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Big Question Mark

Straight out of literature; embattled young man takes his dreams elsewhere, becomes a lionized figure in the world of baseball, then experiences a tragic fall from grace. David Ortiz is one of Theo Epstein’s masterstrokes as GM, and could quickly become one of his greatest challenges. A contract extension in 2006 has Ortiz earning 12.5 million this and next year, and then a club option for 2011 without a buyout. If Ortiz continues hitting like he’s hitting – not at all – the contract can quickly become an albatross.

The best method to avoid such faith is to figure out whether Ortiz will improve or not and then decide on an appropriate action to pursue. Ortiz’ vitals show a declined walk rate, increased strikeout rate, and uncharacteristic ISO. Ortiz’ BABIP is .263, lower than last year, and far lower than Ortiz’ career .307 BABIP. This is despite an increased amount of line drives and fly balls being hit. In the old days, more fly balls meant more homeruns, right now, Ortiz’ HR/FB is 1.7%, a drastic decrease from previous years; 26.1% in 2006, 17.2% in 2007, and 14.8% in 2008.

Ortiz’ O-Swing% is at a post-2002 high 25.8%, the previous five-year high came in 2008; 20.6%. This means Ortiz is swinging out of the strike zone more and this is leading to the changes in walk and strikeout rates. Ortiz is swinging nearly 50% of the time and only making contact 76.1% of the time, consider that his career averages in those measures are 44.6% and 78.1%.

Hit Tracker Online
is a ridiculously handy resource. You get a graphical view consisting of each Ortiz’ during the last four years and over measures, like the speed of the ball off of the bat. In 2007 Ortiz launched 35 homeruns and had an average speed of nearly 105 MPH, that number was actually up in 2008 to 106.3 MPH but his amount of homeruns dropped. The difference seems relatively unimportant, and the sample size for this year’s SOB – which registers in around 96 MPH, for what it’s worth – is so small that nothing can be drawn from the data.

Pardon me for stating the obvious, but something isn’t quite right with Ortiz and it seems to be physical. Either Oritz’ pitch recognition abilities are slipping, which would explain the increased hacks and decrease solid contact, and/or his bat speed, which again, would explain the former two as well as the loss of power. I’m not sure Ortiz can regain either ability, even if I do think he’s going to finish with a wOBA well above .300.

Of course, I also never thought I’d write that about David Ortiz.