- Ortiz In a season chocked with frustration, Ortiz yesterday reached a nadir. He went 0 for 7 and left 12 men on base, which tied a team record, in a 5-4, 12-inning loss to the Los Angeles Angels. He was the last out of an inning four times. He struck out three times, including with the bases loaded and two outs in the fourth inning.
Ortiz, while batting third all year, has still not hit a home run -- something 305 major league players had done entering yesterday's games -- in 150 plate appearances. His batting average fell to .208. The fact everyone remembers is Ortiz's shocking lack of even one home run. Yesterday, a simple walk would have sufficed, and Ortiz could not deliver.
Ortiz's problem has been identified. He has been cheating by looking for fastballs, which leaves him susceptible to breaking pitches and makes him off balance. He no longer mashes balls after exploding out of his crouch. His bat has slowed, too.
For now, Ortiz remains the Red Sox' designated hitter and their third batter in the lineup. Capable hitters surround Ortiz in the order, ensuring he'll have chances to blast out of his slump. The question is, how much longer can the Sox afford to wait?
Ortiz's struggles are plenty mysterious enough, but they become even more curious when you consider what happened last season. He started slow, warmed up in May, then spent all of June and most of July on the DL with a wrist injury. But after returning to the lineup in late July, he was fine, posting a solid .277/.385/.529 line the rest of the way. No, that's not an MVP line. But it's plenty productive and certainly didn't suggest that his performance would crash the next spring (as it has).
A friend suggests that Ortiz is still worried about his wrist, but how then to explain what he did last August and September?
Let's assume that he really has been cheating by looking for fastballs; wouldn't he have hit a few of those fastballs over the fence?
His bat has slowed? Well, at least that would explain the .220 batting average and the zero home runs. But why the slow bat?
I think we might be past the point of talking about sample sizes and flukes and all those easy explanations. Three years ago, Ortiz hit 54 home runs. Two years ago, he hit 35. Last year, he hit 23 in only 109 games. This year he's hit none in 33 games. I'm a big believer in the surprising power of randomness and all that, but able power hitters just don't go 33 games without a home run.
I think that Ortiz is -- or at the very least, has been -- less than able, and perhaps a trip to the disabled list is the wise course of action at this point (assuming that a specific disability can be identified). And I think this hasn't happened already because the Red Sox don't have any attractive alternatives to Ortiz at hand. Have you seen their bench? There's just much there, though I suppose a platoon consisting of Rocco Baldelli and Chris Carter (who's now back in Pawtucket) might be a decent stopgap until 1) Ortiz gets right or 2) the Sox give up on him and trade one of their many starting pitchers for a veteran bat.