Papi’s New (Old) Look

Last time FanGraphs checked in on David Ortiz on TMI RJ Anderson noted that Ortiz was in the midst of a horrible April: Ortiz hit just one HR and had a dreadful 0.232 wOBA. RJ noted that during April 2010 and Ortiz’s poor 2009, Ortiz was having trouble contacting on inside pitches and consequently was not generating as much power to right field, where as a typical pull-hitter Ortiz generates much of his power.

Since then Ortiz has been great, hitting 16 HRs since the calendar flipped to May and posting a wOBA of 0.439. It looks like he has returned to his better 2007-esque numbers. How has he done that? To investigate the change it’s best to compare his numbers this year to his disappointing 2009.

First thing to note is the rate at which he makes contact with pitches that he swings at based on their horizontal position (where they cross the plate).

You can see that compared to 2009 Ortiz is making more contact with inside pitches. He is making contact less on outside pitches and his overall contact numbers are down this year — leading to his very high strikeout rate; over 30 percent — but it also looks like he is making contact with the right pitches.

Here is a diagram which shows where Ortiz hit his non-grounders in 2009 and again in 2010. The numbers in each region are the fraction of non-grounders to that region (the first region is the infield and each ring after that 100 feet from the pervious). The color of the region is Ortiz’s slugging rate on non-ground balls hit to that region, with gray denoting zero all the way up to red, which is a rate over two.

You can see that he has nearly twice the fraction of hits to deep right (right field is the pull field for the left-handed Ortiz). Those balls in play turn into HRs and extra-base hits more than any others and show why Ortiz is doing so much better now than in 2009. Most likely, a fair number of those long balls to right are from contact on inside pitches. In addition, you can see that he has slightly few infield pop-ups (the first region) and many fewer balls in play just beyond the infield. These balls in play are most likely to be outs or just bloop singles.

So it looks like Ortiz has turned it around so far this year by doing a better job of making contact with inside pitches — even if overall he is making

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

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