He’s batting .154. He has yet to hit a home run. He strikes out every other at-bat (13 in 26 at-bats). The reasons are mounting to bench David Ortiz. He can’t hit lefties. Jeremy Hermida has been on a tear. Mike Lowell needs to play if the Red Sox are ever going to trade him. So what do we do with David Ortiz? For how long do we let emotion and history dominate our desire to win? Or is David Ortiz still our best answer?
There was a time when David Ortiz was the best hitter there was. Think 2003-2007. He was unstoppable. He went over 30 home runs for five years straight. He went over 40 twice, and over 50 once. He drove in over 100 RBIs all five of those seasons. And he had an OPS of over .950 during every one of those seasons. And the stats don’t even begin to describe his contributions to the team during the peak of his career. Clutch hits. Game-winning home runs. People pitching to him because of their fear of Manny Ramirez. He and Manny were the scariest duo in baseball for a good 5 years.
But now everything has changed. The power has shifted from Ortiz to Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia. Scrappiness has replaced pure power on this team. What we’re left with is a relic, in more ways than one. David Ortiz represents the old style of Red Sox baseball. This style brought the team to the playoffs four times in five years and won two World Series (not to mention garnered Ortiz himself an ALCS MVP). David Ortiz is all that’s left of that older way of playing. But that’s all it is: older. There’s no evidence that this new style of Red Sox play won’t win out. The Red Sox made it to the playoffs in both 2008 and 2009, coming within a game of the World Series in 2008. And they did it with a weakened, recovering-from-injury David Ortiz. The new Red Sox may yet prove to be as effective as the old, power-heavy Red Sox were.
But we then have to recognize David Ortiz for who he is: a hold out. The team has moved on, and he is holding the team back. Were he still able to produce quality at-bats, I would say hold onto him, keep him in the lineup. But the problem is, he’s just not producing. His OPS is o.k. at .510, but that’s just because when he does make contact he tends to hit doubles. The problem is, he’s not getting enough of them. David Ortiz is an old player playing an older style of Red Sox baseball, and I think it’s hurting the team. You certainly want a DH that can hit home runs, but first and foremost you just want a DH who can hit. And the signs are that David Ortiz won’t be doing much of that this season. His swing looks terrible: slow and out of rhythm. His eye isn’t what it used to be; he swings and misses at everything. And his judgment may be off- what was up with that stolen base attempt?
We owe David Ortiz much. In 2004, he got us over the hump of the Yankees en route to our first title in 86 years. And since then he has time and again given us his all, usually coming through when we most needed it. But it’s time to recognize that his time has past. Let Jeremy Hermida get some extra at-bats. Give Mike Lowell the playtime he needs to build up decent trade value, or at least a decent contract come the off-season. But let’s not get bogged down in sentimentality for too long. Because as long we continue to allow David Ortiz to just flail away up there, the Sox are sacrificing a minimum of three at-bats a game. And a lot of the time, three at-bats will make or break you.