By Bill Chuck
Special to CSNNE.com
David Ortiz had a far better season than any of us expected in 2011. He appeared in 146 games, hitting .309, his best average since he hit .332 in 2007. He had 29 homers, the most since he hit 35 in 2007. But, he had just 96 RBI, certainly a nice total but beneath his 114 average RBI in his nine years with the Sox.
Only 14 MLB players had at least a .300 average, 25 homers, and 90 RBI this season, so Big Papi was in good company. Ortiz also had an outstanding .953 OPS and when you add at least a .950 OPS to the criteria already mentioned, Papi was one of only seven who met those standards: teammate and potential AL MVP Adrian Gonzalez, potential NL MVP Matt Kemp, potential NL MVP Ryan Braun, potential AL MVP Miguel Cabrera, potential AL MVP Jose Bautista, and NL Comeback Player of the Year, Lance Berkman.
Very heady company indeed.
Four of the seven players, Ortiz, Gonzalez, Kemp, and Bautista did not reach the postseason.
Three of the seven are at least 30 years old: Bautista, Ortiz, and Berkman.
Two of the seven are at least 35 years old: Ortiz, and Berkman.
All but one, played defensively for his ballclub: David Ortiz.
And now, since Lance Berkman re-upped with the Cardinals, only Ortiz is a free-agent.
Berkmans numbers, in 145 games, were very similar to Papis. He hit .302, with 31 homers, 94 RBI, and a .959 OPS. Of course, Berkman played right field, left field, and first base for St. Louis. In the second half of the season, each batter hit .315, but Ortiz outhomered Berkman 10 to 7, and drove in 41 to Berkmans 31.
Before we leave the Ortiz-Berkman comparison, we need to address the month of September. Berkmans Cardinals, like the Rays, were attempting to bridge a large September gap in order to reach the postseason as a Wild Card team as the Braves were collapsing (9-18 in September) just like the 7-20 Red Sox.
In September, when their teams needed them the most:
Berkman played 25 games, he hit .374 with 1 homer, 13 RBI, he scored 16 runs, he walked 14 times, he struck out 16 times, and he had an OPS of .941.
Ortiz played 26 games, he hit .287 with 1 homer, 8 RBI, he scored 12 runs, he walked 17 times, he struck out 17 times, and he had an OPS of .769.
In September, the switch-hitting Berkman agreed to a 12 million one-year contract extension with the Cardinals for 2012, a deal the Sox would be very happy to offer to David Ortiz. Then again, Berkman was paid 8 million in 2011 and Ortiz made 12.5 million.
Unless you count the ability to light Fenway with his smile alone, one cannot ignore that Ortiz is a uni-dimensional player. He is a designated hitter and that is all. He cant play any position on the field and as a result reduces roster flexibility and in these days of the owners version of fiscal constraint (pay a lot to a few, and a little to as many as you can) the ability to play multiple positions is valued.
In 2011, only three players were DHs for over 100 games: Papi, Johnny Damon and Vladimir Guerrero. Not surprisingly all were over 35 years old. At 37, Damon made 5.25 with the Rays, while Vlad made 8 million with the Orioles. All three are free agents this year again.
Ortiz was the Sox DH for 135 games. In the remaining 27 games, they used 12 other players. The Yankees also had 13 DHs but Jorge Posada served in that capacity in just 82 games. The other half of the season, the Yankees rotated their older players in and out. And it wasnt just the Yankees. The White Sox and the Twins each had 17 different designated hitters this season.
Roster flexibility is an important component of a 25-man roster when 11 or 12 members of the team are pitchers. It becomes an even bigger deal when your back-up first baseman is your starting third baseman and that guy, Kevin Youkilis, hasnt played over 136 games in the last three seasons because of injuries.
After losing Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez last off-season, the Red Sox needed a right-handed power bat. In response to that need the Sox acquired Adrian Gonzalez and signed Carl Crawfordtwo lefties. That resulted in a season in which Dustin Pedroia led all the Sox right-handed batters with 14 homers against righty pitchers and seven homers against left hand pitchers. As a team, Sox right-handed batters hit only 37 homers against lefties and 34 against righties. Only Seattle (26) and Cleveland (23) had fewer homers against righties. The Orioles had 111 and the Rangers had 102.
The Sox lefty batters hit a respectable .276 with 22 homers and 114 RBI against lefty pitchers. Against righties, lefty batters hit .287 with 110 homers and 394 RBI. Big Papi actually did better against lefties than he did against righties. Against righties, the big lefty hit .298, with 21 homers and 63 RBI and a .934 OPS. Against lefties, he hit .329 with 8 homers, 33 RBI and a .989 OPS.
All in all a pretty good season, but Ortiz will be 36 on November 18 and this is no longer the era where players 36 years old onward all of sudden find the fountain of youth in a syringe and a cream. This season, Raul Ibanez had the most homers of any player who was at least 36; the 39-year old hit 20 homers. In 2004, 11 players over 36 had over 20 homers with Barry Bonds hitting 45 and Moises Alou hitting 39. In 1999, 14 players who were 36 hit over .300. This season only the 37-year old Todd Helton did it hitting .302.
Why does this happen? A lot has to do with bat speed. This season Ortiz had no trouble catching up to fastballs, which he saw with about 45 of the pitches he was thrown and he .344 against them. In the first half of the season he hit .372 against fastballs, the second-half he hit .310.
There is also the issue of plate discipline, Ortiz is fooled more frequently and has been every year since 2004. This can be measured by looking at the percentage swings outside of the strike zone. Check out these numbers:
Over a quarter of the pitches Papi sees out of the zone he swings at and while he made very good contact on those pitches this season (72.7) and that is not a pattern that bodes well for future performance.
Then there is the off-field discipline. The last thing that Terry Francona needed was for Ortiz to be talking about his desire for a new multi-year contract, or talking about how Alfredo Aceves should have been in the starting rotation, or to break up a press conference complaining about a press box reversal that cost him an RBI.
Ortiz recently said,
I care about winning games, I care about doing well, I care about doing the right thing to win games. A lot of people, for example, people want to make a big deal about me complaining about me not getting an RBI. Thats my job. If I dont get RBIs, I wont be here. I was complaining about something that I earned and the scorekeeper doesnt want to make it happen thats what Ive got to complain about.
As reports began to surface about Franconas job, Ortiz said,
"I worry about playing baseball more than anything else," Ortiz said. "I know we have some players that (the organization thought were) worried about some other s--- and sometimes there were certain things that no one in the clubhouse can control. I was trying and I have no issues. My only problem was when I started being benched (in 2010) and that was my only issue with Tito. Other than that we're cool."
There were many who felt that this tepid endorsement was not what should be expected from a veteran and team leader.
There are numerous possibilities for a replacement at DH, particularly if you are looking for players to share the position. The primary thing the Sox need to get is a right-hand power bat. This would mean poking around Toronto again about Jose Bautista, or looking at Jeff Francoeur or Michael Cuddyer. And if they really want to turn public opinion around about this team, can you imagine Adrian Gonzalez sharing first base and the DH slot with, dare I say it, Albert Pujols?
This is a team in flux, in need of change.
Terry is gone. Theo is gone. Its Big Papis time as well.