The Ten Biggest Playoff Plate Appearances for David Ortiz and Carlos Beltran

Sunday night, David Ortiz faced Joaquin Benoit with the bases loaded. There were two outs, and the Tigers were winning the game by four, but it was nevertheless a tense situation, with Tigers fans feeling deeply anxious and Red Sox fans feeling something similar to that, only a little warmer. Everybody recognized that it was the plate appearance of the ballgame — a hell of a lot was going to swing based on the outcome. That feeling is the feeling of leverage. Leverage mirrors intensity, and so by using the leverage statistic, we can more or less capture group emotional states. A low-leverage situation is one during which you might excuse yourself for the restroom. A high-leverage situation is one during which you might use the restroom where you sit. High-leverage situations are where heroes are made.

An ordinary situation has a leverage of 1. When Benoit faced off against Ortiz, the game leverage was just a hair over 2.2. Helping keep matters somewhat modest is that Ortiz could do no more than tie things up, but Ortiz did tie things up, delivering the best or worst possible outcome, and for Ortiz this is now part of a track record. Ortiz is considered the American League’s best clutch playoff performer. Much in the way that Carlos Beltran is considered the National League’s best clutch playoff performer.

Over 315 career playoff plate appearances, Ortiz has batted .284 while slugging .542. Meanwhile, over 181 career playoff plate appearances, Beltran has batted .340 while slugging .740. Ortiz was the Boston hero Sunday night; Beltran was the St. Louis hero Friday night. Keep in mind these aren’t just regular statistical performances: these are statistical performances in colder-weather situations against many of the best pitchers in the league. Hitters are supposed to do worse in the playoffs, because they’re facing almost nothing but quality arms, yet Ortiz has hit like David Ortiz while Beltran has hit like Barry Bonds after sleeping on a comfortable mattress. It doesn’t take much for people to recognize standout October performance, and these two have gone above and beyond.

What’s more is that there’s more. Going back to the concept of leverage, Baseball-Reference defines a high-leverage situation as being any with a leverage index of at least 1.5. Ortiz has had 68 such plate appearances in his playoff career, and he’s slugged .818 with a 1.303 OPS. Beltran has had 31 such plate appearances in his own playoff career, and he’s slugged .913 with a 1.461 OPS. Not only have they delivered: they’ve delivered even more when it’s meant even more. These are players who have unquestionably earned their reputations, and for these reasons Ortiz and Beltran don’t feel like just any other batters.

Given what Ortiz just did Sunday, and given what Beltran just did Friday, I thought it would be fun to review their ten combined highest-leverage playoff plate appearances to date. This is going off the numbers at Baseball-Reference, instead of the numbers here, but there should be very little difference. And Ortiz’s plate appearance from Sunday doesn’t even make it. Below, some pressure-packed situations, and some memories. And a couple intentional walks. oooohh

10

  • Batter: David Ortiz
  • Pitcher: Mariano Rivera
  • Date: 10/17/2004
  • Game: ALCS Game 4
  • Leverage: 3.77

This was a game in which David Ortiz would eventually be a hero. This, however, was not that plate appearance. It was 4-3 Yankees going into the bottom of the eighth, and Joe Torre went right to Rivera, who allowed a leadoff single to Manny Ramirez. Up next was Ortiz, but Ortiz didn’t yet feel like Ortiz feels now in the playoffs, with a long future still ahead of him. After taking a first-pitch called strike, Ortiz offered at the next pitch and fouled it off. A pitch later, the count was 1-and-2. A pitch after that, the count was 0-and-0 on Jason Varitek, as Ortiz had struck out. You’re not going to find many better playoff performers than David Ortiz. Mariano Rivera would be one of them.

9

  • Batter: David Ortiz
  • Pitcher: Francisco Rodriguez
  • Date: 10/5/2007
  • Game: ALDS Game 2
  • Leverage: 3.91

This all played out pretty ordinarily. The Angels and Red Sox were tied 3-3 in the bottom of the ninth, and Julio Lugo singled off Justin Speier. Dustin Pedroia then moved Lugo to second with a grounder, and that prompted Mike Scioscia to insert Rodriguez, who immediately struck out Kevin Youkilis. The next batter was the left-handed Ortiz, but after Ortiz was the right-handed Ramirez, so Scioscia opted to put Ortiz on since that run didn’t matter. He liked the righty-on-righty matchup, and on the second pitch, Ramirez slugged a game-winning three-run dinger.

