David Ortiz’s Power Decline

Yesterday I looked at David Ortiz‘s decline in plate discipline values. Today I am going to turn to his power numbers. Because of Ortiz’s inclusion on the leaked 2003 list of players who tested positive for performance-enhancing substances, any discussion of his power is going to turn to speculation based on that, but I am not particularly interested in covering that angle and prefer to focus on his numbers.

Ortiz’s power decline has come in a very particular manner. Look at his ISO to each field over the years. His peak years were 2003 to 2007 before his decline began in 2008.

            ISO
       left  center  right
2003   .327   .310   .429
2004   .260   .380   .449
2005   .223   .345   .493
2006   .260   .460   .533
2007   .280   .272   .444
2008   .256   .196   .383
2009   .290   .331   .276

In his peak Ortiz showed a typical left-handed power-hitter split with his biggest power coming to right field. In the past two years, interestingly, his power to left and center held steady while to right it has fallen off. His loss of power has been almost exclusively a decrease in power of pulled balls in play. Showing it graphically (with the number the fraction of balls in the air to each region and the shading the slugging on those):

The fraction of those to deep right and the slugging on those balls in play has fallen off in the past two years, while the fraction of balls in play to the infield and just beyond has risen.

It is interesting that Ortiz has lost power to right while he has tried to swing more at inside pitches, which he would typically pull. It could be that as Ortiz has lost some power to right he has tried to compensate by swinging at more inside pitches in an attempt to get the big pull power on them.

One encouraging sign, as a commenter to yesterday’s post pointed out, is that after a horrid April and May, Ortiz had a much better June through September.

Generally, though, I find it interesting that his power to center and left has been largely unaffected and wonder how that compares to other aging sluggers.




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

33 Responses to “David Ortiz’s Power Decline”

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  1. Spunky says:

    ” Because of Ortiz’s inclusion on the leaked 2003 list of positive steroid tests any discussion of his power is going to turn to speculation based on that, but I am particularly interested in covering that angle and prefer to focus on his numbers.”

    Do you mean “not particularly interested”?

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  2. Aaron says:

    From June on Ortiz was on pace for just over 40 HR’s. Also, not to repeat myself but what do you think of the numbers here, Dave?

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

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    • Dave Allen says:

      Aaron,
      I don’t think you can just throw out the April and May data and say that Ortiz should be expected to hit 40 HRs. It is possible but, I think 25-30 is a more safe projection. Those months happened and have to be taken into account and considered in the projection.

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      • lincolndude says:

        I agree, even a full season is too small a sample size to draw too many conclusions from, which is why projection systems like Marcel use the last three seasons. The problem is worse if we start looking at partial seasons.

        If you are sure the player was injured for part of the season and are discounting injury time, then maybe. Still, that injury has to factor into the projection as well in some way.

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      • Aaron says:

        Yeah, I’m not saying I’d project him at 40 HR for next year but I tend to be a bit more optimistic than some, say 30-35 based on his power growth over last season, when measured by the actual distance of his HR’s.

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  3. sen-baldacci says:

    it could be that his bat speed is playing a major factor in this result. It was mentioned quite frequently last year that Ortiz wasn’t ‘getting around’ on the inside fast ball. He may have been swinging at more out of the zone, but it appeared he couldn’t catch up with a lot of those pitches. part of that is pitch recognition, but a lot of it is getting the bat through the zone quick enough to make solid contact on an inside pitch. this wouldn’t be as much of a factor when hitting to center or opposite field. He did look better in the second half, but I don’t see much of a rebound from last year, myself.

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    • Clooch says:

      As a Sox fan that saw a vast majority of the games last year I can say that this analysis is dead on. Pitchers used to get punished for trying to throw him an inside fastball. Now he’s got a gaping hole under his hands that was consistently exploited last year. He’s behind and swinging over the top of the inside heat consistently. That leads to a snowball effect in the rest of his at bats. Now he has to cheat on the inside fastball leaving him vulnerable to soft stuff down and out of the strike zone. He’s still got enough pop to put them off the wall and once in a while still puts them out to center field but he is not catching up with the fastball anymore and that changes everything about his at bats, approach and production. I’m highly skeptical that he can even come close to being the the hitter he was a couple years ago. I’m think another year or two of mid .800s OPS before he falls right off the cliff. As the numbers indicate, the player he was for the 2nd half of last season is productive but a far cry from the Monster that he was through 2007.

