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.
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.