For this week’s Metro column, I felt obligated to talk about David Ortiz’s 3-for-43 slump to start the year. It was all anyone in Boston was talking about—radio call-in shows, sports TV, newspaper inches. Nothing was off-limits—people were talking about his weight, his batting stance, his knees, his schedule, his mindset. But I didn’t really want to chime in. I felt that this particular zone had been flooded. Plus, slumps happen. You know? I’m sure David will find a way to crank 30 jacks and get on base and OPS at or near 1.000 before the year is out. He’s David Orfreakingtiz! He’s only 32! The man they call Big Papi! Every time he smiles, a rainbow appears, an unseen band strikes up a John Philip Sousa march, and an angel gets its wings! He’ll be fine! He’ll be more than fine! But I didn’t want to write one of those “everyone take a chill pill, man” columns, because although they are sometimes necessary, they leave a patronizing aftertaste.
Then, on Monday, Coley wrote this post on slow starters and what they’re saying, and I read the following:
Jason Giambi (.107, 2 HR, 4 RBI) “If I’ve been frustrated by anything, it’s that I feel so good and I’m hitting the ball hard and I had nothing to show for it.”
That quote triggered something in my brain. You know how in movies, someone says something revealing and then the heroine gets a sort of spaced-out look on her face as she suddenly remembers all this other relevant information in flashback/voiceover mode? Like this:
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/NRIknrEwkVw" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
Well, Giambi’s comment triggered much the same reaction in yours truly. And just as Scarlett hears, “Tara….Tara!….the red earth of TARA,” I suddenly remembered reading the following quotation about Ortiz:
“He’s hitting some balls hard right at people,” said Red Sox pitching coach Dave Magadan. “He hasn’t had a whole lot of balls fall in for him.”
The pieces all fell into place. Inside my brain, I heard, “BABIP….BABIP!….It’s got to be his BABIP!”
I cruised on over to David’s page on The Hardball Times, and sure enough, going into Monday night’s game, his BABIP was a miniscule .063. He’d hit a few more grounders than he usually does, and had a few more K’s, but given the small sample size we were dealing with, those differences were tiny compared with his jaw-droppingly low BABIP. I felt compelled to look for more low BABIPs, and the search quickly proved fruitful. Giambi’s BABIP was even smaller (.043 at the time). A lot of the Detroit Tigers had low BABIP’s, too. And in a particularly sad twist of fate, Alfonso Soriano had a depressed BABIP when Sun-Times columnist Greg Couch called him selfish compared with newcomer Kosuke Fukudome. Fukudome, said Couch, plays the game “the right way.” Fukudome’s BABIP? An unsustainably high .385 heading into last night. Nice one, Greg.
It seemed like the baseball world was overdue for a crash course in BABIP, so I rapped out the column and sent it in post-haste.
The very next day, while I was at the gym, I was watching NESN (the New England Sports Network, which broadcasts nearly all the Bruins and Red Sox games). Globe columnist Bob Ryan has a talk show on the network called Globe 10.0, and I listened in horror when he speculated that maybe there was something wrong with Papi’s eyesight—”You remember,” he said to his guest [I'm paraphrasing slightly], “What happened when Jim Rice lost his eyesight. That’s not the first thing people think of when a player’s in a slump, but you know, it could be…” I actually felt Red Sox Nation shudder at the very idea.
Moreover, I then read that Papi himself seemed to think he had some sort of mental problem (“I know exactly what I’m doing wrong. Everything is right here,” he told reporters while pointing to his head). Sure, you’re hitting the ball right at people, maybe start getting irate at a few borderline calls, and then you start doubting yourself, which leads to pressing and swinging at pitches out of the zone. In that case, it makes sense to sit the guy before he does himself any more damage, as Terry Francona did earlier this week. But the slump didn’t start in Big Papi’s head. And it’s not going to end there.
Finally, I think it’s really sad that Miguel Cabrera, another slow starter with a low BABIP, said, “I feel bad. I feel like everybody’s behind me, laughing.” And the more I thought about it, the sadder it seemed.
Outside of maybe a few fantasy baseball bloggers, no one knew about the BABIP situation—not the media, not the sluggers themselves, not even the managers and front offices. And now real people were suffering because of it! Bob Ryan has perhaps just convinced thousands of viewers that David Americo Ortiz will pull a Jim Rice on us (as if we didn’t have Lasik now, anyway) and have his last 20-homer season at 33. David himself thinks he’s mental. And poor little Miguel Cabrera thinks we’re all laughing at him! This cannot be.
BABIP! Spread the word and put power back in the hands of the people. Peace.