Can David Ortiz Win the Triple Crown?

More than a third of the baseball season is now complete, and David Ortiz is enjoying a sensational start. At the age of 40, Big Papi is arguably hitting better than at any point of his distinguished career, leading many to question his decision to retire in the forthcoming fall. Right now, Ortiz seems pretty adamant about hanging up his spikes, and while that will disappoint Red Sox fans, their beloved slugger is on track to post another historic campaign in 2016.

David Ortiz

Across baseball, we’re witnessing a shift in demographic, as one generation walks off into the twilight and another rises to Major League domination. This game is now defined by young stars like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, with an underclass featuring exciting players such as Manny Machado, Nolan Arenado, Carlos Correa and Mookie Betts, among others. In short, baseball is becoming a young man’s game, which makes the continued dominance of David Ortiz all the more satisfying. On the whole, even getting league average production from such an old player would be considered advantageous. That David Ortiz is still one of the most valuable stars in baseball almost defies belief.

David Ortiz: Triple Crown Contender

It may seem unlikely, but Big Papi has to be considered a contender for the Triple Crown this season. At the moment, he is hitting .338 on the season, good for third in the American League. Victor Martinez is second at .341, while Xander Bogaerts, Papi’s own teammate, leads the circuit at .346. David Ortiz is a lifetime .285 hitter, and he has always been much more than a free-swinging Goliath at the dish. Still, he may encounter difficulty sustaining such a lofty average as the long season unfurls and the league gradually adjusts.

Ortiz has benefited from a .340 batting average on balls in play this season, way up on his career mark, which attributes some of his success to luck. Similarly, David is pulling the ball more than at any point since 2005, according to Fangraphs, and that may play into the defensive shift as time moves on. Yet, in a positive sense, Ortiz is hitting the ball hard 47.2% of the time, the best mark of his career, and his fly-ball percentage has also never been higher. Naturally, that makes for a lot of extra-base hits, negating the shift altogether.

In terms of home runs, David Ortiz currently has 16, which again ranks third in the American League. Todd Frazier has 19, with Mark Trumbo leading the way on 20. While those are formidable rivals, Ortiz is likely to compete with them throughout the summer. In his career, Papi has a .557 slugging percentage in the second half of seasons, up from .546 in first half. Age may take its toll as the exhausting season progresses, but Ortiz is typically a better power hitter after the All-Star break. That gives him a tremendous chance of leading the league in homers.

The final Triple Crown category, RBI, is David’s strength. He’s driven in 55 runs so far in 2016, seven more than second-place Robinson Cano, who has also played six more games than Ortiz. With a potent Red Sox lineup leading all of baseball in on-base percentage, Ortiz should have plenty of opportunities to extend his RBI lead, which makes this his safest category by far.

Can Big Papi Do It?

Expecting anybody to win the Triple Crown is ludicrous. The American League has only ever had ten winners of the prestigious award, with Miguel Cabrera the last to attain it in 2012. David Ortiz definitely has a shot, but he will likely be thwarted by some combination of fatigue and adjustments by opposing pitchers and defenders.

However, the mere fact that we’re even discussing the possibility of a 40-year old slugger contending for a Triple Crown in his final season is remarkable in itself. We should just savor the remaining months of David Ortiz, and worry about the accolades later.

Predicting Mookie Betts’ Future Numbers

Mookie Betts

It’s often foolish to make predictions about young players with a paucity of big league experience, but anybody who has watched the opening salvo of Mookie Betts’ career knows just how much the kid makes you dream.

Barely sixty games into his enthralling Red Sox tenure, the 22-year old Betts has already left a significant footprint in Boston sports lore. For instance, last August, he became the youngest Red Sox player to hit a Grand Slam in 49 years. Similarly, just last week, he became the team’s youngest Opening Day lead off hitter since Rico Petrocelli in 1965, and its youngest Opening Day center fielder since Tony Conigliaro in 1964. Moreover, Betts’ bomb off of Cole Hamels made him the third-youngest player ever to homer for the Red Sox in a sMookie Bettseason opener. Quite simply, he’s doing things which very few people his age have ever done, setting the tone for the fabled Red Sox and garnering nationwide attention.

