David Ortiz’s Plate Discipline Decline

As the Red Sox stocked up on defensive players and pitching this winter a common question has been, “Do the Sox have enough offense to beat the Yankees?” As we have talked about here, this question is wrongheaded. Teams do not need a baseline level of offense (or defense or pitching). They simply need to score more runs then they give up. A run saved is just as valuable as a run scored.

That is not to say that the Red Sox would not like to score a ton of runs. And one place they will hope to get more production from this year is the DH and David Ortiz. Ortiz had a down year in 2009: a wRC+ of 104 just doesn’t cut it from a DH. People have focused on Ortiz’s power drop, but equally troubling were his lowest walk rate since 2004 and highest strikeout rate since 1998. Those lead to his pedestrian .332 OBP, taking away a huge chunk of his offensive value.

The problem is that Ortiz has been swinging at an increasing percentage of pitches out of the zone. In 2004 he swung at a very low 15.2% of such pitches. But it has increased every year since to 22.6% in 2009. (Average is 25%, so he is still better than average but closing in). Using the swing and contact contours from my Marco Scutaro post we can see where those extra swings have been.

This shows a big increase to swing rate on up-and-in pitches. Although he made slightly more contact on these pitches in 2009 than 2007-2008, these are still pitches that he whiffs at a high rate. In addition, the region where he makes contact 90% or more of the time was much smaller in 2009. Swinging at more pitches out of the zone (up-and-in pitches) and making less contact on pitches in the heart of the plate resulted in Ortiz’s poorer strikeout and walk numbers.




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Dave Allen's other baseball work can be found at Baseball Analysts.


37 Responses to “David Ortiz’s Plate Discipline Decline”

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  1. Dirty Water says:

    Aw, hell; the man is an icon. Let him grow old in peace.

    That is all.

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    • West says:

      No, he’s a poster boy for the steroid era.

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      • B N says:

        Actually, if you read the info- the only thing we know for sure is that he at least tested positive for a banned substance on the 2003 preliminary results. The ones where they did not ask players to discontinue supplements.

        So then, we know for sure he was at least taking a supplement that tests positive as a banned substance (or includes a substance that was going to be banned). Which is what David Ortiz admitted to. So if he’s actually honest, that’s the story.

        If we want to call David Ortiz a liar, which is understandable given that plenty of people have lied about juicing, then we can open up the possibility that he tested positive on the 2nd round of screening and that the second positive was a steroid. By the numbers, we know there were about 105 failed tests and about 80 of those were confirmed in the follow-ups. So it’s at least likely, if we’re willing to assume Ortiz is a liar.

        On the other hand, unlike every other player outed, the MLB stepped up and made this statement: “I’m not in a position to believe or disbelieve. I accept what he says,” Bob DuPuy (baseball’s president and chief operating officer). Their stance on Ortiz was quite different than A-Rod and others to which it was basically a “no comment” situation.

        So yes, you may be right about him being the poster boy of the steroid era. He’s a player who is suspected of using steroids under unclear evidence which can never be confirmed or disconfirmed. Which is ultimately the same place where most of the players from that era are stuck.

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      • Dirty Water says:

        Wake up, BN. West was just goading me into ‘who took more steroids, the Sox or MFY’ type thrill ride. Serious; no one outside of the Bronx believes that Papi is anything but a squeaky clean ICON for the ages.

        You go, Papi. Money year.

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      • Sandy Kazmir says:

        And no one outside of dumb Red Sox fans refers to the team as “MFY”. FWIW, I’m a Rays fan and have felt my Red Sox hatred easily outpace that of the Yankees due to uppity Bahstan fans everywhere.

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      • Dirty Water says:

        Sandy, you’re trashing my right to free acronyms while coming across as a Nazi. Please stop.

        Not a TB hater. Luv em and wish them income.

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      • B N says:

        No way! A rare Tampa Bay fan sighting! Stop the presses! Quickly, get some cameras in here before he moves along! ;) Seriously though, I have no beef with Tampa Bay- though I am wary of their existence because they’re so under the radar. I mean… the best trick the Rays ever pulled was convincing everyone that they didn’t exist last year.

        And no offense, Dirty Water and Sandy, but I detest acronyms in all their forms. Unless you’re making a chart or something, there’s no need for them.

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      • Steve says:

        Serious; no one outside of the Bronx believes that Papi is anything but a squeaky clean ICON for the ages.

        Serious: this might be the most hilariously delusional sentence ever posted on this site. Just breath-taking.

        Trust me, no one outside of Boston actually believes Ortiz is clean. Didn’t really help that Manny got caught twice.

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      • alskor says:

        Well, apparently no one outside of Boston is aware that Manny and David Ortiz – not close friends. They talk the talk, but Ortiz criticized Manny a number of times. They argued about batting order. They didn’t hang out. Ortiz went back to the Dominican in the offseason while Manny never goes there. NOT. CLOSE. FRIENDS.

        Its just assumed they were because they were the two big bats in the lineup. Do we assume Jermaine Dye and Jim Thome were best buddies…?

        Ortiz always talked positive about him for the most part, but he’s that way with EVERYBODY.

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      • West says:

        Can I propose a ban for anyone that uses the word “hater” on this site?

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      • alskor says:

        Good idea. Let’s throw it on the docket right after we ban the people who use “poster boy” and make steroid accusations (again, we have zero evidence that is what Ortiz tested positive for).

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  2. alskor says:

    I think it would be interesting to see what the split was like from June onwards. There was obviously lots wrong with his game in April and May and I think its probably skewing this pretty strongly.

