Tuesday, January 19, 2010

How often should Ortiz play?

"David's a big -- I don't want to say question mark because he's not a question mark, but when David hits, we're different. Same thing when he doesn't hit. When you have a guy who is a full-time DH, he has to hit.'' -- Red Sox manager Terry Francona

Talk about disparate numbers: Here's David Ortiz before and after the All-Star break last season, the most difficult season of his Red Sox career:

Before: .733 OPS
After: .866 OPS

Talk about disparate numbers: Here's David Ortiz against lefthanded pitching and against righthanded pitching last season:

LHP: .716 OPS
RHP: .828 OPS

Against lefties, in other words, he was his first-half self. Against righties, he was his second-half self -- a well above-average hitter capable of hitting in the middle of the Red Sox lineup.

The question begs itself: At what point do the Red Sox start considering playing Ortiz only against righthanded pitchers and sitting him against lefties?

The answer: When a better option presents itself.

The Red Sox have brought righty Bill Hall and lefty Jeremy Hermida on board to provide a little thump off the bench, and righty Mike Lowell -- if he's not traded, anyway -- and switch-hitter Jason Varitek remain options as well.

Terry Francona will have plenty of choices as he makes out his lineups against both righties and lefties this season:

Against righthanded pitching
Hall: .589 last season/.725 career
Hermida: .786 last season/.792 career
Lowell: .784 last season/.798 career
Ortiz: .828 last season/.964 career
Varitek: .666 last season/.759 career

Best option: Ortiz. That seems clear.

Against lefthanded pitching
Hall: .606 last season/.810 career
Hermida: .601 last season/.697 career
Lowell: .867 last season/.850 career
Ortiz: .716 last season/.819 career
Varitek: .807 last season/.828 career

Best option: Lowell. That seems clear, too.

If Lowell is traded, though: Would you believe it's Varitek?

If the goal is to keep Victor Martinez as fresh as possible, it might make sense for him to play first base or serve as designated hitter against lefties as often as possible. If Varitek plays exclusively against lefties, it would mean Ortiz probably would sit against most lefties.

If last season's numbers are to believed, though, replacing Ortiz with Varitek against lefthanded pitchers, either as the catcher with Martinez DH'ing or as the DH himself, would mean a significant upgrade at the plate.

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