David Ortiz did it again tonight.
In the bottom of the ninth with two outs and two on and the Red Sox down by two runs, he hit a game-winning walk-off three run homer to win the game, 9-8.
It was his fifth walk-off hit of the year, his 12th in four seasons with the Red Sox (the most in the Majors in that span), and the 8th walk-off home run in his career.
The amazing thing was, everyone was expecting him to hit that home run, and he did. It was almost anti-climactic because it was just they way you thought things would happen.
The man is a complete freak of nature at this point. For years, statisticians have been attempting to quantify the elusive batting trait known as “clutch hitting.” But no matter which way they ran the numbers, they always came up with the same result – clutch hitting did not exist. Players were no more or less likely to get a hit in “clutch” situations than they were in any other at bat. When you really think about it, this makes sense – if a player could really get a hit or home run on command, why wouldn’t he do that in every at bat?
Although these guys tend to question everything and retest every assertion from every angle, the stat-heads had finally run enough tests to the point were they basically all agreed that clutch hitting did not exist. But then along came David Ortiz’s amazing run in the 2004 post season, and his possibly even more amazing 2005 season, when 20 of his home runs either tied the game or put the Red Sox ahead (by comparison, Manny only had a tiny handful of such home runs, which is not a knock against Manny, really, as his numbers conform to what would be expected through random chance).
This remarkable run by Ortiz prompted one of the leading stat-head organizations, Baseball Prospectus to reexamine the whole idea of clutch hitting, and try yet one more time to see if they could find some evidence of clutch hitting. Basically, they invented a very complicated stat called “Leverage” which assigned a number to each possible game situation based on the expected increase in the chance of the team winning the game if a batter got various kinds of hits in that situation. They then compared the number of wins players provided to the team in those situations (as measured by the total increase in win chance their actual hits provided) as compared with the number of wins they would have been expected to provide if they had hit evenly across all situations according to their overall season numbers.
They were thus able to show that David Ortiz provided the Red Sox with an extra 3.6 wins more than he “should have” by getting an extremely disproportionate part of his season numbers in at bats that were the most important to winning a game. By comparing expected wins to actual wins, they found that including “clutch hitting” made their model of “expected wins” two percent more accurate. In other words, clutch hitting does exist, but it only accounts for maybe 2 percent of a team’s wins.
It certainly helps that David Ortiz is in the lineup he is in, with two low-power, high-OBP guys in front of him in Youkilis and Loretta and Manny batting behind him, giving him a lot of chances to hit with men on base.
It also helps that Ortiz happens to be hotter than the sun right now no matter what the situation is, having hit 14 home runs in July alone along with 35 RBI.
But still, watching Ortiz day in and day out, there is simply something about him since October of 2004 that goes against all reason and into the realm of the uncanny and preternatural. He really does seem to only make outs when it doesn’t matter so much, in blowouts or when his team is already ahead (or as Baseball Prospectus would say, in “low Leverage at-bats”). And he really does seem to deliver time and time again when it matters most. He actually hit two home runs today, and his first homer, what do you know, it tied the game up for the Red Sox.
The final walk-off-homer was unfolding on ESPN’s national telecast while “Baseball Tonight” was live on the air, and you could see all the Baseball Tonight analysts laughing with disbelief. Then they began drooling all over Big Papi. Even to the point where John Kruk, who has adamantly stated in the past that a DH should never be named MVP, publicly recanted on the air:
“You guys know how I feel about a DH being MVP, but it gets to a point were the stats are so slanted in favor of a DH that, I have to say it, David Ortiz is the MVP of the American League.”
It is getting really, really hard to disagree.