Nation STATion: Ortiz slump redux

Nation STATion: Ortiz slump redux
August 3, 2011, 7:59 pm
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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.