But, more than that, Mookie is chasing history, thanks to an awe-inspiring start that has the baseball universe wondering just how far this precociously talented starlet may go. Accordingly, it’s only appropriate that we have a little fun with the numbers, and try to project, moving forward, what records Betts may break, and where his career may wind up, in a historical context.

Right now, through the first 59 games of his Major League career, Mookie has a .281/.355/.446 slash line, with 63 hits, 14 doubles, 7 home runs, 26 RBI, 10 stolen bases, 24 walks and 38 runs scored. By extrapolating that performance to represent a typical 162-game season, we see that Betts will, on average, produce 173 hits, 38 doubles, 19 home runs, 71 RBI, 27 stolen bases, 66 walks and 104 runs scored per year, numbers which ought to garner him a smattering of MVP votes.

However, the real fun begins when we expand that baseline seasonal output to represent a 15-year career. For instance, if he played fifteen full seasons at the present rate, Mookie would wind up with 2,595 hits, 570 doubles, 285 home runs, 1,065 RBI, 405 stolen bases, 990 walks and 1,560 runs scored. Presuming he stayed with the Red Sox for life, those numbers would place him 3rd, 2nd, 6th, 7th, 1st, 5th and 3rd in franchise history in the aforementioned, respective categories.

Yet, due to his early arrival in the Major Leagues as a 21-year old, Betts figures to have a legitimate opportunity to play more than fifteen full seasons. Thus, for arguments sake, let’s extrapolate his average baseline numbers to encompass twenty full big league seasons. The results? A remarkable 3,460 hits, 760 doubles, 380 home runs, 1,470 RBI, 540 stolen bases, 1,320 walks and 2,080 runs scored. That’s more home runs than Joe DiMaggio, more RBI than Mark McGwire, more stolen bases than Ichiro Suzuki, and more hits than Honus Wagner, Willie Mays and Tony Gwynn.

Of course, I’m aware the math is more than a little flawed, and, yes, I know it’s highly unlikely that Betts’ career will follow such a linear track. But, just for a moment, as he blazes a trail through the American League, it’s tremendous fun to marvel at the numbers and daydream about the potential. According to the somewhat skewed, yet nonetheless entertaining, projected career stats, right now, in Mookie Betts, the Sox have a cornerstone player with Jeter’s stroke, Manny’s patience, Rice’s power, Bonds’ speed, and Vlad Guerrero’s clutch production, which begs one question: who on Earth would trade all that for Cole *Bleeping* Hamels?

Random Statistics Through The First 26 Games, 2013 vs. 2014

lesterWith this month nearly in the books, and a long way still to go, there are some statistics worth looking at when comparing the last two Aprils. The biggest difference is in the standings. Last year at this time the Red Sox were atop the American League East with a record of 18-8. Today, they are 12-14 and in fourth place. While they have won the same amount of games on the road, (this year vs. last year) with seven, in 2013 they were 11-5 at Fenway Park, while this year they are 5-8.   At the plate, in April of 2013 they batted .271, which was the second best average in the league. This year, they are hitting .241, which is only better than three other teams. With the drop in average has also come a drop in runs, which is substantial. Last year at this point they were third in the league with 135 runs. Today, they are in the middle of the pack with 104 runs scored. Another glaring difference is in stolen bases. Last year in April, they Sox swiped 22 bases, this month only 9. One major difference in the drop in runs scored and stolen bases from year to year is the loss of Jacoby Ellsbury. He had half of April’s stolen base total in 2013 with 11 out of 22. Right now, the leader on the Red Sox in that category is his replacement in center field, Jackie Bradley Jr., with 3.

