How Do Teams Replace Sudden Losses?

When the Tampa Bay Rays suddenly found themselves without Manny Ramirez, it was assumed that the production fallout would be extreme. After all, who ever heard of Sam Fuld?

Now, of course, everybody has heard of Fuld and his 156 OPS+ this season. While it is unlikely to continue, Fuld provides a feel-good story that exceeds whatever goodwill the Rays would have received from a Ramirez renaissance. The Rays could still make a move to add offensive production, and I wanted to take a closer look at how teams filled unexpected non-injury losses.

The Ramirez loss brought back to mind the last time Manny's drug issues left his employer short-handed. The year was 2009. Barack Obama was President of the United States. America's television networks were overrun by reality shows. And suddenly, baseball was Manny-less for 50 games.

Stepping into Manny's shoes was Juan Pierre in left field. During Ramirez's suspension, Pierre managed a .318/.381/.411 line, solid production at the position. Overall, his 104 OPS+ was the second-highest of his career. He wasn't Manny, but he kept the Dodgers on pace for 95 wins and a division title. It was not the disaster many feared.

The stakes were very different back in 1989, when an aging Mike Schmidt unexpectedly retired on May 28th with a season line of .203/.297/.372. Hopes had been high for Schmidt to regain his Hall of Fame form after a down 1988, but 172 plate appearances in, Schmidt acknowledged that he simply wasn't the same player anymore.

With internal options Chris James and Randy Ready stretched as everyday third basemen, the Phillies made a deal three weeks later, trading Steve Bedrosian and Rick Parker to the Giants for Charlie Hayes, Terry Mulholland and Dennis Cook. Hayes provided an OPS+ of 93 as the regular third baseman, around where Schmidt was when he called it quits.

The move helped Philadelphia eventually win the National League in 1993, along with a second deal that day with the Mets to bring Lenny Dykstra into the fold. At the time, however, it was the Charlie Hayes trade, and Hayes left the Philadelphia fans disappointed, both because Schmidt was impossible to replace, and because the Phillies finished 67-95.

The fill-ins for Thurman Munson back in 1979 didn't live up to even Charlie Hayes production. Munson, who died in a plane crash in August 1979, left the Yankees with a pair of catchers: Jerry Narron and Brad Gulden. While Munson's contributions extended beyond his OPS+ of 95, Narron and Gulden couldn't approach that, Narron checking in at 44, Gulden at 23. For reference, 1979 NL Cy Young Award winner Bruce Sutter, a relief pitcher, had an OPS+ of 49. The Yankees finished at 89-71, good for fourth in a tremendous AL East.

Speaking of ex-Yankees, anyone who saw the John Goodman vehicle "The Babe" knows that Ruth hit three home runs, then retired from the Boston Braves in 1935. (Left out of the film are the five games that followed, but then my problems with that movie could fill a whole other column.) Ruth finally retired on May 30, in circumstances quite similar to Schmidt's. Ruth's .181/.359/.431 line was still good for an OPS+ of 118, down just a bit from his career mark of 206 (author's note: ZOMG), but well ahead of his replacements in left and right field. Both Hal Lee (96 OPS+) and Tommy Thompson (95 OPS+) failed to reach league-average at the position. And if you think that's bad, Hall of Famer Rabbit Maranville, a 43-year-old teammate of Ruth's on the 1935 Braves, put up an OPS+ of… 2. And he stayed for the whole season, a glorious 38-115 campaign.

So rest assured, Sam Fuld may come down from his 156 OPS+ perch. But the Rays are likely to best the 1935 Braves, no matter how badly Fuld slumps.

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