David Ortiz: Why Big Papi Isn't Done Yet

E ASenior Analyst IMay 17, 2009

ANAHEIM, CA - MAY 14:  David Ortiz #34 of the Boston Red Sox strikes out swinging with the bases loaded to end the fourth inning against 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)

All the rage lately has been about David Ortiz and his season-long slump. As of May 17, this is one of the longest homerless streaks in Ortiz' career.

Because of this prolonged slump Big Papi is experiencing, it is causing Yankee zealots and Red Sox haters alike to jump the gun, claiming that Ortiz was just one of a slew of Red Sox to take performance enhancing drugs.

On a side note, to any Yankee fans planning on leaving inflammatory comments on this article claiming that "you know for a fact that Ortiz took steroids": no you don't. I've been over this with several idiots claiming that, but they were never able to present any facts to me.

Also, Yankee zealots, don't forget about the names Pettitte, Rodriguez, Clemens, and Giambi, among others, if you're going to rush in here and pass judgment on Ortiz and any potential steroid use he could be linked to.

Back to our regularly scheduled programming...Ortiz, as far as we know, did not take any performance enhancing drugs, is not a hapless hitter despite the power outage he is going through, and his career is far from over.

Ortiz and steroids

Everyone knows the Big Papi's story, how he came from being a decent run-producer at best with the Minnesota Twins to being one of the best hitters in all of baseball with the Boston Red Sox.

Most use this story, and look at his number spike from 20 home runs in 2001 with the Twins to 31, 41, 47, and 54 with the Red Sox in 2002-2006 as evidence to claim how Ortiz used steroids.

Furthermore, these people look at his 2007 and 2008 seasons as more "evidence" that Ortiz took steroids, noting his home run totals falling down to 35 in 2007 and 23 in 2008.

However, most people who cite these statistics as proof that David Ortiz took steroids fail to look at the whole story.

In his Minnesota Twins career, Ortiz rarely saw regular playing time. At the age of 24 in 2000, Ortiz saw 415 at-bats, and looked promising at the plate. He hit .282 with 10 home runs and 63 RBI in his first full season at the plate.

In 2002, his only other season with the Twins in which he saw 400-plus at-bats, Ortiz looked even better, hitting .272, with 20 home runs and 75 RBI. Ortiz spent most of his time hitting cleanup in 2002, with lackluster players surrounding him in the lineup.

For the 2002 season, Ortiz had Jacque Jones (.300/.341/.511, 27 HR, 85 RBI) hitting leadoff, Christian Guzman (.273/.292/.395, 9 HR, 59 RBI) hitting second, Corey Koskie (.267/.368/.447, 15 HR, 69 RBI) hitting third, and Torii Hunter (.289/.334/.528, 29 HR, 94 RBI) hitting fifth behind him.

As a cleanup hitter, the biggest RBI chance Ortiz had was Jacque Jones, who had a .341 on-base percentage and scored 96 runs. However, with Ortiz batting cleanup, he didn't always have a chance to drive in Jones.

Ortiz did have adequate protection behind him with Torii Hunter, but overall for his Twins career playing time and surrounding talent really stifled his chance to develop as the run-producing slugger he became in Boston.

The steroid speculation surrounding Ortiz begins with his Red Sox career, because most people who claim that Ortiz juiced are too ignorant or choose not to recognize that he moved to a very left-handed hitter friendly stadium in Fenway Park, and was dropped in the middle of a far more talented lineup.

During his Red Sox tenure (not including 2009), Ortiz has almost exclusively hit third since the 2004 season. In 2003, Ortiz hit fifth, behind Johnny Damon (.273/.345/.405, 12 HR, 67 RBI), Todd Walker (.283/.333/.428, 13 HR, 85, RBI), Nomar Garciaparra (.301/.345/.524, 28 HR, 105 RBI), and Manny Ramirez (.325/.427/.587, 37 HR, 104 RBI).

Typically hitting behind Ortiz in 2003 was Kevin Millar, who hit .276/.348/.472 with 25 home runs and 96 RBI in 2003.

From the years 2004 to 2008, Ortiz' performance strongly correlates with Manny Ramirez' performance.

From 2004 to 2008, Ramirez hit .310/.408/.585, with 485 runs, 807 hits, 180 home runs, 585 runs batted in, and 420 walks.

