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Red Sox want David Ortiz to continue facing lefties even if he can’t hit them

Feb 1, 2011, 2:40 PM EDT

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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?

  1. Jeremiah Graves - Feb 1, 2011 at 3:11 PM

    …and he’s getting paid like $12.5 million this year.

    I can’t help but think the Sox would have been better off letting him walk and signing a Vlady/Manny/Thome/etc. type for less than half that. Heck, they could have landed Thome/Manny or Thome/Vlady and gone with a platoon that probably would have doubled the production for half the cost.

  2. Joe - Feb 1, 2011 at 4:24 PM

    No

  3. Detroit Michael - Feb 1, 2011 at 4:33 PM

    Even looking at three years worth of platoon splits doesn’t have a ton of predictive value. You’d have to regress his observed platoon split to the MLB average platoon split for RH batters to get a better estimate of Ortiz’ true platoon split.

    Still, I don’t disagree with the more general point that Ortiz’ batting ability has declined to the point that the Red Sox should give much of the playing time against LH opposing starters to someone else.

  4. Glenn - Feb 1, 2011 at 5:08 PM

    Otherwise an excellent manager, Francona’s loyalty to veterans is a big blind spot. I guess he looks at the times that it pays in the end (Millar in ’04, Ortiz the last two years), but ignores the lost production (and real losses) it takes to get there.

    He is a master of maintaining a happy club house of stars, so maybe the loyalty thing has benefits that we don’t readily see. Hard to defend those Ortiz splits, though.

  5. dawgpound2010 - Feb 1, 2011 at 7:20 PM

    It would be interesting to see how much of a difference there is in the 3 year splits vs. Righties along vs lefties.

  6. billybeaneismyhero - Feb 1, 2011 at 7:27 PM

    Ortiz’s ability to control the strike zone against lefties is terrible. Last year his BB/K ratio was 13/57. While that’s not Brandon Wood territory, it’s pretty still pretty bad. Additionally, he has a tendency to hit the ball on the ground at a much higher rate against lefties than he does with righties. This bat speed is terribly slow right now, and he can’t adjust.

    It’s time the Sox officially platoon Ortiz. If we were talking about any other player, we probably wouldn’t be talking about this right now. The decision would’ve already been made.

  7. baseballisboring - Feb 1, 2011 at 9:23 PM

    I think it’s just about loyalty to his guy. Ortiz seems to have a lot of pride, and if Tito hasn’t figured out how awful he is against lefties, you can bet your first born that Theo has.

  8. JBerardi - Feb 1, 2011 at 9:35 PM

    “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.”

    You don’t believe that, Terry. No one believes that.

    • bigharold - Feb 2, 2011 at 12:01 AM

      If they didn’t truly believe that why would the RS have picked up his option?

      It’s one thing for Francona to blue sky everybody about his expectations for Ortiz to defend his logic in batting him against lefties but Epstein is the guy that signed off on exercising a 12.5 mil option. And, as was pointed out, there were a lot of guys out there that could have been had for a fraction of that price for similar production.

      I’ve got to think that Francona is thinking that this is his best strategy to get the most out of Ortiz. In the end though once the playoffs are on the line unless Ortiz is doing at least respectable against lefties he will in fact be sitting more and more.

      • JBerardi - Feb 2, 2011 at 10:52 AM

        “If they didn’t truly believe that why would the RS have picked up his option?

        Mainly, I think, because their deadline to do so was before Gonzalez, Crawford, etc. Sure, replacing Ortiz with a budget option looks like a good idea now, but remember how vulnerable the Sox looked going into the offseason. They would have been looking to replace three middle of the order bats, not to mention the epic media shitstorm-freakout that it would have caused. Picking up the option was a path-of-least-resistance move by a front office that was looking at it’s path and saw quite enough resistance on it already.

        Also, as long as we’re going down the “why are they paying him 12 million” road, I have to point out that Ortiz provides more value (ie, more justification for his $12.5m salary) sitting against lefties than he does facing them. He provides NEGATIVE value against lefties, because there’s always someone on the bench who could hit them better. He’s below replacement level, and there’s just no excuse for a team with the resources (not to mention expectations) that the Red Sox have to voluntarily shackle itself with a below-replacement hitter at freakin’ DH.

  9. dan1111 - Feb 2, 2011 at 8:55 AM

    I am ok with the Red Sox overpaying Ortiz a bit. It makes sense to show some loyalty. Players want to go to a team where they will be treated well. Fans want to root for a team that treats its players (especially heroes and fan favorites) well. Both of these things have consequences for a team’s future success. Most of the time, the Sox are reasonable in this area. They are willing to overpay key players somewhat, but they rarely commit a lot of money to someone who is washed up.

    I agree that it probably makes sense to sit him against lefties. However, Francona’s comments may well be diplomatic.

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