Nation STATion: Ortiz slump redux

191542.jpg

Nation STATion: Ortiz slump redux

By Bill Chuck
Special to CSNNE.com

When you look at David Ortiz numbers this season, you feel pretty good right? Hes hitting .288 with 20 homers and 68 RBI.

Well, maybe Im a glass half-empty guy. Because Ive been looking at his numbers and Ill be honest, Im feeling pretty queasy.

You see, entering play on June 14, Big Papi was hitting .325, with 17 homers and 43 RBI. Since that June 14 date, the Red Sox have visited the foreign National League lands, took a break for the All-Star Game (where we watched Papi participate in the Home Run Derby), and then saw Ortiz suspended for three games after his trot to first base on a routine fly ball created a mini-brawl between two big men. And over his last 39 games, of which he has started 33, David Ortiz is 28-for-127, which comes to .220 average. He has hit 3 homers and driven home 25. His 25 RBI total is inflated by a pair of games against an impotent Kansas City Royals staff when, in back-to-back games, Ortiz drove home nine of the 25 Red Sox runs. He has walked 24 times, whiffed 24 times and grounded into 8 double plays.

When he started the 2010 so slowly, fans were saying that Ortiz was too old. In spite of all the hand wringing, he still started better and hit better last year than he has over his last 39 games, when he is actually older than he was last year. Over those first 39 games last year, Ortiz hit .272 with 11 homers and 31 RBI, walking 17 times and striking out 45 times. His OPS through 39 games last year was .929, about 200 points higher than it has been over the past 39 games this year.

Early last season, fans were truly questioning whether the Sox should pick up Ortiz 12.5 million contract. Obviously, the Red Sox did pick it up, but have you given thought as to what really was the cost of that contract? At the time the Sox renewed Ortiz they did not have Adrian Gonzalez, they did not have Carl Crawford, but what they did have were soft expectations for their continuing sellout streak at Fenway, and weaker advertising revenues on NESN. Papi was, and is, the feel-good guy. He is the guy who makes the Nation smile, so when they picked up his option on November 4, it was very much a business decision.

Looking back on the timeline, on November 23 the Tigers signed Victor Martinez and on December 4 the Sox acquired Gonzo. Then within the week, they signed Crawford. Think about the Sox lineup for the next three years if they opted for V-Mart over Ortiz. Ortiz salary for 2012 is just slightly less than the numbers that Victor Martinez was to sign for with the Detroit Tigers. V-Mart is making 13 million this year and next, and 12 million in 2014, when he turns 35 (Ortiz turns 36 in November). But there are significant differences when comparing the two hitters.

Martinez is hitting .320, with just 6 homers but 63 RBI. But not only is he a switch-hitter, but he can play the field, which Ortiz cant do without the Sox sacrificing defense both in right, when Gonzalez is moved there, and at first when Papi takes Gonzos place. So far this season, V-Mart has been a DH for 62 games (hes hitting .341 in that role), caught 25 games (his .267 is better than either Salty or Tek), and played first for six games (hitting .318 in that small sample).

Yes, David Ortiz is the Sox' top lefty against lefties this season, hitting .330 with 6 homers and 24 RBI, but hes making his dollars to destroy righties, not to go to the opposite field against lefties. And while overall his numbers are .272 with 14 homers and 42 RBI against righties, note that Adrian Gonzalez is hitting .381 with 16 homers and 66 RBI against righties and Jacoby Ellsbury is hitting .347 with 14 homers and 53 RBI against righties. Meanwhile since June 14, righties are destroying Ortiz holding him to a .181 average and no homers. You read that correctly: The last homer David Ortiz has hit off of a righty was June 12.

Point in fact is that Ortiz has really only had one stellar month. In May, Ortiz hit .342 and slammed half of his 20 homers. In June he hit .295 with five homers and it got worse in July when he hit .253 with three homers.

This is not about liking or disliking Big Papi. His infectious smile and fan-friendly presence has been an integral part of the energy of Red Sox Nation. Plus, in the past, his bat has been a threatening force in the lineup. But as we enter the dog days of the 2011 season, we also need to think of the reality of the future. Around the second week in July, Ortiz told the Heralds Michael Silverman that he hoped to receive a two-year contract extension with an option for a third year. If the Sox make it to the World Series, and if the Series goes seven games, Game Seven will take place in the National League city, minus the Designated Hitter, and minus David Ortiz, a condition that Sox fans might need to get used to in the coming years.

Bean: There's no way to spin a potential Ortiz return as a bad idea

Bean: There's no way to spin a potential Ortiz return as a bad idea

As if there weren’t enough storylines with the 2017 Red Sox, there figures to be the lingering possibility that, at any point, one of the franchise’s greatest hitters will return to make a push for his fourth World Series title.

As Pedro Martinez keeps saying, he won’t believe David Ortiz is retired until season’s end.

And with that possibility comes a good ol’ fashioned sports debate: You’re maybe the biggest lunatic in the whole wide world if you’re hoping for the latter.

There are exactly two potential downsides to Ortiz coming back. One is that the team would be worse defensively if it puts Hanley Ramirez in the field, a tradeoff that seemingly anyone would take if it meant adding Ortiz’ offense to the middle of the order. The other is that we would probably have to see Kenan Thompson’s Ortiz impression again . . . which, come to think of it, would be the worst. Actually, I might kill myself if that happens.  

All the other drawbacks are varying degrees of noise. It basically boils down to the “what if he isn’t good?” fear. Which may be valid, but it shouldn’t be reason enough to not want him to attempt a comeback.

Ortiz is coming off a 38-homer, 127-RBI 2016 in which he hit .315 with a league-best 1.021 OPS. It's probably the best final season of any hitter over the last 50 years.

