Friday, September 26, 2014

Ortiz Out

Ailed by a sore wrist and with his Red Sox hopelessly in last place, David Ortiz is likely done for the season. Expect him to ride this pine the weekend while Derek Jeter takes his last victory lap of his farewell tour at America's oldest and most beloved ballpark.

If we've indeed seen the last of Ortiz in 2014, kudos to him for making it through another full season in spite of his age and team's also-ran status. Big Papi continued to hit at age 38 even though nobody else on the Sox did. Though frequently pitched around, he still managed to sock 35 home runs--his most since 2007--and drive in 104 runs--also his most since 2007. That makes eight seasons with at least 30 home runs and 100 RBI with Boston, most all-time.

Though Ortiz was another year older in 2014, his production didn't diminish much. His ISO remained exactly the same, his walk rate held steady and his strikeout rate barely inched upwards. His batted ball distribution shifted significantly--fewer line drives and more fly balls--which explains his improved home run production but sinking BABiP and batting average. That suggests Ortiz was probably uppercutting more, trading singles and doubles for home runs.

That usually doesn't bode well for aging hitters in their late 30s given their declining power, but Ortiz still retained his pop. It cost him nearly 90 points in OPS compared to last year, but he still batted a robust .263/.355/.517 with a .369 wOBA and 135 wRC+. A cut below his eye-popping numbers from the past three years, but still tremendous production in any case.

The Red Sox can only hope that their designated hitter (owed $16 million next year, by the way) can ward off age for another year. That will be difficult if his wrist injury, similar to the one that forced him to the Disabled List in 2008 and triggered two down seasons, impacts his offseason workouts or lingers into spring training. Boston was smart to shut him down now, even if there was no reason for him to be playing at all with the team so far out of contention. They probably would have been better off shutting him down for the season earlier in the month along with Dustin Pedroia.

But hindsight is 20/20, and it's hard to argue with the Sox for letting a healthy Ortiz play. He needs to come back strong next year, however, as his bat is virtually impossible to replace. They need him in the heart of their order, putting up big numbers, doing what he's always done since joining Boston 12 years ago: rake.

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