8

  • Batter: Carlos Beltran
  • Pitcher: Jason Isringhausen
  • Date: 10/20/2004
  • Game: NLCS Game 6
  • Leverage: 3.94

This proved to be a little less ordinary. Beltran was on the Astros in 2004, and the Astros were trailing the Cardinals 4-3 in the top of the ninth. Isringhausen was pitching his second consecutive inning, and he started this one with a hit-by-pitch. A bunt and a fly ball later, the Astros had the tying run in scoring position, but the Cardinals were an out away from victory. Beltran stood in, but with Jeff Bagwell on deck, and with Bagwell no longer being Jeff Bagwell, Beltran was intentionally walked. As such, the Cardinals put the go-ahead run on base. Bagwell singled and the game went 12 innings.

7

  • Batter: David Ortiz
  • Pitcher: Orlando Hernandez
  • Date: 10/17/2004
  • Game: ALCS Game 4
  • Leverage: 4.06

Several innings before David Ortiz was a hero, David Ortiz was a hero. In that legendary Game 4, the Yankees didn’t just blow a 4-3 lead in the ninth; they also blew an earlier 2-0 lead, in the fifth. In that fifth, it was 2-1 Yankees when Manny Ramirez walked to load the bases with two out. Ortiz stood in and aggressively fouled off Hernandez’s first pitch, falling behind in the count. He didn’t miss the second pitch, though, and in a matter of seconds, the Red Sox went from behind to in front. This is one of the forgotten hits, but it helped to build the legend, and the legend might not exist were it not for this hit in the first place.

7OrtizHernandez.gif.opt

6

  • Batter: Carlos Beltran
  • Pitcher: Kenley Jansen
  • Date: 10/11/2013
  • Game: NLCS Game 1
  • Leverage: 4.33

Capping off maybe the ultimate Carlos Beltran playoff game. In the bottom of the third, Beltran drove in two runs with a drive off the fence in center field. In the top of the tenth, Beltran preserved a tie by throwing out Mark Ellis on a play at the plate. And in the bottom of the 13th, Beltran won it for the Cardinals with a line drive against one of baseball’s very best, very most unhittable relievers. With two on and one out, the Dodgers weren’t in position to put Beltran on. When the count ran 3-and-1, the Dodgers weren’t in position to throw another ball. Jansen, to his credit, throws a lot of unhittable strikes, but the one he threw wasn’t one of them, and now as a consequence, this paragraph exists.

5

  • Batter: David Ortiz
  • Pitcher: Jim Mecir
  • Date: 10/4/2003
  • Game: ALDS Game 3
  • Leverage: 4.46

For the Red Sox, this was an elimination game, as the A’s were ahead in the series two games to none. And nine innings could get anything settled, so the game proceeded to the tenth with the score even 1-1. In the bottom half, Johnny Damon started with a strikeout, but a few batters later there were two on and two out for Ortiz. Ortiz took three consecutive balls to get way out in front, but then a called strike made it 3-and-1. A foul ran the count full, and meant the runners would be moving, allowing the winner to certainly score on a single. Ortiz drilled the sixth pitch from Mecir. He drilled it right at Miguel Tejada, and the game went to the 11th.

4

  • Batter: David Ortiz
  • Pitcher: Esteban Loaiza
  • Date: 10/18/2004
  • Game: ALCS Game 5
  • Leverage: 4.48

The second of consecutive marathons, this made for yet another unforgettable Ortiz playoff moment. The Red Sox had their backs against the wall again and erased a late Yankees lead again. That business was done in the eighth, and the game lasted all the way into the 14th, by which point Tim Wakefield and Esteban Loaiza were throwing long relief. In the bottom of the 14th, the score 4-4, Loaiza walked two and struck out two, bringing Ortiz to the box. To that point, Loaiza had thrown 49 pitches. This was his 59th:

4OrtizLoaiza.gif.opt

Loaiza got ahead 1-and-2, but Ortiz fouled off six pitches in a ten-pitch showdown, and he dropped the last just between second base and center field for another early-morning walk-off. The quality of contact might not have been the most impressive thing, but then there aren’t a lot of hitters who would’ve delivered that result on that pitch at the fists.

3

  • Batter: David Ortiz
  • Pitcher: Keith Foulke
  • Date: 10/5/2003
  • Game: ALDS Game 4
  • Leverage: 5.08

It can be heartbreaking, sometimes, to review Oakland’s recent history of playoff performance. In this Game 4, the A’s were again in position to advance past the Red Sox, and Oakland even got the ball into the hands of their closer, armed with a lead. Keith Foulke inherited a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the eighth, and he retired two of the first three batters. A Manny Ramirez single, however, put runners on the corners for Ortiz, and Ortiz got himself ahead in the count 3-and-1. The fifth pitch, he swung right through. The sixth pitch, he didn’t.

