Monday, May 4, 2009

Ground balls and David Ortiz

We all can see that David Ortiz isn't David Ortiz so far this season.

But as we did through some of his hitting ratios -- yes, we're on a ratios kick here at OneIf headquarters -- some surprising results have emerged.

Here's a sampling:

* Ortiz is walking in 10.5 percent of his at-bats; he's walked in 15.7 percent of his at-bats over the last four years.
(Funny thing: He walked in just 11.2 percent of his at-bats in 2004 -- and he hit .301 with 41 home runs and 139 RBI and put the Red Sox on his back in the postseason.)

* Ortiz is striking out in 20.2 percent of his at-bats; he struck out in 16.4 percent of his at-bats over the last four years.
(Another funny thing: He struck out in 19.9 percent of his at-bats in 2004.)

Walks and strikeouts, then, aren't as big of a deal as you might think. He's striking out more often than he has over the last few years, but he's also striking out just as much as he did when he had an MVP-caliber season in 2004. Same goes with his walks. That's not the problem.

* Over the last four years, Ortiz's ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio was 0.55. This year, though, it's 0.31 -- which means that, for the first time in his career, he's hitting the ball in the air more than he's hitting the ball on the ground.

That seems a little odd for a guy whose biggest concern still is the big fat zero in the "HR" column. But Ortiz's ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio normally is far closer to 50-50.

Why is that?

For one thing, when he's hit the ball in the air this season, it's generally landed in a glove somewhere -- in part because 19 percent of his fly balls, almost double his career average before this season, are being caught on the infield.

For another thing, think about the mechanics of his swing. If he's late on pitches, he's probably going to pop them up; when he's bringing the bat through the zone, he's going to be underneath the ball and end up either fouling it off or lofting it weakly into a waiting glove.

(To wit: Just 14 percent of the balls he's put in play have been line drives -- the average major-league player hits line drives 19 percent of the time, and Ortiz didn't dip below 17 percent in any of his first six seasons with the Red Sox.)

But if he's on time with his swing -- as he just demonstrated with a first-inning double against Phil Hughes at Yankee Stadium tonight -- he's on top of the ball and hitting it low and hard somewhere. The more often he hits the ball on the ground, the better chance it has to find a hole in the infield somewhere.

Home runs are great, but if you start seeing Ortiz hitting the ball on the ground, you can start to believe there's light at the end of the tunnel.

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