How much do you know about Bobby Richardson?
Not much, I'm guessing. Richardson had a couple of seasons in which he hit .300, but he ultimately retired with a pedestrian .266 average and a pedestrian .634 OPS. A modern baseball fan doesn't think of him as one of the titans of the game.
Richardson does have one claim to fame worth knowing, though. In 1960, he won the World Series MVP. He did so despite playing for the New York Yankees, who lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates when Bill Mazeroski swatted a walk-off home run in Game 7.
To date, Richardson is the only player from a losing team to be named World Series MVP.
And this brings us to David Ortiz.
For the moment, Richardson and Ortiz have nothing in common, the key difference being that Big Papi certainly is a titan of the game. The Boston Red Sox's veteran slugger is a career .287 hitter with a .930 OPS and 431 home runs, numbers that make him one of the great hitters of his era.
In a couple days' time, however, Richardson and Ortiz might have something in common. Ortiz is playing in the World Series now, and he's playing well enough for an intriguing question to materialize.
Take it away, Mark Zuckerman of CSNWashington.com.
Granted, there is an element of silliness to this question. Ortiz and the Red Sox have a 3-2 lead over the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, and Games 6 and 7 (if necessary) will be played at Fenway Park. The Red Sox are more likely to win it all than they are to lose it all.
But because the Cardinals are indeed a very good team, there's certainly a chance the Red Sox could still lose the World Series. Regarding the World Series MVP, though, Zuckerman's question is both relevant and a good one because Ortiz really has been that huge in the World Series.
In five games, Ortiz has come to the plate 20 times. In those appearances, he's logged 15 at-bats. In those 15 at-bats, he has 11 hits. Four of those have been for extra-bases: two doubles and two home runs. He's also walked four times, reached on an error and hit a sacrifice fly.
Ortiz has therefore reached based 16 times in his 20 plate appearances, and one of the outs he made brought home a run. That makes only three unproductive plate appearances in five games, which is absurd.
Equally absurd is Ortiz's slash line. He's currently hitting .733/.750/1.267. That's a 2.017 OPS. Turn the sac fly he hit in Game 1 into the grand slam that it could have been, and Ortiz is hitting an even more absurd .750/.800/1.438 with a 2.238 OPS.
As it is, the numbers Ortiz does have are already historic. Behold where Big Papi's numbers currently rank in the realm of all-time great World Series performances, according to Baseball-Reference.com:
|David Ortiz Current World Series Ranks|
|Stat||Ortiz||World Series Rank|
If you've gotten the feeling that you've been watching one of the all-time great World Series hitting displays, it's not just you. That's exactly what Ortiz has been up to against the Cardinals.
The four guys ahead of Ortiz on the World Series OPS ranks—Lou Gehrig, Billy Hatcher, Hideki Matsui and Babe Ruth—played on teams that won it all. One supposes that bodes well for Big Papi and the Red Sox.
But then, there's the guy directly below Ortiz on the World Series OPS ranks: Barry Bonds.
Bonds is there because he hit .471/.700/1.294 in the 2002 World Series, in which he and the San Francisco Giants lost to the Anaheim Angels in seven games. That's a 1.994 OPS, a number that presents a strong case for Bonds' World Series performance as the greatest ever by a player on a losing team.
And since Bonds didn't win the World Series MVP, he presents a fascinating case study. For if we take it for granted that Ortiz keeps right on hitting only to see the Red Sox lose the World Series, why would he be the best choice for the World Series MVP when Bonds wasn't in 2002?
Well, there's the obvious, which is that the numbers Ortiz is flirting with putting up in the World Series are better than the numbers Bonds put up back in 2002. And since this is an MVP discussion, there's also the matter of what Ortiz's numbers have meant to the Red Sox.
Take a moment to consider how Bonds did in the 2002 World Series relative to the rest of the Giants:
|Giants in 2002 World Series|
Bonds was stupendous in the '02 World Series, but the rest of the Giants held their own around him. Heck, the MLB average in 2002 was a .748 OPS. Bonds' supporting cast did better than that.
Now, consider how Ortiz has done in the 2013 World Series relative to the rest of the Red Sox:
|Red Sox in 2013 World Series|
Ortiz has a third of the Red Sox's hits. He basically has 40 percent of their extra-base hits. His OPS is almost five times as large as that of his comrades.
