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What Can We Expect From David Ortiz in 2010?

David Ortiz

David Ortiz’s cliff dive through March, April, and May of the 2009 season hit Red Sox fans like a death in the family. Ortiz became a real life Pedro Cerrano, only, he didn’t just look bad on breaking balls, he whiffed on everything. And sadly, the Nation’s offerings of cigars and rum to Jobu didn’t help.

In that “I can’t watch!” 46-game span, Ortiz hit .183 with a .284 on base percentage, 18 RBIs, and a single home run. One. The man who, in his prime, averaged a home run every 10 at bats, managed a single round-tripper in 178 ABs.

Even when Ortiz started to hit, his stats for the rest of the season were nowhere near Big Papi averages. In his final 363 at bats, Ortiz hit .264 with a .356 OBP. The 27 home runs and 81 RBI were nice, but against left handed pitching, Ortiz was positively Grebeck-esque, batting .212 with an on-base percentage of .298, 6 HR and 44 strike outs in 188 at bats.

So what can we expect from Big Papi in 2010? Now that Jason Bay and his team-leading 36 home runs are in Queens, it’s a question that takes on greater weight.

Statistical evidence provides the somewhat cold answer: there is no more Big Papi.

The fourth best slugger to ever don Red Sox (see the chart at the bottom of this article), the team’s benevolent run producing juggernaut and indomitable October darling is now simply David Ortiz.

Pressure?

Various outlets, including the Herald and NESN, have already declared the pressure is firmly on Ortiz in 2010 to magically morph into his 2003 to 2007 self and carry the Sox lineup as its only remaining game-changing power hitter.

Nonsense.

Here are the facts:

  1. Ortiz is now the team’s No. 5 hitter. And that’s a good thing. It’s a spot where he performed admirably last season after being dropped from his five-season lock on the three hole: .275 AVG, .355 OBP, .924 OPS, 16 HR, 43 RBI in 204 at bats.
  2. Ortiz will often take a seat against south paws, and given his age, the maximum number of at bats we can reasonably expect him to take in 2010 is 500.
  3. Ortiz hasn’t been Big Papi since 2007.

You’ll recall 2008 was the season Ortiz missed over 40 games due to a wrist injury that he tried to play through but which eventually required surgery. In baseball, wrist injuries are to hitters what shoulder injuries are to pitchers. Just ask Nomar Garciaparra. Post-injury Ortiz simply hasn’t had the bat speed or power of Big Papi.

The evidence lies in his performance in 2008 and after his Tim Burton-bizarre 46-game start to 2009. The stats, viewed together speak for themselves:

  • 2008: 416 AB, .264 AVG, .369 OBP, .507 SLG, .877 OPS, 23 HR, 89 RBI
  • 2009: 363 AB, .264 AVG, .356 OBP, .554 SLG, .910 OPS, 27 HR, 81 RBI

Statistical godfather Bill James agrees, projecting Ortiz to post this line in 2010:

.264 AVG, .369 OBP, .519 SLG, .877 OPS, 29 HR and 99 RBI in 484 at bats

So what should Sox fans expect from Big Papi in 2010? There is no more Big Papi, but we can expect a very productive season from number-five hitter David Ortiz.

But…

There is no bigger carrot for a baseball player than a contract season. New Red Sox third baseman Adrian Beltre embodies this axiom better than any player in MLB history.

In his first five seasons with the Dodgers, less his 77-game rookie season, Beltre posted this average line:

.265 AVG, .323 OBP, .432 SLG, .755 OPS, 18 HR, 73 RBI

Not a bad line, but certainly not one that would make GMs scramble for their check books. Then came Beltre’s 2004 contract season, and these eye-popping numbers:

.334 AVG, .388 OBP, .629 SLG, 1.017 OPS, 48 HR, 121 RBI

Beltre finished second to Barry Bonds in MVP voting, topping Albert Pujols, and won the Silver Slugger award for third basemen. His contract season performance won him a five-year, $65 million contract with Seattle—five years in which Beltre posted this line:

.266 AVG, .317 OBP, .442 SLG, .759 OPS, 21 HR, 79 RBI

Looks familiar, doesn’t it? Those numbers are nearly identical to Beltre’s averages before his contract season.

More recently and closer to home, goatee-artist Mike Lowell was the proud owner of these lifetime averages going into his 2007 contract season:

.275 AVG, .341 OBP, .467 SLG, .808 OPS, 22 HR, 87 RBI

Below, we see Lowell’s contract-winning 2007 stats paired with his combined averages in 2008 and 2009:

  • 2007: .324 AVG, .378 OBP, .501 SLG, .879 OPS, 21 HR, 120 RBI
  • 2008/09: .282 AVG, .337 OBP, .468 SLG, .805 OPS, 17 HR, 74 RBI

Ahh, those old familiar numbers again. The point of this exercise? In 2010, David Ortiz will be playing for a contract. The Red Sox hold a $12.5 million team option on the aging slugger for 2011. The only way Theo even remotely considers picking up that option is if Ortiz goes back to posting Big Papi numbers.

