 300 plate appearances.
Ramirez’s acquisition does prevent him from adding to his totals against Tampa Bay. Rays fans will have to get used to cheering for the all-time leader in RBI against their team. Ramirez was particularly impressive from 1998 to 2003, amassing 86 RBI in 81 games against the then-Devil Rays.
Tampa Bay Rays
DH Ranks since 2006 (AL Teams)
Johnny Damon, who has compiled the second-most hits, runs and stolen bases against Tampa Bay, is on the verge of some major-league history, whether he ends up sharing the DH role with Ramirez or playing left field.
Via the National Pastime Baseball Almanac, we can tell you that he’s one of only five players to have 15 straight seasons of at least 140 games played. The only players with more are Brooks Robinson, Hank Aaron and Pete Rose (16 each)
To merit that much playing time, Damon may need to improve in a couple of areas from what he did last season -- not an easy thing for a 37-year-old to do. Rays rookie Desmond Jennings is waiting to be the regular left fielder should Damon falter.
Damon, a career .290 hitter with runners in scoring position, hit .209 in such situations last season, but perhaps more alarmingly, struck out 33 times in 148 at-bats.
It was the second straight season in which Damon’s strikeout rate with runners in scoring position was just about double what it had been in his career prior to 2009.
DamonDamon’s weakness is similar to that of someone we wrote about Friday, Vernon Wells. He struggled against breaking pitches last season. He went from getting hits on 15 percent of his swings against breaking balls in 2009 to only nine percent in 2010.
Leaving Yankee Stadium for Comerica Park and the Detroit Tigers hurt Damon’s power numbers, as his slugging percentage in his home park dropped 98 points (perhaps also cause for alarm, it dipped 82 points on the road). He went from 24 home runs in 2009 to eight in 2010, and his home run total on breaking pitches went from eight to zero.
Damon also went homerless against left-handed pitchers in 2010. He only had one RBI in 120 at-bats against southpaws last season.
That would seem to be an argument for making him part of a DH platoon, rather than having him open the season having to fill the shoes of fan favorite and superstar left fielder Carl Crawford. The Rays may have their own game plan in mind.