Ortiz once again put the Red Sox out in front, and Scott Williamson faced three batters in a perfect ninth. Ortiz solidified himself as a legend in 2004, but the previous October he set the foundation.

2

  • Batter: David Ortiz
  • Pitcher: Mariano Rivera
  • Date: 10/17/2004
  • Game: ALCS Game 4
  • Leverage: 6.39

When people remember this as one of the best playoff games in recent history, there’s a variety of reasons for that. Even setting aside the game potentially being a real turning point for the Red Sox in a series that looked otherwise hopeless, this was a close game of constant high-leverage battles between a lot of elite-level players. This was Ortiz’s second critical plate appearance against Rivera in two innings. This time, the game was tied, following Bill Mueller singling home Dave Roberts. That happened with nobody out. Then there was a bunt, an error, a strikeout, and a walk. Ortiz batted against Rivera with two out and the bases loaded, and Ortiz had a chance right there to send everybody home and extend the series. On the fourth pitch, Rivera threw the cutter he wanted to throw to Mueller. This time it worked out a lot better.

2OrtizRivera.gif.opt

In the highest-leverage plate appearance of David Ortiz’s playoff career, he popped out. He did so, granted, against the best relief pitcher ever.

1

  • Batter: Carlos Beltran
  • Pitcher: Adam Wainwright
  • Date: 10/19/2006
  • Game: NLCS Game 7
  • Leverage: 6.98

This is a set of sentences that needn’t exist. The Cardinals and the Mets were tied. In the top of the ninth, Yadier Molina made them un-tied. In the bottom of the ninth, the Mets had one last chance against a rookie fill-in closer. Consecutive singles preceded a strikeout and a lineout, but then a five-pitch walk loaded the bases for the Mets’ three-spot hitter. The tying run was on second, the winning run was on first, a wholly unnecessary run was standing in the box, and Wainwright needed just three pitches to leave Beltran looking helpless.

I wonder how often they talk about this. They must have talked about this. Maybe they agreed not to talk about this. Beltran took the first and third pitches, the third being the pitch he most wishes he would’ve swung at. In the highest-leverage plate appearance of Carlos Beltran’s playoff career, he struck out looking to end his team’s season.

So there are some helpful reminders here — as impossible as it might feel to try to pitch to David Ortiz and Carlos Beltran in the playoffs, they can be retired, and as a matter of fact they have been retired quite often. This is one of those things that’s so easily forgotten: the advantage always lies with the pitcher, in that the pitcher always has a better chance of getting the hitter out than the hitter has a chance of getting on base. At least, this is true in all but the rarest of circumstances. Neither Ortiz nor Beltran is impossible to pitch to, so they shouldn’t be treated accordingly, in the strategy. They shouldn’t be intentionally walked all the time. They should be treated like they’re just really good hitters.

But it says something they even feel the way they feel. Regardless of what it means, there’s no denying the Ortiz and Beltran postseason presences. It seems like it’s impossible to get them out, and no matter how you feel about performing sustainably in the clutch, what they’ve done is what they’ve done, they’ve built up incredible track records, and the numbers are amazing. It’s not always about projections. It’s not always about trying to see an unseeable future. Sometimes it’s just about looking back and recognizing, and what Ortiz and Beltran have done deserves almost perpetual recognition.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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semperty
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semperty
2 years 9 months ago

I know you mentioned the “rarest of circumstances”…but Barry Bonds’s .600+ OBP in 2004 seems like he had an advantage in an awful lot of his plate appearances

bcp33bosox
Guest
bcp33bosox
2 years 9 months ago

It’s funny how I don’t remember the outs…at least not very well.

MNB
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MNB
2 years 9 months ago

Interestingly, Ortiz has significantly larger splits than the league in High-Leverage situations, at least in the regular season. This year, the league wOBA-ed .009 lower in HL situations than in all situations; Ortiz’s HL wOBA was .110 lower in HL than his season wOBA. He’s got a much wider split than the league as far back as I can see. Of course, it helps his rep as a clutch performer that A. he gets a lot of opportunities, as a #3 hitter on a high-scoring team; B. he’s (obviously) better to begin with than your average player, so his HL-decreased wOBA is still a damn good one; and C. he’s succeeded in a few crucial places–the walk-off that followed his bases-loaded squander in ’04, for one–and those persist in the memory. The power of narrative at work.

Nick
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Nick
2 years 9 months ago

why is Ortiz’s AB in the 9th of Game 4 that much higher leverage than his walkoff HR AB in extras?

olerudshelmet
Member
olerudshelmet
2 years 9 months ago

Ortiz’s homer in the 12th occurred with one on and none out. The AB in the 9th was bases loaded, two outs. Any outcome that resulted in him getting on base would have ended the game, which was not the case in the 12th.

