Is Ortiz Powering Back Up?

David Ortiz had a horrible start to the season, going the first month and a half (154 PAs) without a home run. But recently he has turned it around, hitting five home runs since June 6th. Does this mean that Ortiz’s power is back, or has the recent HR outburst been a small sample size fluke build on a couple lucky shots?

One way we can answer this question is head over to Greg Rybarczyk’s Hit Tracker and see if his HRs were lucky or not. This shows Ortiz tied for the league lead with three lucky HRs, not encouraging. Greg’s information is great (providing the most accurate data available on every aspect of HRs we could ask for), but it only provide data about Ortiz’s HRs and there is another half to luck, maybe Ortiz has hit a number of long fly balls that just barely didn’t go for HRs.

I wanted to see a complete picture of Ortiz’s power including all of his fly balls, so I needed to look elsewhere for the distance on his non-HR fly balls. Back on June 5th when Ortiz was seemingly still in his slump John Dewan presented the average distance of Ortiz’s balls in the air using the Baseball Info Solution (BIS) data. It showed a serious drop in his average distance compared to 2007 and 2008. Unfortunately the BIS data are not publicly available so I could not use them to look at his fly balls during his recent power surge.

Batted ball location data are publicly available through MLB’s Gameday. They report the location x and y coordinate of every batted ball in pixel units, which are displayed on the field images in the MLB Gameday application and then stored in XML format. Peter Jensen came up with translation factors to convert Gameday provided pixels to feet for each ball park. Unfortunately Jensen found that the conversion factors change year to year and you need a whole year of data to come up to determine the factors. So I am going to have to use Jensen’s 2008 conversion factors to look at Ortiz’s fly ball distances and hope that we are not that far off. Luckily I can use Dewan’s BIS data to see how close they are.

 David Ortiz ball in air average distance (feet)
| Year             |     BIS Dist. | Gameday Dist. | 
| 2007             |           290 |           291 |
| 2008             |           273 |           279 |
| 2009 pre-June 5  |           254 |           256 |
| 2009 post-June 5 |            NA |           300 |

For 2007 and 2008 I used the appropriate conversion factors from Jensen and the BIS and Gameday average distances are surprisingly close. It is really an endorsement of the quality of data from both BIS and Gameday, and Jensen’s conversion factors. For 2009 I had to used the 2008 factors on the 2009 data, and luckily the BIS and Gameday numbers came out very close. So I am fairly confident going forward with the 2008 conversion factors on the 2009 data.

If you trust the 2008 conversion factors on the 2009 data, over the past two weeks Ortiz’s balls in the air have averaged 300 ft, higher than in 2007 and 2008. That looks good.

Here are the distances of all of his balls in the air by date with the home runs filled in. The straight line is his average 2008 distance and the wavy line a smoothed rolling average of his 2009 distance.


You can see he started out a good 20 ft below his 2008 average, but starting around the end of May his average distance has raised steadily. This graph also shows that in the past couple weeks in addition to his six homers he has had a number of other long fly balls. This is a small sample, but things look qualitatively different for Ortiz since the end of May, an encouraging sign for him and the Red Sox.

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

23 Responses to “Is Ortiz Powering Back Up?”

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  1. Big Oil says:

    Appreciate the persistence and research, Dave. Speaking only on what I saw against the Braves the other afternoon, his opposite field shot looked to have a little more pop than had been displayed for the majority of the year, which is why I was a little surprised to see the hittracker designation “PL/L” for Sunday’s shot. Then again, it was opposite field and left the bat around 103mph. Certainly an improvement and closer to what we have come to expect from Papi.

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  2. AngMohClay says:

    Great work,
    You did a fantastic job using tools like mySQL and R to present your argument clearly and effectively, rather than simply in the presentation of summary statistics. I will definitely check out your work in the future. While the small sample size of his post june 5 ABs means this is not conclusive, there is an obvious trend, and it’s probably one worth taking a chance on.

    Again, great post.

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  3. Mark R says:

    I wasn’t ready for Papi to be finished. Let’s hope this trend holds.

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  4. Greg says:

    Just by glancing at the chart you provided, I can see that most of the waviness of the rolling average line is caused by fluctuations in the number of infield flies, which aren’t a good indication of how powerful a batter is. I think if you graphed outfield fly balls only by setting a minimum distance of something like 200 feet, you would get a better indication of Ortiz’s power and the rolling average line would show a more clear upward trend.

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  5. Fuitant462 says:

    Fantastic Analysis. Like Big Oil said, really impressed with the persistence. As a Sox fan, that kinda of a curve seems to vindicate what definitely looks like a somewhat revived Big Papi. Great Work. It’s analysis like this that keeps me coming back to this site on a regular basis.

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  6. alskor says:

    Watching him, he has been swinging MUCH harder, like he used to. You can definitely notice it. He always took these savage, angry cuts… he wasnt doing that in April and May. At that time he swung like a guy afraid to strike out. He has been crushing the ball when he makes contact. Hard, long fouls. Popups that stay up FOREVER. The Homers have been crushed and left in a hurry.

    He’s back. Looks completely different. He even said himself his problem was he was “swinging like a p****.” Im sure his skills are in decline some, dont get me wrong – but he’s still pretty damn good. It really was mostly in his head.

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  7. Mike Ketchen says:

    I am 14th in the NFBC online championship.
    I own Ortiz…. Thank you very much : )

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  8. Per says:

    He’s back on the juice.

    Accept it, folks.

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    • Mark R says:

      You’ve certainly provided ample evidence. I guess I have no choice BUT to accept it.

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      • Per says:


        There’s plenty of evidence you ostrich. You just don’t want to believe it. Sorry, homer, it’s true, he’s a juicer just like his buddy man-ram. Deal with it

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      • Mark R says:

        I’m a Mariners fan and have been my whole life. I’m also a fan of empiricism and science-based argumentation. Would you care to maybe provide just a little of this evidence of which you speak?

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  9. Jack's Son says:

    It’s the eye drops, clearly.

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  10. Our House East says:

    Very Clearly, Jack.

    Here’s to a full season with Papi at/after his peak! Still good enough for me.

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  11. Ryan says:

    Our House East, are you associated with the place near NEU?

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  12. Per says:

    hey Mark R, great, i’m very impressed with your credentials. How about the fact that he’s an aging slugger who never hit worth a crap until he got to Boston? His best friend Manny has already been caught? This is the steroid era (like it or not). And allegations have surfaced that he’s older than he says he is. There’s some support for you!

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    • Mark R says:

      It’s funny that you think you’ve made some sort of point here. You’re obviously a troll, so…have fun with that.

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      • Per says:

        Nice that your sentimental love for Ortiz has gotten in the way of clear thought. You a closet sox fan? Get real.

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      • Mark R says:

        Yes. That is what has happened. I’m too busy masturbating to pictures of Ortiz to think clearly. I just sit in my room and masturbate and cry and hope that these steroids allegations aren’t true.

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    • OregonJunco says:

      What are you, a DA on “Matlock”?

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    • alskor says:

      What’s that? I cant hear your taunts all the way from 5 games back…

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  13. Andrew says:

    With the success of Ortiz and his magic eyedrops, when are we going to start seeing congressional hearings on the use of placebos in MLB?

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  14. Per says:

    Mark R — get your problem taken care of. Not healthy, bro.

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  15. wobatus says:

    I’d love to see the average distance per flyball, liner, fliner, allowed by pitchers. I wonder if, say, Santana just overall allows shorter distance on his flies than average, and if pitchers, or at least some, do indeed have some influence on this.

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