What Does a Hot April Mean for David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox?
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During a very up-and-down April for the Boston Red Sox—or, more accurately, a very down-and-up April—one of the club's most consistent performers was one of the most surprising, given the calendar: David Ortiz.
A lifetime .266 hitter in the season's first month, Ortiz scalded the ball this April at a .405 clip, with six home runs and 20 RBI. He finished the month, fittingly, with a pair of homers in an 11-6 victory over the Oakland Athletics at Fenway Park last night, giving him a ridiculous .543 average (19-for-35) in the team's first 10 home games. Those are numbers usually associated with Carl Yastrzemski and September of 1967, and most certainly not David Ortiz in any April.
To put things in perspective, Big Papi hit .267 last April with two homers and 11 RBI. This was actually a big improvement from 2010, when he batted a woeful .143 (8-for-56) with one homer and four RBI during the first month. Going back to 2009 (.230) and '08 (.184), it was more of the same.
Making this unprecedented binge so exciting is how Ortiz did it, hitting the ball to all fields and with equal might against right- and left-handed pitching. Lefties gave Big Papi fits for most of his career, to the point where in 2010 the disparity reached Mendoza Line-esque territory. While Ortiz hit .297 with 30 homers in 333 at-bats against right-handers that year, he dropped off to .222 with just two longballs versus southpaws.
In the past couple years, however, the lefty slugger has inexplicably eliminated this gaping hole in his game. In 2011 he actually hit for a better average against left-handed pitchers (.329 to .298), although most of his power (21 of 29 homers) still came against righties. This year all pitchers are getting crushed to the tune of a near-.400 average, with the edge in power still coming from Big Papi's right side.
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What does all this mean?
Well, if we look back on recent history, we could be in for a vintage 2004-07 Ortiz season. In each of the past two years, Papi followed up his slow starts with fantastic Mays—10 homers and a .363 average in 2010, and 10 homers and a .342 clip in 2011. If he does that again this year, he'll be more than halfway to a 30-homer season by June.
Certainly age may make a 40-homer, 120-RBI year a challenge, but it's pretty clear to see that condition-wise, Ortiz looks the best he has in years. Even casual fans notice it's a much svelter Papi stepping into the batter's box these days, and less weight usually means more speed in your swing and fewer nagging injuries.
Ortiz went into the 2012 within striking range of some significant career milestones, 22 homers shy of 400 for his career and 44 doubles away from 500. He's got nine doubles already this year, so there is a good chance both marks will fall by season's end.
Throw in his leadership role on two World Series champions, his legendary postseason performances and his lifetime Top 50 slugging and OPS marks (.546 and .925 entering May) and you might start hearing the Ortiz for Hall of Fame discussion start in earnest by the time the leaves turn brown.
Saul Wisnia lives less than seven miles from Fenway Park and works 300 yards from Yawkey Way. His latest book, Fenway Park: The Centennial, is available at amazon.com and his Red Sox reflections can be found at http://saulwisnia.blogspot.com/. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @saulwizz.
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