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Entries in world series (12)

Tuesday
Jan142014

Big Papi Refuses to Get Old

Red Sox GM Ben Cherington recently said that "the door will be open" for the club to discuss a contract extension with David Ortiz, who will pull down $15 million next season during the last year of his current deal. For most 38-year-olds who don't contribute in the field and on the bases, the door would have slammed shut years ago. But Ortiz, fresh off a season in which he posted the best park-and-league-adjusted OPS (60 percent above average) among qualified hitters this side of Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout and Chris Davis, just won't get old. Forget slowing reflexes and declining bat speed -- Big Papi is too busy hoisting World Series trophies and sporting WWE championship belts.

In fact, Ortiz's lumber looks as quick as ever. He annihialated "hard" pitches -- fastballs, cutters and splitters -- in 2013, boasting the third-highest slugging percentage in this game against those high-speed offerings.

Baseball orthodoxy says that sluggers lose their quick-twitch fibers and prodigious power as they age. Not Ortiz, who is actually yanking more hard pitches to right field -- and launching them deeper -- as he creeps closer to forty. His pull percentage and average fly ball distance versus fastballs, cutters and splitters has increased three years running.

Ortiz's pull percentage and average fly ball distance vs. hard pitches, 2011-13

        

In addition to his World Series and pro wrestling gold, Ortiz can now claim his place as one of the all-time great batters among old dudes. Ortiz has the fourth-highest OPS+ ever for a hitter from age 35 onward (minimum 1,500 plate appearances). A chemically enhanced Barry Bonds, Ted Williams and Babe Ruth are the only batters who mocked Father Time more effectively than Big Papi, though those guys continued raking into their forties.

(Source: Baseball-Reference.com)

Should the Sox pony up one last time for Ortiz? History hasn't been kind to similar sluggers. The list of DHs who have thrived from age 38 onward is an awfully short one: Just Edgar Martinez (132 OPS+), Brian Downing (130 OPS+) and Harold Baines (111 OPS+) managed to be at least 10 percent above average with the bat while logging 1,500+ plate appearances. And keep in mind, these are guys who only contribute offensively. Still, are you going to bet against Big Papi at this point? Eventually, he's going to slow down. But if there's one thing we've learned while perennially writing his baseball obituary, it's that Ortiz cares little for typical aging curves.

Friday
Nov012013

Big Papi's Nearly-Perfect World Series

Nobody can accuse David Ortiz of recklessly celebrating Boston's third World Series title in a decade. Big Papi shielded his dome and nearly broke Twitter by sporting a motorcycle helmet during the Red Sox' postgame bash. Ortiz isn't the one who needs protection, though -- that would be St. Louis' typically stellar pitching staff. Papi batted .688 and got on base at a .760 clip during the World Series, trailing only Billy Hatcher (1990) in both categories among hitters in a single Fall Classic. Combined with his heroics in 2004 and 2007, Ortiz now has the second-highest career OBP (.576) ever in the World Series among batters getting at least 25 plate appearances (Barry Bonds is first, at .700).

Here's more on how Ortiz tortured the Cardinals -- when they weren't giving him the Bonds treatment, that is.

  • Cardinals pitchers wanted nothing to do with Ortiz, throwing just 29.7 percent of their offerings over the plate against Boston's clean-up man. On a related note, he drew eight walks during the series, tying him with Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and a few others for fifth-most all-time. No other hitter in the World Series came close to getting the Ortiz treatment. Carlos Beltran, himself a postseason demigod, saw the second-lowest rate of pitches in the strike zone (42 percent) during the Fall Classic.

Percentage of in-zone pitches seen during the 2013 World Series (minimum 20 PA)

  • When Ortiz did get something over the plate, he made it count. He went 8-for-10 with two homers versus in-zone pitches during the World Series. Big Papi crushed a middle-middle fastball from Kevin Siegrist in Game 1, and then went oppo on a Michael Wacha changeup in Game 2.
  • Ortiz took 38 total swings during the series, and he came up empty a mere four times. His 10.5 percent miss rate was lowest among all Sox and Cardinals hitters logging 20-plus plate appearances, just beating out Matt Carpenter (10.6 percent) and Beltran (10.7 percent).
Friday
Nov012013

Ditching Switch-Hitting Pays Off for Victorino

Batting from the right side of the plate, Shane Victorino played a key role in Boston's World Series-clinching Game 6 victory. Victorino stepped to the dish with the bases loaded in the bottom of the third inning and drove in Jacoby Ellsbury, David Ortiz and Jonny Gomes by making a fresh dent in the Green Monster. Victorino's drive off a Michael Wacha fastball was the biggest play of the game according to Baseball-Reference's Win Probability Added stat, boosting Boston's odds of winning from 58 percent to 84 percent.

And to think, the former switch-hitter has a pulled hamstring to thank for his crowning achievement in the majors.

Victorino injured his left hammy during the summer, compromising his ability to drive the ball as a left-handed hitter. Overall, he swatted just three home runs and posted a .702 On-Base-Plus slugging percentage while batting as a lefty in 2013. But truth be told, Victorino ceased being a threat from the left side long before his hamstring woes (he had a .629 OPS as a lefty hitter in 2012). The injury gave Victorino the opportunity to do something fans and analysts had been clamoring for anyway: give up switch-hitting. And for that, Red Sox Nation is grateful.

In 160 postseason and playoff plate appearances as a righty hitter, Victorino popped seven homers and tallied an .827 OPS versus right-handed pitchers. He flirted with returning to switch-hitting during the postseason, taking swings from the left side in the ALDS and ALCS, but he batted exclusively as a righty against St. Louis. In case Victorino needs any more convincing that he should only step to the plate as a righty batter in 2014, consider his performance from each side of the plate against right-handed pitching this season:

  • Victorino ripped 61.8 percent of pitches put in play down the line while batting as a righty against right-handed pitching. As a lefty hitter, he pulled pitches just 36.7 percent of the time.
  • Batting right-handed, Victorino hit a ground ball just 38.6 percent of the time. As a lefty hitter, he chopped pitches into the turf 50 percent of the time.
  • Victorino drove fly balls an average of 241 feet in righty-versus-righty matchups, compared to 232 feet as a left-handed hitter.
  • Crowding the plate as a righty hitter, Victorino turned into a pitch magnet. Victorino was plunked 16 times in righty-versus-righty situations, trailing just Starling Marte (21 righty-versus-righty hit by pitches). Marte, by the way, logged more than three times as many plate appearances (489) as Victorino in such matchups. Victorino might not like getting drilled, but those hit by pitches boosted his on-base percentage to .367 in righty-versus-righty situations (.316 OBP as a lefty).

If Victorino had challenged Wacha and his wicked fastball-changeup combo as a lefty hitter, Boston's big third inning might have instead ended with a meek groundout. As a righty, though, he was ready to tee off on the rookie's 93 MPH heat. Who knew pulling a hammy and surrendering the platoon advantage could be such a good career move?