The Red Sox are dangling the carrot, and according to reports, Ortiz wants it badly. Jon Tomase at the Herald had this to say in a recent column:

“Those who have seen him in the Dominican Republic this winter say he looks like a new man, leaner and about 10 pounds lighter. That’s because the Red Sox made it clear to Ortiz before he left for the winter that he needed to rededicate himself to conditioning.”

Does this mean we should expect Ortiz to reach his .301/.402/.612 peak averages? Sadly, no. Ortiz is still 34 years old, he’s still a slugger who suffered a wrist injury, and it’s highly unlikely his inability to hit south paws in 2010 was a one-season fluke.

However, in the five hole, on the bench against lefties, in better physical shape than he has been in years, and playing for a $12.5 million payday, Ortiz could very well outperform projections. Thus, Bill James’ projections paired with determined, in-shape, wisely utilized Ortiz projections:

  • .264 AVG, .369 OBP, .519 SLG, .877 OPS, 29 HR and 99 RBI in 484 at bats
  • .282 AVG, .385 OBP, .522 SLG, .907 OPS, 34 HR and 111 RBI in 500 at bats

Those aren’t Big Papi numbers (like the man who was one of the greatest sluggers in team history), but Sox fans would be thrilled to see that production out of David Ortiz in 2010.

The Four Greatest Red Sox Sluggers in Their Five Best Seasons:

Ted Williams .345 AVG .490 OBP .643 SLG 1.132 OPS 33 HR, 124 RBI
Jimmie Foxx .325 AVG .433 OBP .628 SLG 1.061 OPS 40 HR, 134 RBI
Manny Ramirez .315 AVG .412 OBP .608 SLG 1.020 OPS 40 HR, 122 RBI
Big Papi .301 AVG .402 OBP .612 SLG 1.014 OPS 42 HR, 128 RBI

About Sharkey

I was 11 years old when the ball scooted through Buckner's wickets, a moment that is laser-etched in my mind: In my living room, on the floor in front of the TV, ready to burst as the Sox needed just one more out, one more strike, to become World Series champs. Mets players sat with slumped shoulders and dejected looks in the dugout. Even the scoreboard operator recognized the game, and the series, was over, posting on the jumbotron: Congratulations to the Boston Red Sox, 1986 World Series Champions. "They did it!" I said, unable to contain myself. "The Sox won it all!" My father, sitting behind me on the couch with a furrowed brow, knew better. "It's not over yet." And so it was. Having watched the Sox, Celts, and Pats for the past three decades, I truly feel like I've seen it all. I hope to bring that type of perspective as I write about the three teams I love.

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Discussion

2 comments for “What Can We Expect From David Ortiz in 2010?”

  1. Good article!

    I also heard that Ortiz had some sort of family issue that was really wearing on him in the first half of last season. And I personally believe that the shift has gotten into his head a bit. (He should bunt his way out of it, but that’s another story.)

    He’s gone from a guy who could hit a homer off anyone at any time to a guy who can’t hit lefties or good pitchers. Age, injury, and other factors have weighed him down a bit but if he’s healthy, hopefully he’ll put up the Bill James projected line.

    The key I think will be his splits. If he is just a decent DH against lefties, good pitchers, and in road games, then the Sox will be in great shape.

    Posted by Buchholz Surfer | January 7, 2010, 7:54 pm
  2. I like to think Ortiz can win a chance to keep his spot but I have a feeling the best move for the team will be to move on in 2011.

    If we want to acquire Adrian Gonzalez, Prince Fielder, or other, we need a spot to play them.

    Ideally I don’t think the Red Sox ever wanted to move a 31 year old Youkilis to 3rd. They have a proven asset at 1st, and why risk that? Come 2011 they probably wont want to move a 32 year old 1st baseman to 3rd.

    So if you want to acquire a slugger for this team, the position that will make most sense will be DH.

    Unless an Adrian Gonzalez, a slugging 1st baseman with an exceptional glove, comes at a great price, it won’t ever make sense for the team to move Youkilis to 3rd.

    Good luck to Ortiz this year.

    If it happens to be his last year in a Red Sox uniform, he’s done us proud and left some long LONG lasting memories.

    Posted by Dan | January 8, 2010, 1:11 pm

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