Could David Ortiz Cap Historic Farewell Season with AL MVP?

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJuly 22, 2016

Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz follows through on a 2-run homer in front of Minnesota Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki in the eighth inning of a baseball game at Fenway Park, Thursday, July 21, 2016, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Associated Press

Big Papi's been places. And done things. All-Star Games. Home Run Derbies. World Series. You name it.

But about four months into David Ortiz's final major league season, it's getting hard to ignore the possibility of him doing something he's never done before: win the Most Valuable Player award.

By my reckoning, this is the only Ortiz-related topic we have yet to cover this season. But there's a good reason we've spilled so much ink on his account. The best time to stop covering the Boston Red Sox's longtime designated hitter would be when he stops knocking the crud out of the ball.

He keeps refusing to do that.

Ortiz sure knocked the crud out of the ball when he took Jake Peavy for a ride for his 23rd homer of 2016 Tuesday night. And in Thursday's 13-2 win over the Minnesota Twins, he did it again with No. 24:

That might not have even been the most impressive home run Ortiz hit Thursday. He also launched a dinger in batting practice that got stuck in Fenway Park's Pesky Pole. Not so pesky now, are you, pole?

Impressiveness notwithstanding, that long ball was the 40-year-old's third hit of the night. It raised his slash line to .330/.423/.673 and his OPS to 1.096. By that last number, he's having the best campaign ever for a 40-year-old. Likewise, this is the best a hitter has ever done in his final season.

“We’re watching history right in front of us nightly," Red Sox manager John Farrell said after Thursday's win, per Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe.

There's no doubt about it. Nor is there any doubt that Ortiz's final season will be remembered for a long time no matter what happens at the end of it.

We may be inclined to remember it for even longer, though, if he's given the American League MVP for his troubles. In Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News, at least one person is already leaning that way:

Maybe this isn't a "hands down" conversation, but it's definitely a conversation. Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald was also pondering the Ortiz-for-MVP question Thursday night. The bookmakers have been pondering it for longer. According to Bill Reiter of CBS Sports, Ortiz entered the second half with 6-to-1 odds of winning the AL MVP.

The closest Ortiz has come to winning the MVP was a second-place finish in 2005. If nothing else, working in his favor is his 2016 is better than that season. The 1.096 OPS he's rocking is the highest of his career, topping his previous career high of 1.066 in 2007.

And it's not just his past performances that look inferior next to his current one. All other 2016 hitter performances do too. As of this writing, the league OPS race isn't close:

  1. David Ortiz: 1.096
  2. Josh Donaldson: 1.020

Yes, Ortiz has the advantage of playing half his games at Fenway Park. But adjusted offensive metrics like OPS+ and wRC+ show that doesn't matter. Even after all things are accounted for, Ortiz is still the best hitter in baseball in both categories.

Elise Amendola/Associated Press/Associated Press

Offensive production isn't everything, but it still carries the most weight when it comes to the MVP voting. That's how Miguel Cabrera beat Mike Trout in 2012 and 2013, and arguably (if you look at the RBI counts) how Donaldson beat Trout last year.

It also helps to play for a winning team. With his Red Sox now the second-best club in the American League behind the Cleveland Indians, Ortiz is doing that, too. And although dominating to this degree at the age of 40 and in his final season doesn't necessarily make him more "valuable" than the AL's other top players, it's a narrative that could help his cause.

But lest anyone think Ortiz's case for the AL MVP is ironclad, well, it's not.

Perhaps his biggest problem is the team he plays on might be too good. It always helps a hitter's cause if it looks like he's carrying a lineup on his shoulders. It's hard to make the case Ortiz is doing that. The Red Sox have baseball's most productive offense by a significant margin. It would be worse without Ortiz, sure, but not outright bad.

And in this case, the "he's not even the most valuable player on his own team" card is there to be played.

Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. are also in that discussion. None has been as offensively dominant as Ortiz, but each has been excellent while also contributing on the basepaths and on defense. Ortiz is on the opposite end of "elite" with his baserunning and has yet to play a single inning in the field. He's been a designated hitter all the way in 2016.

And if anyone's going to take all-around contributions into account with Betts, Bogaerts or Bradley, they're obviously going to do it with the other horses in the AL MVP race. Wins above replacement points the arrow at Trout and Donaldson, per Baseball-Reference.com, with Houston's Jose Altuve standing close by.

WAR won't swing the AL MVP vote one way or another all on its own, but it's safe to say it has some influence in the year 2016. It's been part of the discussion since Trout v. Cabrera in 2012, and it's helped create some unlikely MVP candidates in the years since. As Joe Posnanski highlighted on his website, Alex Gordon was one in 2014.

If the all-around excellence of the Red Sox's lineup doesn't get Ortiz, his one-dimensionality could. And if that doesn't, there may be a voter or two who still hasn't forgiven him for his positive performance-enhancing drug test from 13 years ago.

All this is enough to qualify his MVP case as an uphill battle.

Even still, this may be the best chance Ortiz has ever had at the award. He may not be the league's best player, but this is the first time he's been the league's best hitter. And it's all in service of not only a really good Red Sox team, but a really cool story as well.

Besides which, there is that nagging suspicion that it's just not a good idea to doubt Big Papi.

 

Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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