      I know this is a numbers site and I’m a big fan but sometimes, just sometimes, a little scouting can provide a whole lot of context.

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  4. Southsider says:

    Well, Fenway has been death to lefty sluggers (HR wise) for quite a few years, suppressing HR rates up to 30% (according to DMB park factors anyway). That could be a potential cause/factor also.

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  5. Paul SF says:

    I wish people would be more precise in describing the 2003 list, which was of players who tested positive at least once for a performance-enhancing substance. The substance may or may not have been a steroid; the test may or may not have been a false positive. This link provides the best deconstruction of the “steroid list” myth I’ve seen to date: http://www.cantstopthebleeding.com/?p=18629

    The skinny: The union says 96 players (not 103) are on the list. 13 are inconclusive. An additional eight rang up a positive test on an over-the-counter supplement. That’s 75 testing positive for a bona-fide steroid out of 96. Ortiz and the union both say he’s one of the 21 players who are on the list but did not test positive for steroids. He’s the only one of the outed list players to make this argument. Until there’s an actual reason not to believe him, or he confesses, or someone releases the list with the appropriate positive tests highlighted, is it too much to ask for the list’s ambiguity to be accurately noted by those who choose to discuss it?

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    • Dave Allen says:

      Thanks for the comment I changed the text.

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      • Dirty Water says:

        I sure would like to know what you changed, because the following statement: “Because of Ortiz’s inclusion on the leaked 2003 list of players who tested positive for performance-enhancing substances” is not only inaccurate but has absolutely nothing to do with Ortiz’s power to RF 7 years after said testing was done. Damn, and some call me a troll. Why would such a statement be relevant to your piece?

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    • Sam says:

      Ortiz and the union both say he’s one of the 21 players who are on the list but did not test positive for steroids.

      I am not sure where exactly this has been said by the Union. Can you cite a source quoting the MLBPA?

      What I am aware of is that the Union said that at this time, they are unable to provide Ortiz with any specifics as to why he tested positive because it is under court seal. They definitely did not say anything conclusive from what I recall.

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    • JimB says:

      First off, I love Big Papi. But at the same time, I don’t see how anyone with an ounce of common sense can doubt the fact that he did steroids. I am not talking about the list, I don’t care what he did to put him on the list. Even if it was just supplements that got him on the list (which if they help you improve, then I don’t see the difference between them and steroids – that’s for another day though), you are kidding yourself if you think he did not do steroids. He went from mediocre to great overnight and then back to mediocre over another night. That, coupled with the fact that his best buddy Manny Ramirez is an all but confirmed user, leaves little doubt. This is not a criminal court of law, we do not need proof beyond a reasonable doubt, just use a little common sense.

      Like I said, I love Papi, but I hate seeing fellow Sox fans be so naive about this.

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      • Dirty Water says:

        Your argument is that Ortiz sucked while steroid use went unchecked, then became great once testing was implemented, so it’s common sense that he used?

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      • JimB says:

        So you really do not think David Ortiz did any kind of performance enhancing drug at any point. You really believe that?

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      • Dirty Water says:

        No more than I do any other slugger of his era who stood to make 9 figures by landing 40 bombs. Skeptically. But I won’t run around assuming he’s guilty, just as I won’t assume Jeter had to be popping something to get through 180 some odd games a year during his 30-35th years. They both claim they’re innocent, and no one has a shred of evidence indicating otherwise. That’s enough for me.

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      • Kampfer says:

        JimB, I guess you must have born in some totalitarian country. Have you ever heard of the idea that you cannot just call someone guilty based on your speculation? Ever heard of the idea “beyond a reasonable doubt”?

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  6. bballer319 says:

    I find that his HR/FB rates of 14.8 and 13.4% for 08/09 a bit interesting in comparison to his 18.6% career mark and 19.1% Boston mark. If you take the avg and std of the hr/fb% from 03-07…08 and 09 and just over 2 sd away. The % chance of them to be that far low comparatively is less than 2% (albeit a small sample). This in and of itself would give indication of power declination.

