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David Ortiz is off to yet another terrible start this year.  He had a terrible first month last season too, when he batted .198 with a .300 OBP and 5 homers in April, and is off to an even worse start this year, with an April batting average of .230, an OBP of .290, and zero homers.

ortizstrikesoutIt got so bad that manager Terry Francona actually sat down with Ortiz and told him that the team would not give up on him no matter how much he struggled: “Francona told him they were in it together, that he needed to relax, and that this team would succeed or fail with him.”

So what exactly is wrong with David Ortiz? Last season when he sucked it up in April, it was really just an illusion created by abnormally bad luck with BABIP, as Ortiz had a ridiculously low .192 BABIP in April 2008. But BABIP is definitely not the cause this time: Ortiz’s BABIP so far this year is a healthy .295

Injury doesn’t seem to be the culprit, either, as Ortiz seemed fine in spring training, when he posted a robust line of .313/.395/.625 with 3 homers in twelve games, and swears up and down that his wrist feels 100 percent.

Rather, the answer seems to be that Terry Francona is right, that Ortiz is pressing and needs to just “relax.”  The numbers show that Ortiz is swinging at many more at pitches outside the strike zone than usual (28% vs 18% career), and he is making more contact with pitches outside the zone (61% vs 48% career), meaning he is doing pitchers a big favor by “extending the zone” and also sacrificing power to make greater contact with bad balls.

In the case of both swings outside the zone and contact outside the zone, Ortiz’s numbers have been remarkably consistent over his career, with year-to-year swings confined to within a percentage point or two, so the numbers so far this year are quite anomalous.

The good news is that with this one exception of his plate discipline, Ortiz’s other peripherals all seem to be in perfect order. This means that Ortiz is probably not hurt or otherwise majorly broken. If he can get his plate discipline back in line and start “waiting for his pitch” a bit more, he should be fine.

5 Responses to “The real reason why David Ortiz is sucking right now.”

  1. Nick,

    It’s an interesting premise, but I think you overlook the injury part. It’s not necessarily his wrist but his knees.

    In previous years, he would bend his knees and use power from his legs to drive the ball. Now, he’s virtually upright at the plate and it looks as though he’s just flailing at the ball with his arms. It seems too radical of a change to be merely mechanics.

    Plate discipline could be part of it, but I don’t think it’s the whole story.

  2. Nick Kapur says:

    Yes, that also may be part of it, Ty. I actually wrote about this very knee issue you raise two years ago, with photographic evidence!

    http://umpbump.com/press/2007/07/13/papi-playing-through-pain/

    But the change in stance has been in place for two years now so I don’t think it can fully account for Ortiz’s bad start this year, although it may say something about the overall decline trend since 2006.

  3. Lyndsay says:

    has he been checked for cataracts?

    seriously.

    I’m actually comforted by his downward spiral. I’m in a downward spiral on my own…but at least it’s not in front of the Boston media or played on ESPN every night!

    it’s actually quite sad to see him just sitting on the waiver list in my fantasy league, just waiting to get picked up…any day now. he’s just looking for a chance to shine!

  4. When David spits on the palm of his hand and then slaps hands together that weakens his grip on the bat and makes it slippery.
    If he wants to spit on his hands that’s OK but he should then bend over and put his palms flat on the batter’s box dirt.

  5. Tom Hoffman says:

    It’s interesting to note that Ortiz’ early stats in Minnesota were not that different from what he’s doing now, for three years in a row. That would seem to go against the “injury” theory of his current performance, since he was in good health then.
    I don’t care what his problem is. I love the guy.

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