Not The Usual Steroid Suspects: David Ortiz is Hot in June

David AllanCorrespondent IJune 29, 2009

NEW YORK - MAY 04:  David Ortiz #34 of the Boston Red Sox bats against of the New York Yankees on May 4, 2009 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Red Sox defeated the Yankees 6-4.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

So now that David Ortiz has found his stroke again, all the murmurs will start.

This will certainly mirror the talk that surrounded Jason Giambi a couple of years ago.

You all remember, don’t you? Giambi admitted to doing performance-enhancing drugs before the 2004 season, and followed that up with an 80 game, 12 home run season. The murmurs, in that case, became a roar of laughter.

It didn’t get any better in 2005 when he came out of the gate with five home runs in the first 60 games of the season, but Giambi would finish that season with 32 homeruns.

Now follow me here—

The screams of indignation came the loudest in July of 2005, when Giambi belted out 14 bombs in 26 games. You remember that, right?

When the Giambino started smashing homeruns again, the first thing everyone said was, "well, he’s clearly on HGH because they can’t test for that."

I don’t buy it for one second.

He then managed to post three more 30 home run seasons in his career.

Earlier this year, we heard all the rumblings about Ortiz. His slow start this year came on the heels of Papi proclaiming that he had never done steroids.

So predictably, the rumors started, where people without proof—except what they think they know about steroids and steroid use—drew a correlation between Papi’s performance and a lack of use.

Now after two months of slumber, David Ortiz seems to be shaking off the early season slump, and with almost 100 percent accuracy, I can say that those same people that jumped all over Jason Giambi without proof will do the same to Big Papi.

I have several theories as to Ortiz’s slow start; unfortunately, I'm not a hitting coach, and thus have as much proof of them as the above-mentioned steroid accusers.

Here's what I do know—

David is batting .218 with eight home runs on the strength of a June that has seen him go on a tear, hitting .311 with seven of those eight home runs.

So what changed?

Let start here—

Confidence and pressure. It's certainly clear that Papi has always taken on the responsibility of being a key cog in the Red Sox lineup. After being moved out of the third spot in the Sox lineup, it seems as if Ortiz has had the weight of the world taken off his shoulders.

I think it is completely reasonable that in dealing the pain of his wrist and knee injuries, Ortiz had altered his swing to a more comfortable and less effective plan. It would explain why Ortiz has seemingly rectified his inability to catch up the inside fastball. It's Ortiz’s sudden resurgent power stroke that has people talking, after his noticeable drop off in the early 2008 and 2009 seasons.

In April 2009, David Ortiz struck out once in every 3.95 at bats. In May 2009, David Ortiz struck out once in every 3.50 at bats. Then in June 2009, that rate went to one in every 4.625.

His career strikeout rate is one in every 4.69 at bats.

The other stat that I think is tied into David’s new found success, is his BAbip (Batting Average on Balls in Play.)

In April 2009, Papi’s BAbip was .290.

In May 2009, it was .188.

Then, in June 2009, the BAbip for David Ortiz went to .317.

His career numbers would say that his career Babip is .302.

So what we see in June is a guy who has fallen back into the norm with his career numbers. June is actually more the exception than the rule. Ortiz is striking out less and putting more balls in play.

Combine that with the fact that he is taking good, confident cuts at the ball, and you see his average on balls in play go up, and his strike out rate gets better—certainly more in line with the Big Papi that the Red Sox came to know and depend on.

It is certainly not a surprise to anyone that at the same time Ortiz's average has heated up, his power stroke returned, as well.

So as we come the end of June, everyone will wake up and realize that Ortiz put up a monster month out of the five hole in the order, and we will once again here the murmurs about Papi. We will once again be subjected to people discussing why they think David Ortiz is once again on fire.

Now certainly, with the vocal nature of Ortiz as it relates to steroids, there would be people out there that would love to expose Ortiz, if he was in fact not telling the truth.

Such was the case with Sammy Sosa right around the time he said, “I calmly await my induction into the Hall of Fame…It's all about timing and this is not the moment to discuss that topic [drug tests].”

It was shortly after that quote in his retirement interview with ESPN Deportes that an anonymous source decided it was in fact time to draw back the curtain and reveal Sosa’s behavior and his name on the list of 103 remaining major leaguers who, along with Alex Rodriguez, tested positive for steroids in 2003.

If that is the case, why were we not confronted with David Ortiz’s guilt when he so adamantly denied the use of performance enhancing drugs so many months ago? You could reasonably assume that it’s because Ortiz didn’t appear on any such list.

As I have said previously in the case of A-Rod, we live in a society that takes as much satisfaction in unmasking our heroes and exposing their flaws as we do in rooting for them.

Some of my colleagues here at the Bleacher Report instantly went to speculating about Performance Enhancing Drugs as early as February of 2009.

It seemed obvious to them that a decline in power was instantly linked to his body falling apart because of steriods.

If that's the case, maybe could someone explain to me why Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro became better hitters as they aged (and not the old, broken-down players people would have you believe steroid users become)?

On the other hand, greats like Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Jimmie Foxx saw a massive decline in their numbers following their 30th birthday.



Career Homeruns

HR Before 30

HR 31 and beyond

Barry Bonds




Mark McGuire




Rafeal Palmeiro




Willie Mays




Mickey Mantle




Jimmie Foxx




If David Ortiz is the steroid user that everyone claims he is, he should be showing improvements at this advanced stage in his career. If it was, in fact, true that Papi was on the juice, he’d have surely been smoked out by the same anonymous source that wouldn’t let Sammy Sosa’s dance routine stand as he addressed (or failed to address) his steroid use.

The truth of the matter is that David Ortiz is an aging ball player who was trying to recover from two injuries in the last year—two injuries that I am sure caused him to adjust his swing to deal with any pain or discomfort. 

Now that he has been removed from his customary three spot in the lineup and has had the time to work out the bad habits he developed, he has re-emerged as a force in the Red Sox line up.

Sometimes life is simpler than people think:

“To a cop the explanation’s always simple. There’s no mystery to the street, no arch criminal behind it all. If you find a body and you think his brother did it, you’re gonna find out you’re right.”

Sports are the same, ladies and gentlemen. You are all looking for Keiser Soze (PED’s), when you really just need to weigh the facts.


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