Breaking down the Red Sox lineup: David Ortiz

Hitting third: David Ortiz
[B-R] [FanGraphs] [Josh Kalk] [ESPN] [HitTracker]

Few people would have predicted that David Ortiz would be hitting .241/.345/.434 on May 12. But Big Papi opened 2008 in a 3-42 slump that stretched 12 games. Since that time, he’s hit .311/393/.452. Six of his seven homers and 13 of his 14 XBH have come since April 18, so it appears that his swing is definitely coming around, though the power numbers are not quite what we’ve come to expect from Ortiz.

How he’s pitched to
The biggest difference between what pitchers are giving Ortiz in 2008 versus 2007? 55.9% fastballs this year versus just 36.9% last year. Lefties are serving up 2/3 fastballs, and righties about 53%, which they could never get away with under normal circumstances. Pitchers are seeing that he’s struggling, and just going with their best pitch, trying to get it by him. He’s hitting just .239 and slugging .463 on heaters, a far cry from the .375 and .912 he put up last season, even with the meniscus issue in his knee. He’s doing significantly worse against sliders (.000), changeups (.273) and curveballs (.111) this season as well.

Hitting approach
David Ortiz has been expanding his strike zone just a little bit, swinging at 20.2% of pitches outside the zone (up from 18.4% in 2006-2007). He also seems more tentative at the plate, swinging at 66.8% of strikes (down from 70.5% in 2006-2007). His overall contact rate is pretty steady at 79.4%, so basically he’s swinging at more balls and making relatively poor contact; he’s been pressing, trying to make too much happen. His walk rate is at 13.2%, mainly because he’s not getting pitched around any more, and his strikeouts have actually gone down to 16.6%. This reinforces the idea that Ortiz is reluctant to strike out and tentative at the plate; he’s just trying to make contact, even when the pitch isn’t so good.

Big Papi has been pulling the ball a lot, which is exactly what opposing teams want if they’re playing the overshift. That has helped lead to an inordinately low BABIP of .246, his lowest by about 30 points since his 2001 season with the Twins. Six of his seven homers have been to pretty extreme right field, and three of those had just enough to get out; he’s just not hitting the ball as squarely as he used to. The average true distances and speed off the bat are not that different, but Ortiz is hitting a lot more grounders (43.8%) and fewer line drives (13.2%); his flyball percentage has gone up recently (43.0%), likely an adjustment he’s made at the plate.

Aside from an ill-advised diving slide into first base at Tampa Bay that cost him a couple of games on the bench with a sore knee, there’s nothing much to complain about here. No one expects Papi to be stealing bases. He doesn’t get picked off, and he runs hard, and that’s all we can ask from him.

The good news is that Papi’s season is well on the way to normalcy. He’s starting to inside-out the ball to left field, and showing better discipline at the plate. It’s just a matter of time until he starts murdering fastballs again, then pitchers will return to feeding him all breaking stuff, increasing his walks (less command) and power numbers (hanging pitches). I would expect Ortiz to finish with subpar numbers (for him) this season, but not by too much. All his peripherals suggest that he’ll be okay for the most part, and he really is too good a hitter to keep playing at this level.

Other articles in this series:
Dustin Pedroia
Jacoby Ellsbury


2 Responses to Breaking down the Red Sox lineup: David Ortiz

  1. Pingback: Breaking down the Red Sox lineup: Manny Ramirez « Red Sox Talk

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