At the outset, let me start by stating that the Boston.com poll is flawed. The site gave voters only two responses (play Ortiz, play Lowell) when there are really three options available—Tito also has the choice of platooning the two depending on whether a right-hander or left-hander is the starting pitcher for the opposing team.
In my opinion, it seems likely that a lot of the respondents who voted for Lowell did so because they want change. They see Big Papi struggling and they believe a change of any kind is preferable. But I believe most respondents would prefer that manager Terry Francona utilize Ortiz against righties and Lowell against lefties.
With that said, I believe Francona should stop being so bloody stubborn and begin to platoon his two potential Designated Hitters.
First and foremost, it is obvious that Ortiz is struggling. His swing is slow and he is compensating for that fact by committing early in his swing. At times he puts a good swing on the ball; but, at other times, he swings at pitches that are not close to the strike zone.
And when that happens you can see the frustration in his face.
His response? He presses. And that leads to further struggles which, in turn, cause him to press even more.
Secondly, all of the metrics suggest that Ortiz SHOULD be platooned, especially early in the year. The month of April is his worst in terms of batting average (.259 for his career)…and it is his second-worst in terms of OPS (.853), behind only May (.844).
Furthermore, Ortiz is a career .261 hitter against southpaws (he hit .212 against them last season); conversely, he is a career .290 hitter against righties (.250 in 2009).
Meanwhile, Lowell is precisely the opposite. He typically gets off to a fast start in the baseball season—April is his best month in terms of average (.303), slugging (.540) and OPS (.896). And Mighty Mike is a career .288 hitter against left-handers.
Finally, Francona needs to find playing time for Lowell, both to keep him sharp for when (not if) the team will need him and to build value for a possible trade. Lowell is useless to his club if he’s sitting on the bench, and he's valueless to the front office when he’s riding the pine.
Francona’s approach is counter-productive. I know he stayed with Ortiz last year and eventually his patience paid off; but, we all know that lightning (almost) never strikes the same place twice.
It is as if he is staying with Ortiz just to make the point that HE is in charge and that he won’t be told what to do. He needs to re-visit the issue and do what’s in the best interest of the ballclub and the organization. And in my opinion, that means putting Mighty Mike in the lineup when a southpaw is pitching for the opposition.
At least for now.
I would be fully supportive of returning to Ortiz exclusively when if and when Papi works himself back into a groove, but that seems more likely to happen if he is placed in situations that maximize his opportunity to succeed. Ultimately, that is the prime responsibility of the manager in terms of managing game situations—to place his players in situations to succeed.
Respectfully, at this point in time, Tito is not doing that.