The Numbers Say the League’s Book Has Changed on Ortiz

Buster Olney, whose degree in sabremetrics comes from a bad state university, was running around Bristol this morning holding up the following stat as the “got you” evidence in the case against David Ortiz. Buster pointed out that when Ortiz begins a count with a strike, he is just 4-28 with 14 Ks. His thesis: once Ortiz falls behind, he is dead. Can’t quibble with that logic.

But I will do Buster one better. Here are a few interesting numbers on David Ortiz, per fangraphs.

In 2003 and 2004, Ortiz saw about 60 percent fastballs. This percentage fell to as low as fifty-two percent in 2007 as Ortiz scared the piss out of the league and people tried to get cute with him. Last year, it rose to 58 percent as Papi’s big rep wore off and pitchers gained some courage. This year …. It’s up to 65 percent as Ortiz has lost all ability to scare the opposing pitcher. Ortiz and the Sox have to ask themselves this question …… why would anyone throw a changeup to Papi when they know he can’t catch up to even a mediocre fastball?

The next stat is rather odd and somewhat counter-intuitive but the numbers confirm that David Ortiz is not seeing as many good pitches this year. Yep, the percentage of strikes thrown to him is way down. You can quibble with the inputs, but the zone rate for major leaguers this year is about 48 percent.  This stat measures the percentage of pitches thrown in the strike zone. In previous years, the league average has been a bit higher and David Ortiz usually trails the league by about five percentage points. This stands to reason, right? People were scared of the Cookie Monster so they nibbled. Well, this year, Ortiz’ zone rate is just forty percent, which is six percent lower than last year and ten percent lower than it was in 2004. That doesn’t make sense, does it? If Ortiz has lost his rep, why are people scared to pitch to him? Well, my guess would be:  Why throw him a strike when you know he will chase anything? That is what is happening here. People aren’t throwing him strikes but he is swinging anyways and actually making a lot of contact with balls out of the zone. The result ….. lots of pops and harmless grounders.

Just some fat to chew on as you watch Ortiz tonight …….


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