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    • B N says:

      If I recall correctly, he started slugging a lot better but his walks were still down. I suspect he’s losing something with his eyes, his reflexes, or his bat speed. Most of those guys with big builds like his break down around this age. For every Thome and Frank Thomas, there are plenty of Mo Vaughns and the like. If that’s the case, and he can’t get his walks back up then I have trouble thinking of him staying in the MLB except as a pinch hitter ala Matt Stairs.

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      • Jonathan says:

        The general consensus is that the loss to his batting speed resulting in him cheating on a lot more pitches. In a situation like that, you’re going to be ahead of a lot of stuff and you’re going to spot a lot of bad pitches once you’re already starting your swing.

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      • alskor says:

        BN – I don’t think there is any basis for that.

        BB rate by month:

        Mar/Apr – .8%
        May – 13.8%
        June – 13.6%
        July – 7.1%
        Aug – 13.9%
        Sept/Oct – 13.6%

        His ISO by month:

        Mar/Apr – .103
        May – .099
        June – .333
        July – .292
        Aug – .273
        Sept/Oct – .250

        Again, it’s a real shame we don’t have a breakdown of his out of zone and in zone swing %s and contact %s by month…

        Jonathan – Where is that the “general consensus?” That may be the general consensus in the Bronx, that’s about it.

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      • B N says:

        Interesting. I hadn’t yet gotten to see the splits on that, I was curious about it. With that said, his monthlong high of BB% was 13.8 from what I read- while his BB% averaged 14.3% over all of last year (and considerably better in the years prior). So basically, it sounds like his BB% is steadily dropping but his first couple of months were anomalously bad. I guess that means that a 12-13 BB % seems likely though, which would still be solid.

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      • alskor says:

        13% is still really, really high.

        He came in 36th in the majors with his 11.8%. If he hadn’t had the slow start and finished around 13-14% he could have been top 20.

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    • Rob in CT says:

      I had the same thought. I could easily see him putting up a good-but-not-peak-Papi year, given the rebound he seemed (to my eyes) to have experienced. I wonder if the data supports it.

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      • alskor says:

        Well, he’s a big fat guy who is slowing down, no doubt – but he’s entering his age 34 season! That’s not that old… and he was so good peak wise he has a ways to fall.

        Im not really concerned about diminished performance *in general*. I think the issue is that when fully healthy he will still perform maybe 80% of what he was – but with age the injuries get more frequent and linger longer, even little injuries.

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  3. Dan says:

    FWIW, a run saved is more valuable than a run scored.

    see here: http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/a-run-saved-is-a-run-scored/

    and here: http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/pitching-runs-created/

    Or, if you believe the Pythag prediction system, you can figure it out with math, where xpected Winning % = (RS^2) / ((RS^2)+(RA^2)) (I know not as accurate as current refinements, but close enough for illustration) you will see that as RS changes, there is less effect than if RA changes.

    RS = 1000
    RA = 1000
    Expected W% = 50%

    Add 500 runs to RS expected W% = 69%
    Take away 500 from RA expected W% = 80%

    Easy peasey.

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    • alskor says:

      I’m not sure that’s really the conclusion I would draw from that. I would say its more like “at some point run scoring has strongly diminishing returns while run prevention continues to yield benefits until you approach zero.”

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      • Dan says:

        I am unable to determine the difference in your statement and mine. I exagerated the math for dramatic effect, but the point can be made with lower numbers. The difference between great D vs. great O with the same run diff is only about a game or two per season, but it’s real, and with wins worth 3.5MM each, it’s an area which it is wise to explore.

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      • alskor says:

        The difference is depending on team context the ratio of value between a run scored and a run allowed can change. I don’t think we can say that “a run saved is more valuable than a run scored” is always true. It breaks down at the extremes.

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  4. Steve says:

    Ortiz just needs to go back to his magic milkshakes

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  5. Aaron says:

    Here’s some optimism for Sox fans regarding Big Papi.

    http://www.rotosavants.com/2010/01/david-ortiz-chapter-3.html

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    • Dirty Water says:

      I got as far as ‘First, he led the majors in “lucky” HR’s’

      The blogster’s an idiot. There’s no such thing as 18 ‘lucky’ HR’s for a southpaw batting @ Fenway.

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      • don says:

        Are they bringing the walls closer next season?

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      • Have you ever seen how close Pesky’s pole is? Yes there are ‘lucky’ homers at Fenway.

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      • Aaron says:

        Ah, how to respond to someone who A) professes ignorance of the actual article in question and B) makes up numbers that don’t appear anywhere in the article.

        The only real point of the article is that the numbers suggest that Big Papi was hitting the ball farther as the season went along. If that’s indicative of real power growth, either due to finally recovering from his wrist injury or some other reason, then we have one more reason to be optimistic about Ortiz next season.

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  6. Ortiz will prevent a lot of runs at the plate, for the Red Sox.

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  7. The simple answer is that Ortiz is trying to crank inside pitches to right, he’s morphed back into the .250 pull-hitter he was with the Twins, before his very challenging milkshake addiction.

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  8. Also, by sitting and waiting on the inside pitch he becomes more susceptible to balls that break away from him, because he has to switch his approach from “driving” middle-out pitches to “protecting” middle-out pitches. Lots of flailing swings on those breaking pitches if you guess inside wrongly and open up your hips to pull.

    Ortiz’s power numbers will continue to decline and he’ll be batting behind Cameron most of the season.

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  9. Sam says:

    A really solid article goes to waste because fanboys clash pointlessly, almost never considering what exactly is being written in the article. Shame, indeed.

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