Friday, April 24, 2009

Not to belabor this Ortiz thing, but...

... it's tough to buy that his surge is a sign he's out of his slump.

Yes, I know this contradicts the headline and the first few paragraphs of this story. But maybe the first few paragraphs of that story were overly optimistic.

(One of these days, I'll have the guts to write the truth about popular players without worrying that I'm going to start hearing, "But he's seven for his last 21! He hit a triple! He's Big Papi! You're a jerk!" In my defense, no one wants to be a jerk.)

And what it doesn't contradict is the premise of this segment:

"If you, as a hitter, slow down with 88 miles an hour, that means you've got to go," (David Ortiz) said a couple of days later. "But it's crazy how you can get beat by 88 and come and hit 94. That means it's not that you've got to go; it means you've got to pull yourself together and keep working."
The problem is, so far, that he's not hitting anything at 94, either. After he doubled to left against Minnesota's Scott Baker on Wednesday, he told reporters the pitch was "a 98-mile-an-hour fastball away -- for those guys that say I can't hit no fastball no more."
But Ortiz was being facetious; that pitch actually was closer to 92, and he even acknowledged later that Baker had only "average stuff."
Of the 13 hits Ortiz has so far this season, in fact, not one has come on a pitch clocked at faster than 93 mph.
Every mechanical adjustment he has made so far this season has been geared toward getting his hands into position more quickly and getting the bat head on the ball faster. Diminishing bat speed is something no one can control -- but being ready to hit is something Ortiz should be able to control.
"When you're a little bit late getting to your load or getting to the spot where you need to put a swing on the ball, when you're late, 87 is like 97," said (Dave) Magadan, the Red Sox hitting coach.
"When he gets to that point when he's on time and he's in a good position to put a swing on the ball at the right time when the ball's in the right location, 97 is going to seem like 87."

We all knew already that Ortiz's bat speed was the issue. All the talk last year, after all, was how the wrist injury had robbed him of his bat speed. All the talk this spring has been about how age might have robbed him of his bat speed.

Now, though, we're seeing Ortiz hit the ball to left field -- albeit with occasional authority -- and we're all done worrying about his bat speed? Really?

It takes bat speed to hit the ball the other way. It takes way more bat speed to pull the ball -- and it takes even more bat speed to pull the ball with authority and hit home runs. Ortiz can talk all he wants about how it feels natural to go the other way, but when he's going good, he's always hit for more power to right field than he has to left.

One example: In his first six seasons with at Fenway Park with the Red Sox, Ortiz hit more than twice as many home runs to right field (75) as he did to left field (30) -- a stat that's even more telling when you consider that it's 380 feet to the bullpens and just 310 feet to the Green Monster. (We're leaving out the home runs he hit on the road only because it would take way more time to go through all those individual spray charts.)

So far this season, though, Ortiz is not pulling the ball at all.

He singled to right-center in Anaheim. He hit a double into the right-field corner in Oakland. He singled to right field last Saturday against Baltimore, looping a line drive over the shift and in front of right fielder Nick Markakis.

All 10 of his other hits, though, have gone to left field or center field. Fourteen of his 17 flyouts, even, have gone to left field or center field. He hasn't hit the ball within 30 feet of the Fenway Park bullpens, once a regular depository for pitches left in his wheelhouse.

(See for yourself: You can get spray charts here.)

"Any time hitters go the other way with authority, something's got to be right," Terry Francona told reporters during the Baltimore series.

Francona has far more baseball experience than I do, of course. But Francona also has an ulterior motive and no reason at all to give any doomsayers any suggestion they might be onto something.

When hitters go the other way with authority, sure, that's a good sign. But when hitters aren't pulling the ball with authority, that's a really, really bad sign.

(Of course, as this was coming together, Ortiz ripped a fifth-inning single into right field off Joba Chamberlain. Is this a sign of things to come? Who the heck knows?)

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