We also know Ortiz is 41 and dealt with ankle and heel injuries so vast in recent years that he was “playing on stumps,” according to Red Sox coordinator of sports medicine services Dan Dyrek. There is the possibility that he was almost literally on his last legs in 2016 and that he doesn’t have another great season in him.

Unless Ortiz is medically incapable and/or not interested in returning, what would the harm be in rolling the dice? Is it a money thing? It really depends on just how intent the Sox are on staying under the luxury-tax threshold, but it’s hard to imagine that holding them up given that they’ve bobbed over and under the line throughout the years.

The one unacceptable argument is the legacy stuff, which expresses concern that Ortiz would tarnish his overall body of work if he came back for one last season and was relatively ineffective.  

If you think that five years after Ortiz is done playing, a single person will say, “Yeah, he’s a Hall of Famer; it’s just a shame he came back that for one last season,” you’re absolutely crazy. The fact that one could dwell that much on a legacy shows how much they romanticize the player, meaning that in however many years it's the 40-homer seasons, and not the potentially underwhelming few months in 2017, that will stand the test of time.

But he’ll have thrown away having one of the best final seasons ever for a hitter.

Oh man. That’s a life-ruiner right there. A 10-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion totally becomes just another guy if you take that away.

Plus, the fact that he’s a DH limits how bad it could really be. You won’t get the sight of an over-the-hill Willie Mays misplaying fly balls in the 1973 World Series after hitting .211 in the regular season. Ortiz will either be able to hit or he won’t, and if it’s the latter they’ll chalk it up to age and injuries and sit him down. Any potential decision to put him on the field in a World Series would likely mean his bat was worth it enough to get them to that point.

The Red Sox, on paper at least, have a real shot at another title. Teams in such a position should always go for broke. Ortiz has absolutely nothing left to prove, but if he thinks he has anything left to give, nobody but the fans who dropped 30-something bucks on T-shirts commemorating his retirement should have a problem with that.

MLB may make rule changes for '18 season

MLB may make rule changes for '18 season

PHOENIX - Major League Baseball intends to push forward with the process that could lead to possible rule changes involving the strike zone, installation of pitch clocks and limits on trips to the pitcher's mound. While baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed hope the ongoing process would lead to an agreement, he said clubs would reserve the right to act unilaterally, consistent with the rule-change provision of the sport's labor contract.

Union head Tony Clark said last weekend he did not foresee players agreeing to proposed changes for 2017. Under baseball's collective bargaining agreement, management can alter playing rules only with agreement from the union - unless it gives one year notice. With the one year of notice, management can make changes on its own.

"Unfortunately it now appears that there really won't be any meaningful change for the 2017 season due to a lack of cooperation from the MLBPA," Manfred said Tuesday during a news conference. "I've tried to be clear that our game is fundamentally sound, that it does not need to be fixed as some people have suggested, and I think last season was the kind of demonstration of the potential of our league to captivate the nation and of the game's unique place in American culture."

Yet, he also added: "I believe it's a mistake to stick our head in the sand and ignore the fact that our game has changed and continues to change."

Manfred said while he prefers an agreement, "I'm also not willing to walk away." He said he will send a letter to the union in the coming days and plans to continue dialogue with Clark and others in hopes of reaching agreement.

Clark met with Cactus League teams last week, five at a time over Thursday, Friday and Saturday, before departing Monday for Florida to visit each Grapefruit League club - and proposed rules changes were a topic.

"I have great respect for the labor relations process, and I have a pretty good track record for getting things done with the MLBPA," Manfred said. "I have to admit, however, that I am disappointed that we could not even get the MLBPA to agree to modest rule changes like limits on trips to the mound that have little effect on the competitive character of the game."

Clark saw talks differently.

"Unless your definition of `cooperation' is blanket approval, I don't agree that we've failed to cooperate with the commissioner's office on these issues," he wrote in an email to The Associated Press. "Two years ago we negotiated pace of play protocols that had an immediate and positive impact. Last year we took a step backward in some ways, and this offseason we've been in regular contact with MLB and with our members to get a better handle on why that happened. I would be surprised if those discussions with MLB don't continue, notwithstanding today's comments about implementation. As I've said, fundamental changes to the game are going to be an uphill battle, but the lines of communication should remain open."

Clark added "my understanding is that MLB wants to continue with the replay changes (2-minute limit) and the no-pitch intentional walks and the pace of game warning/fine adjustments."

Manfred said he didn't want to share specifics of his priorities for alterations.

"There's a variety of changes that can be undertaken," Manfred said. "I'm committed to the idea that we have a set of proposals out there and we continue to discuss those proposals in private."

MLB has studied whether to restore the lower edge of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level - at the top of the kneecap. Management would like to install 20-second pitch clocks in an attempt to speed the pace of play - they have been used at Triple-A and Double-A for the past two seasons.

Players also have been against limiting mound meetings. The least controversial change appears to be allowing a team to call for an intentional walk without the pitcher having to throw pitches. In addition, MLB likely can alter some video review rules without the union's agreement- such as shortening the time a manager has to call for a review.

"Most of this stuff that they were talking about I don't think it would have been a major adjustment for us," Royals manager Ned Yost said.

Manfred said starting runners on second base in extra innings sounds unlikely to be implemented in the majors. The change will be experimented with during the World Baseball Classic and perhaps at some short-season Class A leagues. Manfred said it was a special-purpose rule "beneficial in developmental leagues."

Manfred also said Tuesday that a renovated Wrigley Field would be a great choice to host an All-Star Game and Las Vegas could be a "viable market for us."

"I don't think that the presence of legalized gambling in Las Vegas should necessarily disqualify that market as a potential major league city," Manfred said.