It wasn't too long ago that I thought David Ortiz was finished.
Oh, I assumed he'd hang around in the majors for a few more years as a DH, but it appeared as though his days of being truly productive were over. Wrist problems had sapped his bat speed and turned a feared power-hitter into a big man who couldn't get around on an inside pitch.
For three consecutive seasons, 2005 through 2007, Ortiz posted OPS total over 1.000. But in 2008, he plummeted to .877 by hitting only .264. It was his lowest average in Boston.
In 2009, things got even worse as he struggled to a .238 average and a career-worst OPS of .794. It was only a hair above league average, and his poorest total in any season as a full-time player.
At that moment, I thought I had to say goodbye to the Big Papi that we Boston fans knew and loved. I'm happy to admit that I was dead wrong.
Last year, Ortiz bounced back 32 home runs, 102 RBI and a much more Ortiz-like .899 OPS. And this year? Well, he's back up over 1.000.
Once again, he's assumed the role of super slugger in the middle of the Red Sox lineup.
His numbers are gaudy through the team's first 66 games: 17 homers, 43 RBI, an on-base percentage flirting with .400 and a .617 slugging percentage that is good for second in the league and fourth in all of baseball.
But what has gotten less attention, yet might be even more impressive than the production, is how Ortiz is handling opposing pitchers.
Over the course of his career, Big Papi has often been a 100-strikeout guy. That's not surprising for a true power bat. In fact, his numbers converted to a 162-game average equate to 125 Ks per year. He's whiffed 100 or more times in six of the past seven seasons, and the lone exception was due the fact that he played only 109 games.
In contrast, Ortiz has drawn 100 or more walks in a season only three times. His 162-game average for bases on balls is only 88, setting his lifetime K:BB ratio at 1.42.
But this year? This year has been a completely different story.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of his 2011 is that Ortiz isn't missing the ball. His swinging strike percentage is at a career best of 12 percent. That batting eye has resulted in an incredible 28 strikeouts through 240 at bats.
Ortiz is now on pace to endure fewer than 69 Ks this year, a mind-boggling number that would obliterate his previous best.
Prior to 2011, Ortiz's best strikeout rate came in 2008, the year in which he played only 109 games. That season, he struck out once every 5.6 at-bats. His best result for a "full season" (500+ at-bats) was once every 5.3 in 2007.
In 2011, Ortiz is whiffing once every 8.5 at-bats.
And those 28 strikeouts look even better when you compare them to his 28 walks.
These are "quiet" numbers. They don't make the immediate impact of a home run or an RBI double. They don't show up in the boxscore as obviously as runs scored.
But by avoiding the most unproductive of outs, Ortiz is helping the Red Sox in a vital way.
Ortiz is obviously benefiting from a revamped Boston lineup that affords him plenty of protection. He's probably seeing more good pitches this year, given the number of big bats in the order. And as Ortiz will tell you himself, newcomer Adrian Gonzalez has helped him improve his approach at the plate, particularly with regard to lefties.
But as Ortiz also said, "[Gonzalez and I] talk all the time, but remember it doesn't matter how much you talk because you still have to go out and execute."
Though we're only into June, Ortiz's execution has thus far been simply amazing.
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