A Case for Sabermetrics

David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox points to th...
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In the past few months I have been gathering monthly author for Baseball Reflections so that I could write on a more relaxed basis and produce more detailed work. This article is the first postto that effect. A version of it was previously posted over at RBI Magazine back on March 12th.

Over the winter people had been wondering if David Ortiz was on the decline given the year he had in 2008 which saw much reduced numbers from David. This criticism came from both writers and fans alike. I saw this as my first real opportunity to put my money where my mouth is and write a sabermetrics influenced article to see if the fans and critics were right about Ortiz in the declining years of his career at age 33. So, without further adieu…

We will do this by analyzing the 2008 year of Red Sox DH David Ortiz compared to his previous two years as a member of the Boston Red Sox to see if his skills are diminishing due to his age (33) and body type (large). It has been widely reported this off season, that Ortiz is quite possibly on the decline. Personally, I think it has more to do with his ailing knees that were operated on prior to the 2008 season, but too close to spring training for them to heal properly. Then add to that, the freakish wrist sheath injury that limited him to 109 games. He shook it off for a while upon his return from the DL, but he started feeling or hearing a (pain-free) clicking in the injured wrist down the stretch run. Tell me what team-oriented player wouldn’t be affected by that in a playoff race and especially when he’s the teams 3 or 4 hitter.

I choose the two years prior to 2008 due to their close proximity to last year and their significance, they were considered his best seasons as a pro. In 2006, Ortiz hit a career high in HRs (54, a new Red Sox record), ISO (.349) and his third best RBI total (137). In 2007, he scored his second highest Runs total (116), his best BA and OBP (.332 and .445).

To do this, we will look at his G, R, HR, RBI, BA, OBP, SLG, ISO, BB Rate, SO Rate, FB%, GB%, LINEDR%, POPUP%, BABIP and HRR.

The new metrics in this post are BABIP, which is batting average on balls in play; LINEDR% is the rate of line drives hit; FB% % is the rate of fly balls hit; ISO, which is his isolated power numbers (in terms of extra bases per AB); BB Rate is the percentage of plate appearances that result in a walk; SO Rate is the percentage of plate appearances that result in a strike out; GB% is the rate of ground balls; POPUP% is the rate of pop ups hit and HRR is the rate of HR hit per AB.

By the Numbers

2006 151 115 54 137 .287
2007 149 116 35 117 .332
2008 109 74 23 89 .264
.413 .636 .349 17% 17% 38%
.445 .621 .290 17% 15% 38%
.369 .507 .243 14% 15% 33%
37% 17% 8% .274 8%  
38% 19% 5% .358 5%  
37% 19% 12% .273 5%  

First, let’s take a look at the similarities between these three years. His strike out rate (SO Rate) and HR rate (HRR) matched that of his 2007 numbers (his 2006 HRR was 8%, 3% higher than 2007 and 2008), his ground ball percentage (GB%) and line drive percentage (LINEDR%) matched that of his 2006 season (his GB% was 1% lower than 2007) and his BABIP was only .001 lower than his 2006 season (.273 to .274).

Second, let’s take a look at the differences between these three years. We will avoid the following stats (R, HR and RBI) because they were directly affected by only playing in 109 games as opposed to 149 and 151 in the other two years. His BA of .264 was the lowest of his career when playing in 100+ games (he hit .234 with the Twins in 2001 while playing in 89 games). His OBP was .369 was tied for the lowest it’s been as a member of the Red Sox since 2003 (it had been .380 or as high as .445 between 2004-2007). His 2008 slugging (SLG) of .507 and .243 isolated power (ISO) were both the lowest marks as a member of the Red Sox. His walk rate (BB Rate) was down 3% in 2008, but it was still higher than it was in his first two seasons in Boston (both were at 11%). His flyball rate (FB%) was down 5% depending on which site you use (Baseball Prospectus or FanGraphs) so we will call this one even as FanGraphs does. His pop up percentage was up 4% from 2008 to 2006 and 7% from 2008 to 2007.

My analysis

Given this analysis, I truly believe that Ortiz was more affected by his ailing knees which were still bothering him after off season surgery. This ailment alone caused him not to be able to drive the ball as easily as he has in the past. The health of the lower body of a power hitter like Ortiz if pivotal to his power numbers and Ortiz was learning how to be productive in spite of not having his full weight behind his swings. Then came the freakish torn tendon sheath in his left wrist. Now remember, for lefties, their left wrist is the one that is in back and having problems with that back wrist would impede Ortiz to drive the ball as well. Players don’t usually let go with their hand that’s in back until after contact. I’m not sure if this had any other impact, but he has also had past concerns with his shoulder, too. Therefore, nothing else really strikes me as being a concern that David Ortiz is in decline, but only time will tell for sure.

My 2009 David Ortiz Projection

If healthy (knees, wrist and shoulder), I expect to see Ortiz put up the following numbers:

G: 150 R: 101 HR: 31 RBI: 122  BA:  .280  OBP: .380  SLG: .615  ISO: .290  BABIP: .290

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  1. Dennis

    March 28, 2009 at 8:44 pm

    I am looking for a clean and ite magazine style theme for wordpress without too many function calls, any suggestions?. thanks in advance 🙂

  2. Michael Ford

    March 28, 2009 at 10:51 pm

    Fantastic write-up, Pete. I certainly agree that Papi is going to bounce back, but to the degree is in the air, at least in my mind. One other thing to keep in mind is that last year he swung at 2% more pitches outside the strikezone and 2% less inside the strikezone. That’s not enough to make a noticeable difference for anybody, but it is something to keep an eye on in my book.

    Even injuries aside, Ortiz had a ton of bad luck last year for sure. Two years in a row of luck that bad is very rare so I agree that a bounce back in BABIP will come as long as he maintains the 17-22 LD% he’s given the Sox over his career. That oughta bring his AVG back to above average levels.

    Put me down for around .280/.380/.550 — essentially a repeat of his 2007 season with the .358 BABIP regressed to his .310 career average.

    • Peter Schiller

      March 29, 2009 at 2:56 pm

      Wow! That a mighty big compliment coming from such a Sabermetric mind as yourself. Thanks Mike!

  3. Ron Stevens

    May 20, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    Timing is everything.This article was written before the evidence for this years stats line for Ortiz was established; while injuries and their subsequent impedemant on performance exist,that alone doesn’t produce the sabermetrics projections.You can evaluate every player with the same attributes as Ortiz,which
    will produce a objective annalysis, and subsequent career projections. Players are more likely to be hampered with injuries as they age.Ortiz’s situation in this is just the common pattern.
    There always are outliers,both for player performance that produces well above or below what is projected.The exceptions
    proves the rule.

    Ortiz through May 20th 2009-obp:.317
    slg:.293 no home runs in 133 at bats.

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