That makes two major differences between Bonds in 2002 and Ortiz in 2013. The next major difference is that Bonds actually had some legit competition for the World Series MVP.
The award ended up going to Troy Glaus. And while he wasn't as huge as Bonds was in the '02 World Series, he was pretty darn good. Here's the must-have comparison.
|Bonds vs. Glaus in 2002 World Series|
Bonds and Glaus both came to the plate 30 times. Bonds undeniably had the bigger impact, but Glaus' impact was plenty big. A 1.313 OPS is definitely something to write home about.
And it's not just in the conventional stats that Glaus held his own against Bonds. He did so in the other stats too.
For those who are wondering, "aLI" is Average Leverage Index. It's a measure of the amount of pressure a hitter faced in a game or a series depending on the situations he was hitting in, according to Baseball-Reference.com. In the '02 World Series, Glaus faced more pressure than Bonds did.
"WPA," meanwhile, is Win Probability Added. It measures how a player impacted his team's probability to win games. Glaus helped the Angels' overall win probability almost as much as Bonds helped the Giants' win probability.
"RE24" is Runs Added by 24 base-out situations. Just as win probability is a fluid thing that can be influenced by players in given moments, run expectancy is a fluid thing that can be influenced. That's what RE24 is all about. Bonds was clearly better than Glaus in the '02 World Series to this end, but a 4.57 RE24 for one seven-game stretch is pretty darn good.
Now that we've gotten all that out of the way, we can turn to back to Ortiz and try to find his Glaus.
And therein lies the dilemma: nobody on the Cardinals is really holding a candle to Ortiz through the first five games of the World Series.
The best option is Matt Holliday, who has an even 1.000 OPS. No other Cardinals hitter who has logged at least 10 at-bats is doing better than .801, and Holliday also owns four of the club's nine extra-base hits.
But while Holliday will do for a candidate for the World Series MVP award, he doesn't come close to cutting it as a match for Ortiz:
|Ortiz vs. Holliday in 2013 World Series|
The conventional stats obviously favor Ortiz to a huge degree. He's also faced more pressure and positively influenced Boston's win probability and run expectancies to a far greater degree than Holliday has for St. Louis.
Holliday, basically, is no Glaus.
Obviously, there's still time for things to change. The Cardinals aren't dead yet, and there's still time for Ortiz's numbers to come back down to earth.
The catch, however, is that even if Ortiz's numbers do come back down to earth in the final two games of the series, they'll still be outstanding.
Let's say Ortiz comes to the plate four times in each of the next two games of the series and takes an 0-fer. If that happens, his batting line for the series will drop to .478/.536/.826. That's a 1.362 OPS, which is still better than the OPS Glaus had in 2002.
An OPS like that is also one that Holliday would be hard-pressed to match, as gaining 362 OPS points in two games would require him to go on a tear. That could happen, but it's not like he's been an absolute terror for Red Sox pitchers in the series. The only Cardinals hitter they've struck out more than Holliday is Matt Adams.
Instead, it's probably going to be up to somebody else on the Cardinals to wrest the World Series MVP away from Big Papi. Maybe Michael Wacha could put himself in line for the award with a huge performance in Game 6. Or maybe Joe Kelly could do so in Game 7. Or maybe Trevor Rosenthal could do it by finishing off the last two games of the series and adding to an impressive performance that has already seen him pitch 3.2 scoreless innings with eight strikeouts.
Even then, however, denying Big Papi the World Series MVP would be no easy call. It would essentially boil down to a choice between rewarding a guy who came up huge in the last two games over a guy who authored an all-time great performance through at least the first five games.
Since there are a ton of variables still in play, the best I or anyone else can say of this matter is "We shall see." This is baseball, where weird things happening has long been the norm.
But for now, what we know is that David Ortiz is the biggest, baddest dude left standing on the baseball landscape, and that the Red Sox have needed every last digit of the astronomical numbers he's put up in the World Series. If the Red Sox hold on, he'll be a slam dunk for the MVP award.
And even if the Red Sox don't hold on, the people who determine such things may never get a better excuse to finally give Bobby Richardson some company.
Note: All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
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