4-14-2010: What’s ailing Big Papi?

David Ortiz is on a streak of epic proportions. Unfortunately, it’s not a good streak. Since Sunday, Big Papi has struck out six times in at-bats. Let’s break down his 2010 performance so far, and look at each at-bat in his four-strikeout game to see what we can learn.

Good trends

Perhaps the most encouraging thing I can say is that at least he’s not flailing at bad pitches. His 16.4% O-swing rate tells us that he’s remaining disciplined up there so far. He’s also continuing to hit line drives at a normal 18% clip, and given his .273 BABIP, we might expect things to look up some for him. But I’m afraid Papi’s problems extend far beyond an unlucky BABIP.

Bad trends

Ortiz has been laying off of more pitches in general, swinging at a career low 34.5% (career 44.5%). In the games I’ve watched, it seems that he is tentative and checking a lot of swings up there, not a good sign. Despite swinging less overall, he’s missing more than ever, with a 13.3% swinging strike rate (career 9.6%). StatCorner tells us that when he does swing, he’s missing 33% of pitches in the zone and 48% outside the zone. Add to all that a career-worst 8.3% walk rate (his career low is 9.2% with the Twins back in 2002), and an unbelievable 50% K-rate (career 21.5%). There’s little to no power, and he’s hitting 46% ground balls to boot. Add to that 25% infield flies, and you are beginning to see why I’m so concerned.

Now let’s take a look at his 4 strikeout games against the Royals from Sunday. It wasn’t Zack Grienke on the mound, but Gil Meche.

Sun AB1: Walk versus Gil Meche

Ortiz drew a 5-pitch walk off of the starter. He didn’t have to swing, because those fastballs were off. Meche was coming off of the DL in this start, and his rust was pretty evident.

Sun AB2: Strikeout versus Gil Meche

Meche got Ortiz to foul off three fastballs in the zone (pitches 1, 5 and 7), then got him swinging on a low changeup (pitch 8).

Sun AB3: Strikeout versus Robinson Tejada

Four straight fastballs, all 94-95 mph (pitches 3-6). After falling behind Ortiz 3-0, Tejada just blew him away. Same speed, same movement – Papi should have been able to do something here.

Sun AB4: Strikeout versus Juan Cruz

Ortiz was caught looking here, though that last pitch looks a bit outside. Not much he could do against two fastballs thrown at 95-96 mph (pitches 4-5). Are you starting to see a pattern here? Pitchers don’t even have to mix it up anymore against Ortiz.

Sun AB5: Strikeout versus Roman Colon

Papi sat there and watched another 95 mph fastball whizz by. We can see a pattern of throwing hard stuff away, but it turns out it didn’t really matter that much.

Let’s not blow this out of proportion – everyone’s allowed a bad night or even a few games where they can’t hit anything. But Papi’s struggles are not the “I hit it hard but right at somebody” type. But pitchers are throwing junk up there, and he’s seeing only about 39% strikes. One last worrisome note – among these plate appearances, there wasn’t a lefty in the bunch. If Ortiz is struggling this much against righties, I can’t imagine what how bad he’ll be against lefties.

It’s still early, though, so I won’t say the Sox should outright release him quite yet. But it sure doesn’t look good.


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