Thursday, October 31, 2013

Is David Ortiz a Hall-of-Famer? (Seriously, I'll Be Objective)

Does David Ortiz deserve to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame?

Sure, he failed a test for performance-enhancing drugs, but as long as the baseball establishment -- including the media -- is acting like that never happened, let's examine his career as objectively as possible.

David Americo Ortiz Arias was born November 18, 1975, in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. He made his major league debut on September 2, 1997, for the Minnesota Twins, as a pinch-hitter for Travis Miller, in a 9-3 Interleague loss to the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Ironically, considering he has become the face of the "position" of designated hitter, he made his debut pinch-hitting for a pitcher because Interleague games in National League parks don't have the DH. In the top of the 7th, he flew out to left field.

He remained with the Twins through the 2002 season, at which point he was approaching his 27th birthday, and his average season for the Twins -- diving his career stats at that point by 500 plate appearances -- was a .266 batting average, an OPS+ of 108 (making him 8 percent better at producing runs than the average hitter at the time), 17 home runs and 70 RBIs. Good figures, but nothing remarkable. Sort of like Sammy Sosa before 1993. Certainly, not the kind of numbers you would expect from a power hitter playing his home games in the Metrodome.

On December 16, 2002, the Twins released him. I guess they figured he wasn't going to become a great slugger.

On January 22, 2003, the Boston Red Sox signed him as a free agent. Sure, he should have been just entering his prime. But a lefthanded hitter with some (but not much) power, playing his home games at Fenway Park? He sure didn't seem like much of a prospect at the time.

In 2003, David Ortiz was the biggest reason the Red Sox went from missing the Playoffs in the preceding 3 seasons to getting to within 5 outs of a Pennant, and beginning a run of 11 seasons that has now resulted in 7 Playoff berths, 3 Pennants and 3 World Championships. He batted .288, had an OPS+ of 144, hit 31 homers and had 101 RBIs.

How did his stats jump that much so soon? Well, there's one more statistic that needs to be mentioned: He failed 1 drug test.

Single-season stats? He has batted .400 4 times, topped 30 doubles 11 times, hit 30 or more homers 7 times, 40 or more 3 times, and topped out at 54 in 2006; and has had 7 seasons with 100 or more RBIs, topping out at 148 in 2005. He led the American League in RBIs in 2005, and in home runs and RBIs in 2006.

Career stats? Batting average, .287. On-base percentage, .381. Slugging percentage, .549. OPS, .930. OPS+, a sizzling 139.

Hits: 2,023 -- very good, but not a HOF number. Doubles: 412 -- great. RBIs: 1,429 -- very good. Home runs: 431. That's as many home runs as Cal Ripken, and more than Mike Piazza, Billy Williams, Duke Snider, Al Kaline, Johnny Bench, Jim Rice, Orlando Cepeda, Tony Perez, Carlton Fisk, Ralph Kiner, Joe DiMaggio, Johnny Mize, Yogi Berra, Ron Santo, Hank Greenberg, Gary Carter, George Brett, Rogers Hornsby, Chuck Klein and Hack Wilson. Aside from Piazza, who probably will make it in the next few years, all of those players are in the Hall, and except for Ripken and Santo, all of them are in primarily for their power hitting.

He has made 9 All-Star Teams. He has never won the AL's Most Valuable Player award, but has finished in the top 5 in the voting 5 times.

Don't look to his baserunning to boost his credentials: He has stolen 15 bases in his 17 major league seasons -- although this season, fat and 37 going on 38, he stole a career-high 4. It was only the 2nd time he'd even attempted more than 3 steals.

Likewise, don't look to his fielding to make him look like a better candidate: He has played 263 of his 1,969 games in the field, all at 1st base, an "easy" position. (It is not easy; it is, however, where, in the NL, and in the AL before the DH, a player who couldn't field any position but whose bat had to be kept in the lineup would be placed, so he could do the least damage. Notable examples: Dick Stuart, Harmon Killebrew, Dick Allen.) He hasn't played more than 10 games in the field since 2004.

Baseball Reference has a Hall of Fame Monitor, on which a "Likely HOFer" is at 100. Ortiz is at 132, which means he absolutely should get in. But they also have a Hall of Fame Standards, on which the "Average HOFer" is at 50. Ortiz is at 44, which means he falls a bit short.

They also have a "Similarity Scores," weighted toward players who played the same, or a comparable, position. That doesn't really apply here, since Ortiz has spent most of his career as a DH. But accoridng to them, his 10 Most Similar Players are: Carlos Delgado, Jason Giambi, Paul Konerko, Jeff Bagwell, Jim Edmonds, Andres Galarraga, Juan Gonzalez, Lance Berkman, Jose Canseco and Willie Stargell.

Stargell is in the Hall. Giambi, Berkman and Konerko are still active; Giambi and Berkman are close to the end of the line, and wouldn't get in anyway, while Konerko could still pad his stats and get to where a player would be if not for the steroid cloud that taints all players, both the guilty (like Ortiz and some of these others) and the innocent (which, as far as I know, Konerko is). Bagwell should be in the Hall, and so should Edmonds (who's better remembered for his defense and that should put him over the top). Galarraga won't make it, and Canseco would fall a little short even if he weren't the patron "saint" of steroids. Gonzalez looked like he might make it, but now he's too tainted. Delgado's a question mark: If there were no steroid cloud, he'd probably get in, but his 473 dingers, even if honest, no longer look as impressive against the roiders.

So of Ortiz's 10 most similar, Only 1 is already in the Hall (Stargell), good cases can be made for 3 others (Delgado, Bagwell and Edmonds), and 1 more could get himself there (Konerko). 5 out of 10: Yeah, it would be right down the middle, wouldn't it?

Does character count? If it really counted, a lot of guys who are in would be out: Drunks, womanizers, racists, and admitted cheaters. But if a player is borderline, could character push him over the top? If so, could it also push him back down? We know Ortiz's character, whether we choose to admit it or not: On character, he fails.

Then there's the question of standing, even dominance. Ortiz has pretty much been the face of baseball since 2004. Then again, that's not always a good thing: Pete Rose and Rickey Henderson have also held those distinctions. Rose will never get in as long as he lives; Henderson did get in, because his "crimes against the game" were designed to make himself look better, not to bring the game into disrepute. Judged by that same standard, Ortiz is more a Henderson than a Rose; it's Ortiz's defenders in the media who are the "Pete Roses" here.

Put it all together, and, unless you're a big Red Sox fan, I don't think a case can be made that Ortiz is a clear Hall-of-Famer. One of the old standards is, "If you have to think about it, then the answer is No."

And since we now know that 509 home runs isn't enough to get the guilty Gary Sheffield in, 521 (so far) isn't enough to get the (as far as we know) innocent Frank Thomas in, 569 isn't enough to get the guilty Rafael Palmeiro in, 583 isn't enough to get the guilty Mark McGwire in, 609 isn't enough to get the guilty Sammy Sosa in, and even 762 isn't enough to get the guilty Barry Bonds in, how can we say that Ortiz, with 431 and guilt, should be in?

Three rings? Roger Clemens has 2, and was 1 strike away from 3 (and that was hardly his fault), and he's not in. And we have more evidence against Ortiz than we do against Clemens.

True, Ortiz could still play next season, and maybe beyond, and pad his career stats.

But the main case for him being a future Hall-of-Famer is that he comes up big in the postseason.

Gee, Sox fans, by that measure, where's your vote for Bucky Blessed Dent?



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