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No Patience for Papi

Less than two weeks into the regular season and the struggling David Ortiz finds himself in the midst of turmoil in Boston.

For the third consecutive year the lumbering lefty has started the season off sluggishly. In 2008, Ortiz was batting .184 with an OPS of .644 in April. Of course, Ortiz rebounded in May, ripping eight homers with 19 RBIs and hitting over .300. Last season’s drought reached Saharian size for Ortiz, with the big fellow leaving the yard only once by the end of May. On top of his slow start, it was leaked that Ortiz had tested positive for a banned substance back in 2003. Again, however, Ortiz came back, hitting 27 homers from June until the season ended.

This year, the slump is back, only it feels different. Ortiz has played in six games and has managed a measly 3-for-22 with no homers and two RBIs with 11 strikeouts.

The David Ortiz bandwagon started the season half empty with many more people hanging off the edge just waiting for a nudge. And Ortiz gave them that nudge with an explicit-laced sound bite after going hitless in the first two games of the season.

The Red Sox no longer have one of the top lineups in the American League, and baseball’s toughest division will not allow time for Ortiz’s swing to come back to form like last year. Ortiz is also in the final year of his contract, which means making a change in the lineup won’t impact next year’s team.

In an interview with WEEI on Tuesday Red Sox manager Terry Francona spoke about Ortiz’s struggles but said he had no plans to change the lineup or platoon Ortiz yet.

Right now, it is too early for Francona to bench the man that helped hoist the first World Series trophy for the Red Sox in 86 years. If his struggles continue, though, something needs to be done. The Red Sox have a much deeper bench than Boston teams of the past. Right-handed veteran Mike Lowell is able to pinch-hit or platoon with Ortiz, while young lefty and former first-round draft pick Jeremy Hermida continues to tear the cover off the ball. Hermida has gone 4-for-10 with two doubles and a homer so far in a limited role. With those two loomingat the end of the bench, the at-bats for Ortiz will dwindle as long as hit bat stays silent.

And I’m not convinced his bat will wake up the way it did the last two years. According to Fangraphs, Ortiz’s contact rate at pitches inside the strikezone is at a career low 62.5%. For his career he makes contact with 86% of those pitches. His bat is not coming through the strikezone the way it used to.

The total percentage of pitches he swings at is also down to a career low 33.7%. This dropped by more than 10% from his career average. He’s either not seeing the ball as well or is being fooled by the pitchers.

Despite all the struggles he had last April, both his strikezone contact rate and swing percentage were up around his career averages which makes me wonder if he’ll be able to put it all together this season.

Granted, this is a very small sample size, and I would love to be proven wrong by Ortiz, but if his struggles continue the Red Sox don’t have the time to wait around for him. Three straight years of troubles at the plate is more of a trend than a coincidence. I never thought I would say this, but that big lovable smile we’ve grown accustomed to in the middle of the Red Sox lineup could be dropped or splitting time by the end of April.

Kelan Donahue

3 comments:

  1. Some very good points there Kel. All of Red Sox nation hopes you are wrong too, but fears you may be right...

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  2. He should have adjusted his off-season program, especially considering it's a contract year. He will probably figure things out but I don't want him back next year.

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  3. You make some real good points sir. I guess only time will tell.

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