We are into the second month of the 2013 Major League Baseball season and the top story lines are the Toronto Blue Jays struggles, the Los Angeles Dodgers struggles, “Biogenesis Gate,” and the myriad of other stories taking the league hotwire by storm. What is missing? David Ortiz and what he is doing in Boston. It might not be commonly known by anyone outside of the Fenway faithful, but he is having a special return to baseball.
In 13 games this season Ortiz is hitting .440 with four home runs and 17 RBIs. He is also in the midst of a 26 game hitting streak, the longest active streak in the majors, which dates back to 2012. Throughout his hitting streak he is hitting .438 with six home runs, 23 RBI and 10 doubles dating back to July 2, 2012. Is that truly impressive? Yes of course, but what is more impressive is that due to injury he only played in one game from July 16th until his season debut on April 20th. In his first two games back from injury he went a combined 5 for 8 with a double and two RBI. Ortiz never missed a step.
Ortiz is on pace for an MVP caliber season. Once he is at-bat eligible, which is right around the corner, he will be leading baseball in batting average. Currently he is carrying an average north of .400 – that would be tops in baseball. Ortiz is on pace to hit 46 home runs, 196 RBI, 100 doubles and 127 runs. Will he sustain this torrid pace for a complete season? That is clearly unlikely but if he even comes close to that you could be staring at the 2013 AL MVP and a possible Triple Crown winner. Could baseball really have Triple Crown winners in back-to-back years? Normally I would find that laughable but looking at how David Ortiz is playing there is a definite possibility.
But why? There are a few factors to bear in the equation. First, Ortiz does not have a perceived career preference whether he is playing at home or on the road. His average suffers a bit on the road but his power numbers are slightly increased. Big Papi just performs. Throughout his career he has played in 945 home games and 901 road games. In those 945 home games he has a career batting average of .308, 185 home runs, and 730 RBI. In the 901 road games Ortiz has hit .263 with 220 home runs and 613 RBIs. In short, Ortiz doesn’t care where he is playing just give the man a bat and he will take his cuts. More often than not those cuts will lead to box score success.
Secondly, Ortiz will benefit from not playing in the field. As arguably the greatest Designated Hitter in baseball history he will be asked to perform at the plate and will exert minimal effort in the field during interleague games if at all. In the last nine years he has only played 46 games at first base. That equated to an average of five games a year. Some will argue that those are games that he will not be able to amass stats in but I would argue differently. The thought that all MLB stars play every day is a fallacy. Almost all stars get some level of rest time. While some might only get a game or two off to “recharge the batteries” others will take more. The point here is that the average of five games that Ortiz would not play in per year, on average, will not have the impact some would believe. Consider it rest time for a man that will constantly be mentally prepared and ready to take his cuts.
Of course there is the lineup as well. You might not see the same 1-2 punch as a Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols with the Angels or a Cano and Texiera in New York (when healthy) but the Red Sox do have some built in protection for Ortiz. When you have a sandwich of Dustin Pedroia and Mike Napoli you have ensured that Ortiz should see his cuts. Pedroia is a former All-Star who is hitting over .300 on the season with speed and slightly above average power for his position. Mike Napoli is hitting .266 with six home runs and is a constant threat to hit the long ball. Teams will not want to pitch around Ortiz (if that is the lineup configuration) and risk giving up a two run home runs and bust a game open.
Based on what has been laid out above and if David Ortiz can stay healthy in 2013 there is no reason why he should not be in the running for the AL MVP award. He might make a legitimate run at a Triple Crown season or at least make it interesting come September. To think that is was less than a year ago when Big Papi was hurt and at odds with then manager Bobby Valentine. Now you have a happy David Ortiz and a seemingly happy Red Sox clubhouse which can only lead to big things in 2013. I have never been a David Ortiz fan but it is hard not to respect what the man continues to do and the level to which he plays the game. For David Ortiz it is a year of respect, a year to carry the Red Sox on his back, and a year that the “Cookie Monster” just might become the AL MVP for the first time in his career.