    If you take his HR/FB rate at face value and regress his FB% to career avg, he really hit about 25 hr last year. Considering the April he had (must be taken into account), I would be compelled to say his HR/FB rates are more normalized around 15%. And with a fb% of about 45-46%. I’m still very new to sabermetrics, so I will stay simple. If you crudely adjust for batting eye and say that his FB / Pitches Seen gives a general idea of estimated FB to hit based on an average over his Boston career of pitches seen (to regress the number…and adjust for a full season)….then long story short I see him hitting 32 HR based on a full season. 1) This doesn’t account for luck, skill erosion, and health. But I would then vaguely say expecting 25-26 hrs is reasonable given that he sees maybe 140 games, is benched at times against certain lefties, and sees some added skill erosion.

    I’m probably way off base and just waiting your time…but thought I’d like to look into it more with my very limited, ignorant perspective.

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  7. Sam says:

    Dave, I am not sure I understand these numbers. The weighted average of these ISO numbers by zone should be equal to the total ISO for the player, right? In 2003, Ortiz’s ISO was .304 as I can see from his fangraphs page, but the constituents are all bigger than the aggregate (.327, .310 and .429).

    I think something might be off with the data, although your conclusions might still be valid.

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    • Dave Allen says:

      Sam,

      I don’t think they will be because of strikeouts. ISO can be thought of as bases beyond first per at-bat. ISO by zone is bases beyond first per ball in play to that zone. Since you are removing all those strikeouts the ISO of balls in play is going to be much higher.

      I hope that is clear.

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      • Sam says:

        Thanks, Dave. So, if I understand it right, this is a “conditional on BIP” measure.

        Can you, in that case, provide some context to these ISO numbers by zone (i.e., a little bit of the distribution)? I apologize if you have already done that in a previous post, so if you can point me to them, that would be helpful.

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      • Dave Allen says:

        ‘Conditional on BIP’ is a great way to say it. For comparison the average ISO for a LHB is 0.134 to left field, 0.140 to center and 0.280 to right. You can see average values for other offensive metrics by field zone in this post.

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  8. Rick says:

    I think the bat speed argument seems quite promising. If he’s having trouble making solid contact on inside pitches because it requires him getting his bat around more quickly, that seems to match what we’re seeing. Slower bat speed would be mean both less power potential and an increased propensity to hit the ball the other way. If you take each OF zone’s ISO from 06-07, reduce it by a fair amount, and shift it to the left, you get what 08-09 looks like.

    I wonder if this is a common trend with aging sluggers who still have the strength to drive the ball but who’s declining bat speed limits their ability to make good contact on inside pitches.

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  9. I watched every Redsox game last year and tracked Ortiz’s ability to hit fastballs and it seemed from watching the games that he struggled all year with good fastballs; i.e. anything over 95 mph. I think he hit one HR all year from a 95 mph fastball and that was it. And he clearly could not pull the ball like before. He seemed to hit curve balls better. Maybe he couldn’t hit a fastball so he was sitting sitting on curve balls.

    He clearly adjusted his swing as the year went on. Maybe trying to hit up the middle is his best approach right now. He can’t hit the inside fastball any more, especially if it is over 93-94 mph.

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  10. R U For real says:

    Is it the water in bean town or hedge fund Henry’s kool aid….make-up all the excuses you want but in the end the truth is that he only became productive after he hit Boston and started juicing. Stick a fork in the fat slob,he’s done.

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    • Noonzeo says:

      I was going to disagree…but after review I can’t. I picked up this former beast in a long term keeper fantasy league seeing him MASH when given the chance in Minnesota and figuring an increase in HR in Boston. His ISO in the two years before Boston were in the 0.23 range, then he jumps up to 0.30 for his time in Boston…until the last two years where he has dipped back to 0.23 range…

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  11. Randy says:

    You can call someone guilty, you just can convicted them of anyting.

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  12. LibertyBoy says:

    Fork = what you gotta stick in that fat slob, baby!

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