Manny Ramirez signed a make-good contract with the Tampa Bay Rays last winter, looking to put a low-power, injury marred 2010 season behind him and further burnish his Cooperstown credentials. Instead, he made for the door once he failed a second performance-enhancing drug test, retiring rather than serving a 100-game suspension.
Now, Manny is seeking another chance in 2012 after being reinstated and having his suspension reduced to 50 games. Career accomplishments aside, the market for a soon-to-be-40-year-old DH coming off an extended vacation figures to be thin. Manny does sound contrite, though:
"I want to show people that Manny can change, that he can do the right thing," Ramirez told ESPN's Pedro Gomez in an interview. "And to show people that I still can play. I don't want to leave the game like I did. I also want to show my kids that if you make a mistake, don't quit. Just go back and fix it. And if you're going to leave, leave the right way."
From a personal standpoint, a more grounded Manny is probably a good thing. But if he's going to make a big comeback in 2012 and leave the right way this time, he'll need to stop being so grounded at the plate.
During a 2009 season shortened by his first PED suspension, Ramirez was still an elite power hitter. He cracked 19 home runs and slugged .531 in 431 plate appearances. Manny had some difficulty when pitchers pounded him inside or located low-and-away, but he crushed pitches put in play in just about every other location. Take a look at his in-play slugging percentage by location, and then the league average for right-handed batters:
Not surprisingly, Manny hit few power-draining ground balls (33.3 percent, well below the 44 percent league average). Aside from pesky low-and-away pitches that are a problem spot for most righty hitters, he rarely chopped the ball into the grass:
In 2010, however, Manny's ground ball rate spiked to 42.7 percent. Perhaps bothered by a calf strain that cost him a month of the season during the summer, Ramirez started hitting many more grounders on pitches thrown at the knees. He grounded out on higher, inside pitches, too:
While Manny remained a quality hitter overall thanks to his great eye (he had a .409 on-base percentage), his power production declined considerably. He hit nine home runs and slugged .460 in 320 plate appearances. Manny killed cookies thrown down the middle, if not as much as in 2010, but he had cold spots in the corners of the strike zone:
If Ramirez is in shape and willing to sign for what he used to make in a week during his Red Sox days, then he's probably worth a flyer to a team like Toronto or Texas. But while a grounded Manny may be a good thing in the clubhouse, he needs to return to his high-flying ways in the batter's box.