Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What's wrong with David Ortiz?

posted by Jon Williams
David Ortiz is large, slow and in his mid-thirties. He has hit for power just about everywhere he has ever played. Last season he had a wrist injury which definitely impacted his stats. But every media source seems to agree with Ortiz and batting coach, Dave Magadan when they say the wrist is no longer a problem. Ortiz missed a few days with a stiff back. At his age a stiff back and sore joints becomes a normal condition. This has been reported as a brief and minor problem. However, Ortiz is not hitting for average or for power. Two weeks ago, Magadan thought he had hit on the answer to Big Papi's problems.

From Boston.com on April 20th:
Hitting coach Dave Magadan diagnosed Ortiz's issue late last week. Ortiz has been cocking his hands into a hitting position too late, the same problem that has crept up on Ortiz when struggles surfaced in the past, Magadan said.

Late last week, Magadan showed Ortiz two pictures, one from last year during a hot streak and one from this year. In the first, Ortiz had his hands back, ready to swing, while the ball was halfway to the plate. In the second picture, Ortiz was in an identical position, but the pitch had nearly reached the plate.

Yesterday, Koji Uehara struck out Ortiz swinging twice, both at fastballs that did not reach 90 miles per hour. "When you're a little bit late . . . getting to the spot where you need to put a swing on the ball, 87 is like 97," Magadan said.

Magadan emphasized that readiness is Ortiz's main issue. Ortiz has not been hitting the ball to the opposite field and producing familiar Wall Ball doubles, but Magadan said opponents have been pitching him hard and inside. Magadan also said he has witnessed no effects from the wrist injury that plagued Ortiz late last season and in the playoffs.

While Magadan had identified the problem, he was not concerned with it. He and Ortiz worked on fixing it Saturday and Magadan is happy with the results.

"When you can change your season around in two games, it's not a start," Magadan said. "It takes some time. He felt good about the changes he made yesterday. For me, I think it's just a matter of time."
I and David Ortiz owners across the globe hope and pray that this is indeed the problem and that it is just a matter of timing. But I'm not so certain. Ortiz is in a class of player that has historically declined very quickly when reaching their mid-thirties, often it seems to happen overnight. Former Red Sox Mo Vaughn is a good example of this type.

Ortiz has a career walk rate of 13.5 percent, it is currently at 14 percent. His career K-rate is 21 percent, this season his rate is a just a touch higher at 22 percent. His BABIP is a little low at .281 compared to his .308 career rate, but that is hardly a sign of disastrous luck. Ron Shandler's XBA (expected batting average), which combines statistical indicators to predict what a player's batting average should be, suggests that Ortiz should be batting for about a .223 average. That's right on the money so far.

Ortiz's slugging percentage is hovering around .315, which is nearly .300 points below his last few years of production. He is hitting more flyballs than ever but a large percentage of them have been infield flies which helps supports Magadan's theory. The fact that he is not hitting homers at all is much more disturbing than the batting average. This is the part I believe is a fluke that will be corrected in the second half of the season.

So, what's wrong with Ortiz? He's getting older. His bat is slowing down a bit. His batting mechanics are a little off and he has struggled to correct them. I doubt the batting average will improve much above the .260 range, but I believe we'll see 20-plus homers before the season ends. That said, I wouldn't look acquire him unless the price were extremely low. I believe he'll bounce back but he's also an old enough version of the type that falls completely off the map to be willing to risk much. Then, maybe he just misses Manny...

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