From Slap Hitter to Big Papi

by Marc on May 24, 2011

in Red Sox

photo courtesy of Boston.com

We all know the old “April showers brings May flowers” adage, but in David Ortiz‘s case, we may want to rewrite the rhyme to “April struggling brings May slugging.” As we discussed about a month ago, Ortiz looked like a slap hitter at the plate, as he was going the other way with the ball to hit singles, and was drawing loads of walks while avoiding strikeouts. While that is all well and good, the thing Ortiz is supposed to do–hit home runs in the middle of the Red Sox order–was just not happening. He had two homers through April 29, the last day we checked in on this.

Again, Ortiz wasn’t struggling at the plate–his absurd walk rate and high batting average in what has started out as somewhat of a down offensive year across the league resulted in a .317 TAv, compared to last year’s .314 mark–but the lack of power was a question.

It’s one that requires no more searching for answers, though, as Ortiz has popped seven dingers this month, to give him nine on the season. Ortiz is now up to .293/.370/.524, a line with a little less power than his 2010 showing (.259 ISO to .241 this year) but he has plenty of season left to catch up in that regard. In fact, in less than a month’s time, he bumped his slugging percentage up by .101 points, bumping his season’s TAv to .320, once again ahead of last year’s pace.

Most impressive is that Ortiz’s power came without any serious sacrifices in his peripheral numbers. His strikeout rate sits at 10.5 percent, right around where it was when we last looked at his numbers. That is less than half of his career punch out rate, meaning Ortiz is making some serious contact. His walk rate has fallen dramatically since April–it’s down to 10.5 percent, just like the K rate–but there is nothing wrong with that figure, especially when it is paired with Ortiz’s power output. You would also expect a drop if he was going to start attacking more pitches he could drive with authority–it’s hard to argue with the results.

Alex Speier points out that Ortiz may be taking cues from Adrian Gonzalez, who has always had power the other way and an ability to adapt to the park he is in (a trait you have to learn if you want to succeed at Petco, as Gonzalez has), and that the effects of this are paying huge dividends. Somewhere*, the Twins are weeping.

*Last place in the Central

Ortiz is now third on the Sox in True Average (and seventh in the American League), behind Kevin Youkilis and the aforementioned Gonzalez. Despite his advancing age and an April that had us worried his swing was slowing a bit, he remains an integral part of Boston’s lineup. If this continues, the Sox will have some difficult decisions to make over the winter, but, by the same token, if this continues, 2011 is going to be a year with plenty of power out of Boston.

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Matt May 24, 2011 at 11:30 am

There was an article on the Globe recently asking whether or not it was time to resign Ortiz. I doubt the Sox front office is looking to give Ortiz a long term deal, but if he continues on like this he could create a market for a long term contract (2 or more years) for himself. It’ll be interesting to see what happens, but it’s a problem for another time. The Sox aren’t going to extend him in season (at least, I doubt it) so you hope he keeps hitting like this and creates a tough decision later on.

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