5/16/09

Here's Looking At: David Ortiz

We had a lot of fun with the last HLA: post on Matt Holliday, so we decided we wanted to do one about David Ortiz now.  If you're reading this blog and don't know who Ortiz is, it's time to stop reading.  Oh, no, come back here - we need you.  Anyway, if you know Ortiz, you probably also know that he's been struggling mightily this year.  How mightily, you might ask?  Let us tell you!

David Ortiz, 2009: .208/.318/.300, 0 HR, 20 BB, 30 K, 13.3 BB%, 23.1 K%, 0 HR/FB%.

David Ortiz, career: .285/.380/.547, 13.5 BB%, 21.1 K%, 18.7 HR/FB%.

Obviously, the number that jumps out here is that 0 HR (or, if you're REALLY a stat nerd, the 0 HR/FB%).  Papi was one of the most feared sluggers in the league as early as two years ago, and was even in the upper tier last year, with a .914 second-half OPS.  So why the sudden dropoff?  Well, for one thing, guys like him don't age well.  Big bodies with long, powerful swings can be effective during their peaks and not long before or after.  See also: Howard, Ryan (didn't get called up until he was 27 because he couldn't put it together in the minors); Vaughn, Mo (cooked at 34); and Fielder, Cecil (cooked at 33).  Honestly, the Mo Vaughn comp is something we've been using forever with Ortiz - they have similar body types, they're both lefty sluggers who played in Boston, and they couldn't field a lick. They're fun while they last, but unfortunately they don't last long - usually, they fall off the table around the age of 33.  Let's take a look at Ortiz's comparable players and see if we can discern anything from there.  Similarly scores are in parentheses.  The higher, the more similar.

1. Lance Berkman (907): Was still going strong last year, but has fallen off the table this year.  And guess what?  He's 33!  We have hopes that Berkman's going to rebound, because he's a better athlete than Ortiz and some of the guys on the list, but maybe he's done, too.

2. Richie Sexson (883): Was terrible last year at the age of - you guessed it - 33.  Hasn't played this year, and may be out of baseball.

3. Paul Konerko (882): We were surprised to see Konerko on this list.  Konerko was a much earlier bloomer than Ortiz, and has never really had the kind of eye-popping year that Ortiz has.  In any event, Paulie looked like he might be done after last year, when he was 32, but he's rebounded nicely so far.

4. Derrek Lee (875): Another surprising comp.  Lee had one great year in 2005, and while he's been above-average forever, he's never really showed 54-HR pop like Ortiz.  But, more importantly, he's been awful this year, some of which may be attributable to a nagging neck injury.  And yet...this is his age 33 season...

5. Mo Vaughn (874): We were surprised he was so low on the list.  Vaughn, as mentioned before, was done being a productive player at 34.  

6. Hal Trosky (871): This one isn't really fair.  Trosky was enormously productive up until his age-28 season at which point he left to fight in WWII.  He came back for a year in 1944, at 31, and was pretty bad, and then was even worse when he took another year off in '45, slugging .334 as a 33 year old.

7. Danny Tartabull (861): Out of the majors at 34 after posting a decent enough age-33 campaign.  Tartabull, however, was a right fielder, so his body probably took more abuse than Ortiz's.  This may be as much health-related as it is declining skills - but either way, done at 34.

8. Carlos Lee (859): Run for the hills, Astros fans!  Your two best hitters are on this list.  El Caballo's 33 now...but he looks like he's going to put up his usual .300/.340/.500 and 30 tater tots, so he may be exempt from this list of doomed ballplayers.

9. Ryan Klesko (855): Played until he was 36, but wasn't useful after a mildly successful age-34 campaign.  Mitigating factor, though: he played out the last productive years of his career in PETCO Park, which may have aided in killing his power.

10. Cecil Fielder (848): Another fat DH, Fielder was out of baseball at 34, but was barely slugging .400 as a 33-year old.  

Our prognosis: Ortiz's comp list is loaded with guys who fell off the table earlier than most.  His bat has slowed, and while some of it may be related to the tendon sheath injury from last year, we think it's more than likely that he's just got OGS (either O.G. Status or Old Guy Syndrome; with Papi, it may be both).  We think his power is gone, and while he can still get on base - note the .318 OBP despite a .200 BA - he's never going to really hit like he has in the past.  Our official prediction is that Ortiz - barring a steroid-related resurgence - will be out of baseball after next year.  His contract is up after 2010, and we're certain that his skills will have eroded at least to the point where the Sox won't pick up the $12.5 million option for 2011 and probably to the point where other teams won't want him.  

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