In that same timespan, Ortiz hit .298/.402/.599, with 518 runs, 807 hits, 200 home runs, 630 runs batted in, and 477 walks while hitting in front of Man Ram.

As for his downward-spiraling numbers, they also go hand-in-hand with Ramirez' numbers. 2007 was a down year for both hitters, as Manny only hit 20 home runs with 88 RBI in 133 games.

Ortiz still had a good season in 2007, but not that good for his standards, coming off his record-setting home run pace in 2006. In 149 games, Ortiz hit 35 home runs with 117 RBI, as well as posting a career high .332 batting average and .445 on-base percentage.

In 2008, Ortiz started with a slump in April, but it did not last nearly as long as his current slump. Also, Ortiz missed a lot of time with a torn tendon sheaf in his wrist in 2008, and only saw his way into 109 games.

In those 109 games, Ortiz only hit .264/.369/.507 with 23 home runs and 89 RBI, all by far the lowest totals in his Red Sox career thus far. However, had he played the entire season, he was on track to hit around .264 with 34 home runs, and 131 RBI.

So while there are many reasons behind Ortiz' stats, not only when they went way up from his Twins days when he joined the Red Sox, but there are just as many reasons behind his recent spiral downward.

While it is possible it is possible that anyone—including Ortiz—took steroids, he is too vocal about the bringing out of steroid users, and about how to punish them to make me believe he has been using steroids.

For those who didn't know, Ortiz came out in Spring Training this year in an interview with Peter Gammons and said that players who tested positive for banned substances should be suspended an entire year from baseball, instead of the currently in place 50 games.

He also called the random-testing policy into question, noting that he thinks Major League Baseball should test everybody for steroids, multiple times a year. He even went as far as saying that he would accept taking a blood test.

Again, while he could have taken steroids, just like anyone else to play in the game, his coming out against the use of steroids makes me, and likely many others, believe that Ortiz honestly has nothing to hide on the subject of performance enhancing drugs.

Ortiz and the slump...is this the end?

Everyone knows that Ortiz is going through a slump, and some fans are taking pleasure in trying to let him know about it. At a game in Boston's recent series against the Angels, one rude fan held up a sign reading "Ortiz' home runs = 0!"

Okay, Ortiz is in a slump, we all get it. But that doesn't mean he is helpless at the plate, and just because he hasn't hit a home run doesn't mean he isn't doing some things well.

Ortiz has drawn 20 walks thus far, and is currently on pace to collect 95 free passes to first base, which would be his most since 2007, when he led the league with 111 walks. In his career, Ortiz has averaged 90 walks per season.

Ortiz, with 10 doubles so far, is on pace to hit 47 two-baggers, another personal best since 2007, when he had a career-high 52. His career average for doubles, however, is 43.

Ortiz has 15 RBI, which is still two above the average for designated hitters around the league, and is on pace for a respectable 71 RBI, barring any hot streaks.

While judging the slump, one has to take into account that Ortiz is getting up in age. While 33 isn't really that old, big guys like Ortiz will start to slow down around this point at their careers, especially after all the gargantuan years he's had in the past five seasons.

But does that mean his career is over? Of course not. Everyone goes through slumps. Just because Ortiz is mired in one of the worst slumps of his career doesn't mean he is done, and it doesn't mean he can't salvage his season--or turn it around in the coming seasons.

Ortiz started last year in a worse slump than this, hitting .070 through the first 13 games he played. He broke out of that slump, though, and was still able to bring his batting average to .264 and club 23 home runs in a little over half the season.

This slump has been comparatively bad for Ortiz. While he isn't batting as poorly as .070, his .208 batting average doesn't look so good when coupled with his zero home runs and 15 RBI.

However, he broke out of his slump last season, and just because this one has been three times as long as his slump last year, doesn't mean that Ortiz cannot break out of his slump this year.

Ortiz is not the only player to ever have slumped, and is not the only great player to never have slumped.

In 1959, Ted Williams slumped, hitting a mere .254/.372/.419, with 10 home runs and 43 RBI, all of which career lows. The next year, his final season, Teddy Ballgame came back to hit .316/.451/.645, with 29 home runs and 72 RBI.

At 33, Ortiz' best years are most likely far behind him, but just because he is mired in a particularly bad slump doesn't mean that he took steroids, that his career is over, or that the slump will never end.

I, for one, have a very strong feeling that the longer this slump goes on, the hotter he will get at the plate when he does eventually break out of it.


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