The Boston Red Sox: Is There Anything Left in the Tank for Big Papi?

Sixty Feet, Six Inches Correspondent IMay 17, 2009

ANAHEIM, CA - MAY 14: An Angels fan holds up a sign reminding David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox that he has no home runs for the year during the game with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on May 14, 2009 at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California.  The Angels won 5-4 in 12 innings.   (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

I think it's time that this blog should address one of the biggest questions on the minds of baseball fans this year.

Is David Ortiz ever going to break out of this slump?

At the beginning of the season, I only had one thing to say to the Ortiz naysayers, it's still way too early. However, I think that as we enter the middle of May, we've got what looks like a significant sample size to work with.

Through 157 plate appearances this season, Ortiz has a line of .208/.318/.300. He has yet to hit a home run, collected only 15 RBI, and has an OBP higher than his slugging. Not exactly what we've come to expect from Big Papi.

The similarity scores on Baseball Reference are enough to terrify the Red Sox Nation. The most frequently cited name in the media, Mo Vaughn, appears on the list several times. In addition, there are several other players whose careers started to go way downhill after a dominating stretch, including Jason Giambi, Richie Sexson, Fred McGriff, Cecil Fielder, and Derrek Lee.

However, in addition are a number of players who continued to contribute value to their teams long after their peak. The list includes Carlos Lee, Lance Berkman, Paul Konerko, Hal Trosky, and Willie McCovey.

Which path is Ortiz likely to take?

One encouraging sign is that Ortiz is still drawing walks. He's racked up 20 so far this season, and I'm of the opinion that his greatest strength has always been his eye, which not only allowed him to post mammoth OBPs year after year, but also allowed him to select the best pitches to deposit deep into the outfield seats.

Alarming, however, are his strikeouts. He has 30 of those, a sign that he's pressing at the plate, especially considering he's finished his last four years with excellent K/BB ratios, including two years when he had more walks than strikeouts.

Encouraging is the fact that he has high fly ball and line drive rates, signs that he's hitting the ball well and elevating it. His .270 BABIP is most likely due for an adjustment as a result.

Discouraging is the fact that a hitter with a career high of 52 doubles has already hit 10 in a homerless season—a sign of depleting power.

How do I feel about it? Looking at this data, it doesn't look good. Looking at his pedigree, however, I think Papi has at least one more useful season in him. I think he'll break out of this slump. When he does, however, I expect him to play more like the David Ortiz of last year than the David Ortiz of 2006.

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