Following some of his big performances and just about every milestone he reaches, reporters begin to pester Boston designated hitter David Ortiz. They ask the ageless star if he’ll reconsider his retirement plans, given the fact he’s having an MVP-caliber season. It’s never any use, however, as Ortiz insists he won’t change his mind – no matter what.
That’s difficult to fathom for media members and fans alike as “Big Papi” still appears to be at the top of his game despite announcing last fall that this will be his final year. At 40 years old and in his 20th major league season, Ortiz leads the bigs at the All-Star break with 34 doubles, 52 extra-base hits, a .426 on-base percentage, a .682 slugging percentage and 4.06 at-bats per RBI. Oh, and he’s also batting .332 – on pace to match a career high – with 22 home runs and 72 RBIs – second in the majors and most ever at the break by a player 40 or older. For all that, he earned a starting role for his 10th All-Star Game in San Diego this week.
“It’s probably beyond our expectations coming into his final season,” manager John Farrell said after the Red Sox’s final game before the break. “Just a powerful and impressive first half.”
A dive into the more advanced statistics provides a deeper understanding of just how powerful and impressive it was. Ortiz paces the majors with a .349 isolated power number, well ahead of 25-year-old Jake Lamb of Arizona and 27-year-old Adam Duvall. Isolated power is measured by subtracting batting average from slugging percentage. It’s interesting to note that Ortiz has a higher average than anyone in the top 23 in isolated power and is ranked ahead of home run leaders Mark Trumbo of Baltimore (28), Kris Bryant of the Cubs (25) and Todd Frazier of the White Sox (25).
His .521 secondary average is also baseball’s best – well ahead of 24-year-old Bryce Harper’s .502 mark. Unlike batting average, which is merely hits divided by at-bats, secondary average accounts for power (extra-base hits), plate discipline (walks) and speed (stolen bases minus times caught stealing). While speed certainly isn’t one of his best attributes, Big Papi has caught opponents napping with two stolen bases without getting caught this season. Always regarded as a patient hitter, the three-time World Series champion and 2013 Series MVP ranks 10th in MLB with a 7.15 plate appearances-per-walk ratio and tops the majors with a .439 weighted on-base percentage, which takes into account how a player reaches base and gives greater value to extra-base hits than a single or walk.
It all amounts to what could end up being the best season in major league history for a player in his last season. Using a minimum of 300 plate appearances, Ortiz is on pace to top a list of the highest OPS in a final season. He’s even ahead of Barry Bonds, who some say was barred after the depth of his steroid use came to light, Roberto Clemente, who died in a plane crash after 18 big-league seasons, and a couple of the 1920 White Sox players, who were still in their prime when they received a lifetime ban as a result of the 1919 Black Sox scandal. Ted Williams and Hank Greenberg also highlight the list.
“I feel like I’m 30,” joked Ortiz, whose 525 home runs rank 19th on the all-time list.
If he’s able to put together another outstanding half, Ortiz knows the questions about his return will persist throughout. Ortiz, however, seems content with leaving before the sore feet that have plagued him this season get any worse. He may do so still at the top of his game with perhaps the best final season of all time.
Photo By: AP Photo/Winslow Townson