Despite all the well noted slumps and hubbub surrounding David Ortiz, he's remained arguably the best full-time DH in baseball.
In 2009, after hitting just one home run and batting just .185 through the first two months of the year, David Ortiz regained his form. He finished with 27 HR and 81 RBI from the month of June on.
In 2010, after a brief struggle early on in the season, Ortiz produced a 32 HR, 102 RBI, .270/.370/.529/.899 campaign. He was tied for tenth in HR in the MLB and fifth in the AL. He was also tenth in the AL in RBI. At the end of the season, David Ortiz had one of the better years of any power hitters in the game, regardless of position.
However, there was a question of whether or not the Red Sox would even bring Ortiz back at all. He's 35 years old, and his contract was expiring. In the end, they picked up his one year, $12.5 million option, despite his desire for a multi-year contract.
Papi is in line for another great campaign in 2011, and I don't think expectations of a breakdown due to age are justified in Ortiz's case. His 2009 struggles were the result of a wrist injury suffered the year prior. He played nearly the whole season with the injury, and as a result his mechanics were all fouled up. Last season, Papi was clearly pressing himself. It wasn't a physical problem, it was mental.
Ortiz should be able to avoid all that in 2011, though. For once, the eyes of the Red Sox fans aren't going to be on him. In fact, there are a million different storylines that take precedence over David Ortiz: how the new guys (Crawford, Gonzo, Jenks, Wheeler) will fit in, will Beckett and Lackey produce, will Youkilis, Pedroia, Ellsbury and co. all come back strong from injury?
Papi should receive a relative stress-free start to the 2011 season. You could make a case that David Ortiz is the fifth most important player to this club offensively, whereas last season it was just him and Adrian Beltre for most of the year.
Less responsibility + less pressure = very good numbers for David Ortiz.
There's also one health-related issue that I find is never discussed often enough. While Ortiz has often drawn comparisons to guys like Mo Vaughn, they are completely unjustified for a number of reasons.
First, Papi is in much better shape right now than in the early part of his career. He recognized that to maintain a high level of play as he got older, he would have to keep his body in tip-top shape. While Ortiz is still a big dude, he's very lean, and built very sturdily.
Second, Ortiz has played virtually his entire career as a full time DH. He just hasn't gone through the same wear-and-tear that other guys (like Vaughn) who play first base experience.
The most games Ortiz has played in the field in a Red Sox uniform is 45 in 2003, his first year with the team. Since then, his days in the field have dwindled for pretty much every season; from 10 games in both 2005-2006, 7 in 2007, 6 in 2009, and just 4 last year. He didn't even appear in the field in 2008.
So, let's review. David Ortiz is still in very good shape for a man of his age, has had limited wear and tear that might debilitate the career of a power hitter, and has the benefit of hitting in a low pressure environment (relatively) in one of the best offenses and baseball.
Oh, and not to mention, Papi is playing for a contract and the satisfaction of proving all his doubters wrong. I predict more good things from Papi in 2011.