Monday, June 30, 2014

Ortiz On Way To Cooperstown

Holt and Pedroia congratulate Ortiz on his big three-run homer (Concord Monitor)
David Ortiz swatted the 450th home run of his career last night, a three-run bomb into Yankee Stadium's right field bleachers off Chase Whitley. By scoring Brock Holt and Dustin Pedroia, it gave Boston a 4-0 lead at the time in a game the Red Sox would go on to win 8-5.

The 25 year-old Whitley, a rookie making his first career start against the Boston Red Sox, became a footnote to history. To his credit, he got the best of Ortiz in their first meeting by getting him to bounce into an inning-ending double play. The second time around, though, Ortiz took him deep, making Whitley the 307th pitcher Ortiz has homered off. It was also his 41st against the Yankees and 52nd three-run shot

Papi's prodigious blast snapped a three-way tie for 37th place on the all-time home run list with Jeff Bagwell and Vladimir Guerrero, both contemporaries of Ortiz as well as deserving Hall of Famers. Among active players only Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Albert Pujols, and Adam Dunn have more, and Ortiz figures to pass Dunn shortly (Papi needs only two to tie Dunn, which he could do tonight).

And while Ortiz's numbers are down compared to what they've been the last three seasons, he's still having a good year at 38 and is on pace for another 30 homer, 100 RBI season (his eighth if he can reach both benchmarks). He might also be an All-Star for the tenth time, as he's currently outpolling every DH not named Nelson Cruz. The Red Sox might be struggling, but Ortiz's march towards Cooperstown continues.

Ortiz's Hall of Fame case is very polarizing, primarily because he's done most of his damage as a full-time designated hitter. Paul Molitor and Frank Thomas's inductions notwithstanding, people have been very harsh towards and critical of DHs when it comes to Cooperstown, and evaluating their batting statistics in general. Many feel it's appropriate to hold them to higher offensive standards because they don't contribute on defense. Others, who I assume for the most part are National League fans otherwise known as baseball "purists," dismiss their accomplishments altogether because they were one-dimensional, incomplete players.

Well, so are a lot of players who play the field (Willie McCovey, Harmon Killebrew, Ted Williams), and they actively hurt their team by doing do. I don't think it's fair to hold that against Ortiz, who would (and has) play(ed) the field when needed. Where he plays is the manager's decision, not his.

I don't even think it's fair to compare designated hitters to relief pitchers, both of whom have been deemed "specialists" akin to football's punters and special team players. Relievers throw one inning every other game, while DHs get three-to-five at-bats per game. Designated hitters have much more of an impact over the course of a season and a career than relievers do, which is reflected in their superior WAR figures. An elite hitter is much more valuable than an elite reliever or closer, and yet people seem to have no problem with relief pitchers going into the Hall of Fame.

So yeah, I think it's ridiculous that Edgar Martinez, one of the greatest hitters of all-time, still hasn't gotten the call 10 years after his retirement. I can only hope voters are more receptive to Ortiz (but, due to his PED-history, probably won't be), because he is also a deserving Hall of Famer in his own right.

The two keys to a Hall of Fame career are longevity and a terrific peak, and Ortiz has both. From 2003 through 2007 he was the American League’s best hitter, ranking first among AL players in doubles, walks, RBI, and OPS, second in home runs and third in the FanGraphs version of Wins Above Replacement (despite contributing nothing in the field or on the bases). Big Papi batted .302/.402/.612 over this five-year stretch, averaging 42 home runs and 128 RBI per season and finishing in the top five of MVP voting every year.

After a few down (but still good) seasons, Ortiz re-claimed his status as one of baseball’s best hitters, batting a combined .311/.401/.571 from 2011 to 2013. Even at 38 he seems to have plenty of juice left in the tank, and if that is indeed the case then several milestones, such as 500 home runs, appear to be in reach.

As for longevity, Ortiz has sustained his greatness for more than a decade and compiled some very impressive career numbers along the way. The nine-time All-Star just recorded his 2,000th hit and 500th double last year and continues to climb the all-time leaderboards. He ranks in the top-50 in slugging percentage, OPS, doubles, home runs, extra base hits, and AB/HR ratio.

