I am a huge sports fan, not just a baseball fan. I get it from my father, who had some sort of sporting event on the TV every night while I was growing up. Because of this, I never really had a choice on whether or not to like sports. If I didn't, I would have been miserable on a nightly basis. Now, 20 years later, my level of sports fanaticism has vastly surpassed his. He focusing mainly on the local teams through sports talk radio, while I scour the internet every day reading about the national stories. Because of this, I feel that he is misinformed about some games. The number one example of this can be seen with David Ortiz.
There are a couple of phrases my pops likes to use to describe Ortiz. His favorite, by far, is "the best one-tool player in baseball." Of course, that is completely inaccurate, but more on that later. He also likes to call him "Big Poopy." That one is just stupid and immature, but we're a stupid and immature family, so I often get a little chuckle out of that. The thing about my dad isn't that he doesn't understand the game. He's been watching far longer than I have, but he falls under the "old-school category." He hates the DH rule, and I do too. However, he has an irrational hatred towards DHs. He will never acknowledge Ortiz being as good as he actually is. Since he doesn't play in the field, my dad gives him little credit. However, with his hot start this year, I have had a blast rubbing it in his face.
Ortiz is having his best season since 2007. Perhaps not coincidentally, that was Manny Ramirez's last full reason with the Sox. Currently, Ortiz is sporting a .324/.390/.602 triple slash-line, all of which are higher than he has hit since that 2007 season. There are a few reasons this is happening. The first one that I always hear mentioned is nothing I can measure tangibly, nor to I have the access to the team to verify it. However, from all accounts who do have that access, Adrian Gonzalez has been a huge help for Ortiz. Ramirez provided protection during Ortiz's prime years, in which we saw one of the best 1-2 punches baseball has ever seen. Now, Ortiz sits fifth in the lineup, two spots behind Gonzalez. However, the slugging first basemen has, according to writers across Boston, helped Ortiz's approach at the plate. It does make sense, though. Both of these guys are power hitting lefties, who run like they have a piano on their back. Also, they both are outstanding at using the Green Monster to their advantage. So, even though I don't really have any specific statistical evidence to back it up, I would say that the addition of Adrian Gonzalez has been a huge reason for the boost in Ortiz's numbers.
I am a man who needs some stats to back up what I see, however, so I decided to delve into the world that is Fangraphs. The first thing I looked for was to see how he is faring hitting to the opposite field, and my initial thought was correct. If you look at this year compared to the past three, he is hitting far better when he takes to ball to left. Thus far this year, he has a stellar 1.235 OPS when he hits the ball to the opposite field, compared to 1.042, .956, and .834 in 2010, 2009, 2008, respectively. That is a tremendous improvement, and shows that he is putting plenty of dents in the Monster this year, possibly a product of watching film with Gonzalez.
Another thing is that Ortiz is putting the ball in play more this year than he ever has. He is only striking out 11.6% of the time, while only walking 10%. While I'd love to see the walk rate increase up to his 13% average, I love seeing him take his cuts. When he does put the ball in play, he is hitting .315. That does indicate he is getting a bit lucky with his season, but he has a career BABIP only 13 points lower. So while he could expect a drop in his batting average, I don't see that drop being anything drastic.
The most amazing part of Ortiz's season has been the success he has had hitting against lefties. Usually, he hovers right around the .220 range when their is a southpaw on the mound. However, so far in 2011, he is hitting an astounding .355 against LHP. This has been huge, not only for his own personal success, but also for the team. Before the season, a lot was made about the number of lefties in the lineup. The worry was that Francona would be forced to use a lot of pinch hitters when a lefty was on the mound. Because of Ortiz's newfound success, however, there has been one less guy the skipper has had to worry about when a lefty is pitching.
So, with all due respect to my father, who made me fall in love with the greatest game in the world, he couldn't be more wrong about Ortiz. He is a huge part of this lineup. He has been having an outstanding season, and it is time for him to get his due from my old man.
P.S. Every time I look at Ortiz's Baseball-Reference page, I can't help but chuckle, due to him having "The Cookie Monster" listed as a nickname. It's perfect.