We are just over halfway through the 2007 season now, and David Ortiz is putting up some slightly anomalous numbers. The number that jumps out right away is the miniscule 13 home runs, meaning Papi is on pace for only 25 on the year. For a player who hit 54 bombs last year and has averaged 47 homers a season over the past three years, this would seem to be cause for some concern.
But then we notice that Ortiz is also hitting .313, which would be a career best if he can maintain it, and is posting an .OBP of .425, which would also be a career high. Moreover, Ortiz has already hit a ridiculous 28 doubles. 28! Thats only one fewer than he hit all of last season, putting him on pace for 55 doubles, which would easily be a career-high.
So maybe Ortiz is just getting unlucky, right? In a season in which he is otherwise putting up career-year type numbers, some flyballs which went for homeruns in previous years are falling just short of the wall. Sounds plausible, no?
Indeed, Ortiz’s HR/F (home runs per flyball) this year has dropped from a career high of 26.6% last season to what would be a career low of 13.9% this season. While HR/F is not as highly dependent upon luck as BA/BIP, and thus varies more between players, it does tend to remain steady from year to year when we are looking at the same individual player, so unless Ortiz has changed as a hitter somehow that he is hitting a lot of weak flyballs, we can say that he has probably been unlucky when it comes to flyballs falling just short of the wall, especially given his high doubles total.
Still, there are some signs for concern. For one thing, Ortiz is not hitting as many flyballs as he used to. His groundball percentage has increased to what would be a career high 40%, whereas his line-drive percentage has held steady with his career norms, meaning that Ortiz is hitting a good number more weak ground balls than he used to.
Has Ortiz adjusted his swing so he can hit for higher average? Sometimes players do this, getting it into their head that they can help their team more if they get a few more hits overall at the cost of a few less home runs. Miguel Tejada, for example, stated earlier this year that he is deliberately trying to hit for higher average, and his numbers indeed seem to bear this out.
But this does not seem to be the case with David Ortiz. Although he is indeed hitting for the highest average of his career, his higher average and OBP are illusions, almost entirely accounted for by the fact that his BA/BIP is also a career-best and astonishingly high .352.
The bottom line: Ortiz has been unlucky to hit so few home runs and lucky to have such a high batting average. He is probably pretty much the same player as last year, although his career-high groundball percentage is slightly worrisome, especially for a player of his profile.
Lacking speed on the basepaths and any sort of contribution to make defensively, Ortiz derives the majority of his value from being able to hit the longball, so he would be well-advised to avoid falling in love with the high average and to get back to hitting home runs as soon as possible, lest he start looking less and less like Red Sox superstar David “Big Papi” Ortiz, and more and more like Twins benchwarmer David “Um…who?” Ortiz.