Red Sox manager Terry Francona said yesterday that he’ll continue to put David Ortiz in the lineup versus left-handed pitchers even though he hasn’t had success against them in years.
Here’s his reasoning:
For David to be successful—and I see his numbers against lefties, believe me, I do—you can’t just sit him because I don’t know if he’d have as much success against righties. I know we believe that. I think there are times where it’ll do him good to maybe give him a break against somebody he struggles with.
The notion that not playing regularly against lefties could hurt Ortiz against righties by making him less effective overall certainly isn’t crazy, but my guess is that the actual data doesn’t support Francona’s hypothesis. Plenty of players are extremely productive in platoon roles every season and left-handed hitters have built entire careers on their ability to mash right-handed pitchers while sitting against southpaws.
Ortiz could be different, I suppose, but Francona wouldn’t know that until he actually tries sitting him against lefties and in the meantime here are Ortiz’s recent numbers against lefties:
YEAR AVG OBP SLG OPS 2008 .221 .308 .433 .741 2009 .212 .298 .418 .716 2010 .222 .275 .324 .599
Combined during the past three seasons Ortiz hit .218 with a .291 on-base percentage and .383 slugging percentage off left-handers, which is good for a .674 OPS. To put that lack of production into some context, consider this list of players with a higher career OPS than .674: Aaron Miles, Angel Berroa, Miguel Cairo, Willie Harris, Endy Chavez, Jack Wilson, Luis Rivas, Yuniesky Betancourt, Timo Perez, Geoff Blum, Corey Patterson, Kaz Matsui.
You get the point.
Even if Francona’s theory is correct–and that’s hardly a guarantee–is it worth keeping Ortiz at his best against right-handers if it means filling the designated hitter spot with Aaron Miles-like production against left-handers?