On the mound, there is an increase in the team’s ERA from 3.50 last April to 3.90 this year. A more glaring increase, though, is in hits allowed. This year there is more than a 30% month-to-month than last year, with 253 hits allowed so far compared to 191 last year. There’s an increase in runs allowed as well, with 120 this April versus 97 last year at this point. Earned runs jumped from 92 to 102 year to year as well.   What does all this mean? Who knows! Statistics can sometimes tell quite a bit, but the real story is in the standings. Last year at this time the Red Sox were high atop the AL East, while this year they are in 4th place, but as was stated at the top…there’s a long time to go.

Jackie Bradley Jr Watch: Still Causing Lots of Chatter

jackie bradley jr

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With regard to Jackie Bradley Jr., let’s not focus on the next six years, but rather the last six years. We never know what the future will bring, but we are plenty aware of the past and present.  Let’s make Bradley Jr. the exception that proves the rule about how the Red Sox utilize their farm system.

Let’s set aside the contractual issues. What is the difference between 2018 and 2019, a year right? Bradley is young, able to play a solid outfield position, which would most likely be left, with a consistent, offensive bat. We need all of that right now, this year. Who knows what 2018 will bring? I do not know where I am going to be, so why put so much emphasis on uncertainty. Why not stay in the now, where questions loom about the shortstop and DH position.

Farrell, questioned Sunday about whether Bradley Jr. would play in the majors this year, seemed to be taking a page from Bill Belichick’s playbook, when answering reporters’ queries. One of my favorite non-answer answers from the press conference when asked about whether he will play in April, Farrell said, “We’ve got two weeks to determine that.” Though Farrell may not be in the now, he is at least in the near distant future.

The pitching Bradley faces may dictate Farrell’s decision over these next two weeks. The starters get stronger the closer we get to the end of March. They have more innings and competitive play at the conclusion of each day.  Look at Jon Lester’s outing on Sunday; he looked as great as ever, giving the ball club six flawless innings. He’s back, we hope. After all, when was the last time that happened? Cobb of the Rays rose to the occasion affecting Bradley’s batting average, which as of Sunday night, is at .444 as he went 0-1. These statistics, if anything, are the only valid facts that Farrell should be weighing in the next two weeks with regard to Bradley.

jackie bradley jr

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Let’s forget about the future and the past. If we look at the present, and the desire for this team to do well this year (not 2018, or 2019), we need another great bat like Bradley’s to get the Sox closer to October baseball.

Red Sox Statistics Exceeding Predictions

red sox statistics

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Red Sox statistics saved my sanity today. I was stuck at CVS today waiting for a doctor to call me back so I could get my prescription filled. After “having words” with the pharmacist, I went to the magazine aisle to read and calm down. I found a trove of April’s baseball magazines, many of which featured Red Sox players on their front covers. David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia greeted me, as my shoulders and pulse dropped. I sat down on the ground and grabbed the one with Ortiz on the front cover. I smiled. What seemed plausible at the end of February, when these writers had their deadlines, is no longer reality.

I opened up to the pages designated to the Red Sox and most of the writers were in agreement about prospects and odds that the Sox would go the distance this year. The distance remains disputable. There is heavy use of the word “if” in these magazines. If the starting pitching returns to form, if the injuries end, if Jacoby Ellsbury plays the full season more bases will be stolen. These are all predictions, “if’s” are fine at this time.

On a more heartening note, the farm prospects listed were pretty accurate. A few mentioned exceeded expectations. No one could have foreseen Jackie Bradley Jr. being a spring training league statistic leader in on base percentage at .590, and third in the league with a batting average at .484.  Ryan Dempster pitched four solid innings on Wednesday leading to a win. Thus, agreeing with the magazine’s prediction of a projected spot in the five- man rotation. And let’s not forget Xander Bogaerts’ exceptional performance in the World Baseball Classic. These farm boys are making things uncomfortable for the 2012 Red Sox players.

Red Sox Statistics

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Let’s not count out players that already have a place on the team, like Will Middlebrooks. He turned out a solid .346 on base percentage and a home run in 11 games played thus far. Pedroia also looks good with an on base percentage of .394 after 10 plus games. These are the guys we can count on and there are quite a few others, as well.

The prognosticators all agree it will be a solid year. I believe we can beat and exceed those predictions if play continues like this in the regular season.