John
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John
2 years 9 months ago

You can make an argument that Beltran’s AB has even more leverage (big picture wise) because it occurred in a Game 7.

Bryan Cole
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Bryan Cole
2 years 9 months ago

As someone who lived with a Mets fan in 2006, I can’t help but think that, every time someone raves about Clutch Playoff Hero Carlos Beltran, there’s a significant percentage of the tri-state area that winces and takes another pull from their collective (microbrewed IPA) beers.

Not that I blame Beltran though. That pitch was just as filthy as I remembered it.

semperty
Guest
semperty
2 years 9 months ago

Doesn’t help that he was filthy in the 2006 postseason. No one will remember his 3 HR in the 2006 NLCS, or his RBI (maybe multiple?) in game 7. Instead they’ll just remember how he watched one go by

attgig
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attgig
2 years 9 months ago

wish he made some kind of swing…no matter how nasty that pitch was… just something to stay alive in the at bat….

olerudshelmet
Member
olerudshelmet
2 years 9 months ago

Does the leverage index take into account the context of the series? Is the same plate appearance in a game two the same as in a game seven?

Doesn't matter
Guest
Doesn't matter
2 years 9 months ago

Basically, all the early games would be minimized as there would be 150 outs to go. Everything would be like 50% until you got to the elimination games. Not very productive exercise.

Shauncore
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Shauncore
2 years 9 months ago

Are we able to sort a view single game WPA/Clutch/RE24 leaders rather than the season totals?

scotman144
Member
Member
scotman144
2 years 9 months ago

Two things learnt here: 1. Oh yeah, Jim Mecir existed and was in fact called upon in a key playoff situation. 2. Even when Mariano Rivera ultimately “failed” he was still dominating.

Todd
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Todd
2 years 9 months ago

“I wonder how often they talk about this. They must have talked about this. Maybe they agreed not to talk about this.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/29/sports/baseball/beltran-and-wainwright-go-from-adversaries-to-cardinal-teammates.html?_r=0

“Wainwright understood his connection to Beltran and called him after the deal.

“I told him I was happy he was here and couldn’t wait to be a teammate,” Wainwright said. “I told him, ‘The media’s going to ask us about that game, probably,’ and he just stopped me and said: ‘Hey, that’s in the past, let’s just put it behind us and move on. We’re teammates.’ ”

Wainwright said that was exactly what he wanted to hear. Beltran, who finished last season with the San Francisco Giants and has not played in the postseason since Wainwright struck him out, said he did not feel awkward.

“We’re professional ballplayers,” Beltran said. “We’re not enemies. It just happened that in that particular game, I happened to be the last out. But it’s not the end of the world for me. As a player you have to move on. There are times in your career as a ballplayer you have good experiences and some others you have bad experiences, but we’re here for one reason, and that’s being able to go out there and compete.””

Dauber
Member
Member
Dauber
2 years 9 months ago

#3 is the only playoff game that I have seen live. This the first time that I have seen a clip of his hit in ten years. Thanks, brought back the goosebumps. I screamed my voice out with 38,000 of my closest friends. One of my top experiences ever.

Dave (UK)
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Dave (UK)
2 years 9 months ago

Would love to see their top 10 WPA plate appearances put together like this.

Mister
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Mister
2 years 9 months ago

Wow. 3 of Ortiz’s top 7 highest-leverage PAs occurred in the same game, and NONE of those 3 is the PA that is remembered! I had certainly forgotten about them. I vaguely remembered that Ortiz had key hits early in games 4 and 5, and that he also had chances to end things earlier in both games and failed to do so, but I don’t remember them being so high leverage.

This makes me think of the Patriots win this past Sunday. Brady was the hero in the final minute, but ONLY because his defense gave him a THIRD chance to win the game. Similarly, the Red Sox bullpen kept games 4 and 5 tied for multiple innings to give Ortiz multiple chances to be the hero. Let’s not forget the contributions of Foulke, Embree, Myers, Leskanic, Wakefield, and Arroyo.

Case in point: Curtis Leskanic led the Red Sox in WPA in game 4. Wakefield led the Red Sox in WPA in game 5.

Mister
Guest
Mister
2 years 9 months ago

If in 2004 you had told me “9 years from now you’ll be watching a 37-year old Ortiz still doing this same thing,” I would’ve laughed at you.

Jon L.
Guest
Jon L.
2 years 9 months ago

From #5: “And nine innings could get anything settled,”

Pretty sure you meant to say: “And nine innings could get anything settled, but in this case didn’t,”

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