Strictly based on his regular season body of work, Ortiz already has a compelling case for Cooperstown, and there are a host of other factors that strengthen his case even more.One of the best clutch hitters of all-time, Papi deserves extra credit for his legendary postseason heroics that spurred Boston to a trio of World Series titles since he joined the team in 2003. His three walk-off hits in the 2004 postseason come to mind, as do last year’s game-tying grand slam against Detroit in the ALCS and World Series MVP performance versus the Cardinals. His name is plastered all over the postseason leaderboards, hardly a surprise given that the man they call “Senor Octubre” always seems to rise to the occasion.

Ortiz has been exemplary off the field as well, embracing his status as a local legend and role model in the community. He founded the David Ortiz children’s fund in 2007. The following year, he released his own charity wine label (with all proceeds going to his children’s fund) and received UNICEF’s Children’s Champion Award. In 2011 he received the Roberto Clemente Award, given annually to the player who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual's contribution to his team.” A leader on the field and off, Ortiz finished third in Boston’s 2013 mayoral race with 560 write-in votes.

Lastly, Ortiz deserves to be recognized as one of the best designated hitters in baseball history. His seven Outstanding Designated Hitter Awards and six Silver Slugger Awards are tops for a DH, and The Sporting News named him “Designated Hitter of the Decade” from 2000-2009. With the most hits, home runs, and RBI by a DH, he’s reached heights that no other designated hitter has.

Ortiz’s offensive numbers aren’t otherworldly, especially for someone who rarely plays the field and is a liability on the basepaths, but they’re still Hall of Fame-caliber. As one of the best hitters, Red Sox players, designated hitters, and postseason performers of all-time, Ortiz has done more than enough to merit induction. It seems his teammates were on to something when they bestowed a new nickname upon him last year: “Cooperstown.”


  1. What PED history? Nothing was ever proven about the 2003 test. Both MLB and the MLBPA have said the testing was not accurate. Other then a few delusional, irrational yankee fans everybody realizes this. Every writer that has a vote that I've asked (about 20) said they will vote for him when the time comes.

    1. I hope you're right. People have a long memory when it comes to PEDs and a lot of misconceptions about them as well. Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell haven't been enshrined because they "looked" like PED users even though they never tested positive! I'm sure Ortiz's late career renaissance will also raise some suspicions.

  2. It's become a total witch hunt. So called fans accuse players they hate of doing it. If a guy does good he's on it, if not he's off it. It's ridiculous. Testing started in 2004 and papi has passed every test. I've exchanged e mails with ken rosenthal, ken davidoff, joel sherman, michael silverman, and many others and they've all said papi has their vote. Some said he's gotta get to at least 500 HR'S. Most writers understand what happened with the 2003 survey testing and how flawed it was. I don't think there's been any "late career renaissance" He started very badly in 2009 coming off the bad wrist injury in 2008. He finished that year with 28 HR and 99 RBI. He's been consistent and productive the rest of the time. He had his prime years from 2003-2007 and then there's been a drop. But always at or near 30 and 100 barring the injury years. His great career numbers, great peak year numbers and his brilliance in the postseason and clutch makes him a slam dunk Hall of Famer to me. Lastly, they thought Piazza and Bagwell "looked like it" but they voted Frank Thomas in easily.

  3. Hey, there is no evidence that Barry Bonds used steroids, and they're still keepin' him out despite his numbers. If the writers can keep the home run champ out of the Hall with no real proof, what can they do to a player who just miiiiiight hit 500 homers with a "positive" drug reading????

    1. Exactly. In regards to PEDs, the BBWAA treat players as guilty until proven innocent. Totally unfair, but that's just how it goes.

  4. Henry Upton I strongly believe that Ortiz deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. However, there are two major obstacles to his induction. First, probably, Edgar Martinez will need to be inducted before Ortiz can gain admission. Second, I agree that the significance of the appearance of Ortiz's name in the Mitchell Report has been grossly overblown by his detractors, particularly Yankee fans. However, it gives haters of the DH and of Ortiz a convenient hook to oppose his Hall of Fame admission. I earnestly hope he gets inducted, but I am not overly optimistic this will happen.