Oh no! David Ortiz is done!

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david ortiz frustrated.jpgHere we go again.
On the heels of a rather unimpressive spring (.226/.284/.419 with three homers in 62 at-bats), David Ortiz has opened the 2010 season 0-for-7, already leading to a string of articles that he’s done.
Last year saw the same thing, though I think it took at least a week. And Ortiz really did look done for a span of two months. He didn’t hit his first homer until May 20. In the 49 games before he hit his second homer on June 6, he batted .188/.281/.288 in 191 at-bats. He was about as much of a liability as any major leaguer over that span.
The rest of the season was a much different story, though. Ortiz came in at .266/.360/.557 with 27 homers and 78 RBI in his remaining 350 at-bats. It was still south of what he did from 2003 to 2007, but he was one of the AL’s better hitters for four months.
Yet Ortiz entered 2010 as a question mark, the so-called key to whether the Red Sox offense would be merely above average or one of baseball’s best. And the 0-for-7 start makes for an easy story for writers facing a deadline.
A little too easy. Ortiz looked lost at the plate for much of the early portion of last year. We’ve hardly gotten to that point this year. In Tuesday’s loss, he hit a ball in his first at-bat that would have been a single for everyone else in the league. However, the Yankees employed the shift to perfection and his hard shot into what should have been the hole between first and second was gloved by Robinson Cano in shallow right.
In the eighth, he should have been ahead 3-0 on Damaso Marte, but Angel Hernandez called a pitch eight inches off the plate a strike. Had the count been 3-0 instead of 2-1, maybe he would have crushed the hittable fastball he received next. As it was, he was a touch slow and flied out to center.
Ortiz is no longer a superstar, but if he’s still a 900-OPS designated hitter, he’s quite an asset. I projected him to finish a bit under that: .263/.358/.504 with 28 homers and 97 RBI in 502 at-bats. Given his decline, it makes sense to play matchups with him and slide him down in the lineup when he’s slumping. But I doubt we’ll get to the point at which the Red Sox will simply give up on him.
As for whether he should start tonight, I’m in favor of it. Sitting Ortiz in favor of Mike Lowell against tough lefties will make sense most of the time. Ortiz, though, has hit .367/.431/.551 in 49 career at-bats against Andy Pettitte. Manager Terry Francona will pick his spots to get Lowell into the lineup, but I’m not sure this should be one of them.

Marlins acquire starter Dan Straily from the Reds

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 3: Dan Straily #58 of the Cincinnati Reds throws a pitch during the first inning of the game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Great American Ball Park on September 3, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by John Sommers II/Getty Images)
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The Miami Marlins have acquired starting pitcher Dan Straily from the Cincinnati Reds. In exchange, the Reds will receive right-handed pitching prospects Luis Castillo and Austin Brice and outfield prospect Isaiah White.

For the Marlins, they get a solid starter who logged 191.1 innings of 113 ERA+ ball last year. Straily has moved around a lot in his five big league seasons — the Marlins will be his fifth club in six years — but it was something of a breakout year for him in Cincinnati. The only troubling thing: he tied for the league lead in homers allowed. Of course, pitching half of his games in Great American Ballpark didn’t help that, and Miami will be a better place for him.

Castillo is 24. He split last season between high-A and Double-A — far more of it in A-ball — posting a 2.26 ERA over 24 starts. Austin Brice is also 24. He pitched 15 games in relief for the Marlins last year at the big league level with poor results. He seemed to blossom at Triple-A, however, after the Marlins shifted him to the pen. White was a third round pick in the 2015 draft. He played low-A ball as a minor leaguer last year, hitting .214/.306/.301.

A mixed bag of young talent for the Reds, but stockpiling kids and seeing what shakes out is what a team like the Reds should be doing at the moment. For the Marlins: a solid mid-to-back end starter who may just be coming into his own.

Have Hall of Fame Voters actually made the PED thing More complicated?

Sammy Sosa
Associated Press
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The story coming out of this year’s Hall of Fame balloting is that the BBWAA voters are finally easing their antipathy toward players with performance enhancing drug associations.

Jeff Bagwell — the subject of unconfirmed PED rumors — made the Hall! Pudge Rodriguez, who was named in Jose Canseco’s book and who had a . . . curious physical transformation around the time PED testing came online, made it on the first ballot! Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, whose PED use was well-documented, saw their vote totals advance above the 50% mark, making their future elections look more likely!

It’s an interesting development, and one I’m obviously pleased with, but I wonder if the BBWAA’s new approach to PED guys, while far more forgiving than it used to be, has actually become more complicated in practice.

I ask this because I look way, way down the ballot and I still see Sammy Sosa scraping by with around 8% of the vote. I ask this because I still see Gary Sheffield at 13%. I ask this because when Mark McGwire was on the Today’s Game ballot in December, no one really stumped for him at all. I ask this because, even though Bagwell and Mike Piazza got in eventually, they still had to go through a lot of hazing first and I suspect, if they hit the ballot for the first time again tomorrow, the same arguments and delay would occur with respect to their cases.

In light of that, what I suspect has happened has not been a wholesale surrender of the anti-PED voters. Rather, I think it has been a transformation. One in which a moral test — did he use PEDs or not? — has been discarded as a threshold question and a scientific/physiological test — would he have been great even without the PEDs? — has replaced it. In essence, voters are becoming “PED discounters” in the aggregate. Making calculations as to whether a guy was, in their mind, a creation of PEDs or not.

Such an approach explains these new voting patterns as well as those in recent years.

  • Ivan Rodriguez may have been called out by Canseco and may have noticeably shrunk over an offseason, but his calling card was his defense behind the plate and voters, I suspect, have told themselves that such a thing is not PED-aided.
  • Bonds and Clemens may have been PED users, but each of them was undeniably talented and, if you discount for the PED use, hey, they’re still all-time greats.
  • Sammy Sosa’s case rests disproportionately on homers and, as everyone knows, PEDs = instant dingers, so no, he’s not gonna cut it.

And so on.

As I said, I’m glad that the strict moral test — did he use or not? — is losing its hold on Hall voters. But I do not think the “did PEDs make him who he was test?” is a good approach either. Baseball writers are in no better a position to assess the physiological and performance enhancements caused by pharmaceuticals than they are to be judges of character and morality. Given the identities of players confirmed to be PED users, the old eye test implicit in these cases is famously faulty (Neifi Perez, anyone?). The idea that PEDs only affect home run totals — and not, say, the ability for a player to take the abuse of the catcher position for 21 seasons — is crude and ignorant.

I suppose it’s naive to expect voters to completely disregard PEDs in their assessment of players. It’s a bell that cannot be unrung. But while we may, thankfully, be moving away from a moral test with respect to drugs, it’s been displaced by a scientific test that is no more reasonable in practice.