Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Lack of bat speed hurting Ortiz

David Ortiz is now 0-for-10 in the American League Championship Series, and everyone has a theory as to why. Is it his wrist? Is it that he's not getting pitches? Is it that he's lost without Manny Ramirez behind him?

Well, let's look at it. Let's look at what Tampa Bay pitchers threw David Ortiz in Game 3:

First inning, Dustin Pedroia on second base, one out
This seems like a spot where Matt Garza wouldn't mind walking Ortiz, with a runner in scoring position and one out; if he walks Ortiz and gets a ground ball from Kevin Youkilis, he's out of the inning.
0-0 pitch: Curveball in the dirt; Ortiz doesn't chase.
1-0 pitch: Fastball way high; Ortiz doesn't chase.
2-0 pitch: A get-me-over fastball; Ortiz doesn't bite. This is the sort of pitch where Ortiz kind of has to make a decision -- is he more valuable working the walk, or is he more valuable jumping on 2-0 pitches over the middle of the plate? It's not as if it's a 3-0 pitch; he can ignore anything except a fastball over the middle, but if he gets that fastball, it'd be nice to see him go after it.
2-1 pitch: A fastball a little up and over the inner half; Ortiz swings and misses. Maybe in the strike zone, maybe not. Still, though, that's the sort of pitch Big Papi has to hit -- and that's the sort of pitch his wrist injury and lack of bat speed might keep him from hitting.
2-2 pitch: A fastball at the thighs and over the outside corner; Ortiz watches it go by for called strike 3.

Third inning, Dustin Pedroia on first, one out
Garza's team has just staked him to a 5-0 lead; he has no reason to do anything but go after Ortiz here.
0-0 pitch: Fastball high; Ortiz doesn't chase.
1-0 pitch: Fastball high; Ortiz doesn't chase.
2-0 pitch: Fastball high, again; Ortiz still doesn't chase. All three were at the shoulders.
3-0 pitch: Fastball at the waist and on the inner half; it's 3-0, so Ortiz lets it go.
3-1 pitch: This is the pitch. Garza throws another fastball, 93 miles an hour, and it comes in at the knees and right over the middle. Ortiz can't get around in time and fouls it straight back, off the press box.
3-2 pitch: Curveball out over the outside corner; that's the pitch with which he could do some of the "peppering" of the Green Monster that Terry Francona said Ortiz was doing during batting practice on Sunday. Instead, Ortiz fouls it off.
3-2 pitch: Another fastball, 96, up and over the middle; Ortiz still can't get around on it and fouls it off into the seats behind third base.
3-2 pitch: Curevball right over the middle of the plate; Ortiz lifts a lazy pop fly to shallow right field that shortstop Jason Bartlett (playing the shift) catches.

Fifth inning, Dustin Pedroia on first again, two outs
It's still 5-0; there won't be any pitching around Ortiz in this at-bat, either.
0-0 pitch: Fastball inside; Ortiz lets it go.
1-0 pitch: Fastball, 96 miles an hour, right out over the middle of the plate. Ortiz hits it foul. That's the sort of pitch Matt Garza wouldn't ever get away with if Ortiz was hitting with a healthy wrist and his true bat speed. That's the sort of pitch that would have ended up in the bullpen. But Ortiz fouled it off.
1-1 pitch: Fastball, 96, up and over the inner half of the plate. Ortiz flies to center.

Eighth inning, leading off the inning
It's now 8-1 and left-hander J.P. Howell is pitching. Ortiz is 1-for-9 in his career against Howell and hit .221 against lefties this season. This isn't a bad spot to be patient and just try to get on base.
0-0 pitch: Fastball over the inner half of the plate; Ortiz lets it go.
0-1 pitch: Curveball low; Ortiz doesn't chase it. Smart hitting.
1-1 pitch: Fastball inside; Ortiz still doesn't chase.
2-1 pitch: Fastball, 87 miles an hour, thigh-high, over the inner half of the plate -- and Ortiz fouls it off. He fouls it off. By my unofficial count, that's the fifth time in the game that Ortiz has fouled off a pitch he could have pasted. Now, even Big Papi is going to miss a few. But to see pitches like that and to go 0-for-5 -- and that's not including the fastball in the first inning he missed entirely -- is entirely un-Ortiz-like. And now he's got two strikes on him.
2-2 pitch: Curveball at the knees but out over the middle. Ortiz actually does a nice job with this one, hitting a sharp ground ball down the right-field line. But thanks to the shift, Carlos Pena is in just the right place and fields it cleanly for the out.

What have we learned?

Well, it's clear that Ortiz is getting pitches. In a game that got out of hand early, Ortiz had to get pitches. Garza and Howell would have gained nothing by walking him, even with runners on base in front of him. They threw him pitches, challenged him out over the plate, and he consistently fouled off pitches he normally would crush -- mostly either back or to the third-base side. That seems to signal a lack of bat speed, and that, in turn, points a finger at his wrist. It can't be healthy. There's just no way.

In the same way that Josh Beckett is clearly having trouble with something physical, Ortiz isn't the same hitter he's been because something -- his wrist, probably -- is holding back his bat speed. On top of that, he's a .188 (3-for-16) lifetime hitter against Game 4 starter Andy Sonnanstine.

And Terry Francona might have to make a big decision today because this guy hit .432 in 37 postseason at-bats in 2006 and hit .331 in the 47 games he was in the starting lineup (including .351 in 37 at-bats as a designated hitter) for the Red Sox this season.

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