Prior to baseball season, many a commentator pointed to David Ortiz as a key component to any success the Red Sox would have in 2010. For Boston to win, they said, Big Papi would need to get the big hits. Maybe that’s one reason the Papi polarization got going after only two hitless games.
But how important are home runs, really, to a team’s success in the postseason? I was recently playing around with a fun graphic from Tom Giratikanon on Boston.com. It looks at which stats correlate with success — with success, in this case, defined as a World Series championship. It’s true that 72 percent of Series winners hit more homers than average, but of all the performance metrics Giratikanon included, homers ranked sixth in their correlative power, after ERA, WHIP, defensive efficiency, runs scored, and on-base percentage. This means what your mother told you was true: Pitching and defense win championships. It also illustrates that scoring runs and getting on base are more important than hitting bombs.
After his glacial start last season, Ortiz still managed to hit 28 homers. But what alarmed me was his .322 OBP — the worst in his career for any season in which he played in at least 100 games. In fact, last year according to OPS+, a weighted metric that measures a hitter’s total contribution against other players in baseball, David was … average. Not bad, not good. Just average.
No one wants their DH to be average. As David himself has said, all he does is hit. So, if he’s not doing that, then he’s not contributing. But there are many ways for him to contribute outside of the longball. For instance, David’s career-best OBP came in 2007, a year after his career-best home run season. Thanks to OPS+, we can see that his .445 OBP, 52-double season was actually more valuable than his 54-homer performance the year before.
Of course, walks aren’t very exciting, even when they drive in runs. Nick Johnson got ripped by certain New York scribes after drawing a free pass to give the Yankees the lead over Boston last week, in a game New York ended up winning. But exciting as they were, the days of expecting walk-off moonshots from Papi’s bat are over. The Red Sox hitting coaches, the Boston sports media and the fans all need to understand that.
– Sarah Green also writes for UmpBump.com.
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