Despite their first place standing the Boston Red Sox have had to persist with a struggling David Ortiz for the majority of the first few weeks. Although Ortiz is hitting .281/.324/.375 in the past week he’s only hitting .160/.267/.240 overall, not near Ortiz’ excellent levels of previous seasons.
Before we get to the pretty graphics let’s look at his trend stats. Ortiz is hitting 45% of his balls in play onto the ground, his career average is 34.7%, 45% flyballs matches up with his 44.8% career total, but only a 10% line drive rate is well below his 20.6% precedent. We’re looking at a .220 xBABIP, but in reality Ortiz only has a .172 BABIP, screaming that his poor slash stats are, in part, residue from an unlucky tendency thus far.
Instead of simply ending the analysis there I’m going to attempt and actually expand for once, below is the MLB.com hit chart for Ortiz in 2006.
The red "F" represents every flyball out Ortiz hit at Fenway Park. As a pull hitter note the high density of outs to right field.
Same deal above, only a year later. Again the majority of the flyball outs are located in right field.
Now we see this year’s and the irregular proportion of balls flown out to left field. It’s not like Ortiz is suddenly going to turn into a push hitter so the most obvious theory is that his timing is simply off right now or that he’s lost speed off of his swing. The evenness of flyballs hit this year compared to his career average has me believe the timing of his swings is the issue, if Ortiz had lost bat speed wouldn’t he be hitting more flyballs?
Using HitTracker I rounded up the "off bat" numbers from the past few seasons for an average Ortiz homer.
While Ortiz does seem to be on a downward slope when it comes to the ball "flying" off of his bat, it seems like a natural regression, but not anything that would great affect his hitting otherwise, after all the ball is still clearing the fences, right? A disclaimer needs to be added, Ortiz has only hit two homers this year, so the sample size is small and when he hits a few more the average could easily jump above 105. Keep in mind that 105 miles per hour off of the bat isn’t some sort of cutoff for a homer or a double, in fact many homeruns have been hit with lower off the bat velocity, we’re just used to seeing Ortiz get better "oomph" and contact with his homeruns.
There’s nothing concrete to suggest Ortiz is about to fall apart, but he is 32 and at some point he’s going to slow down, I’m just not sure this initial struggle is the genesis of his downfall.