Wednesday, March 01, 2006

David Ortiz: MLB MVP

Over the last two years, David Ortiz has easily been the Most Valuable Player in the major leagues. Hands down, no player has coupled stats with dramatics like Ortiz has. I will put this argument up against anyone who wants to take Vlad Guerrero, Albert Pujols, or (God have mercy on your soul) A-Rod. As a Red Sox fan, a real Sox fan, I would estimate that I have watched or listened on the radio to roughly 90% of Ortiz's at-bats going back to 2003 when he started the season platooning at first base. After an early summer series against the Yankees, when Ortiz homered twice in one game, he started to play more regularly. By the end of the season he was a respected hitter. By the end of 2004 he was feared. By the end of 2005, there was no question he was the most clutch hitter in the game.

So how did Ortiz go from relative obscurity to being one of the best hitters in baseball in just three years? The event that got the proverbial ball rolling was Ortiz being released by the Minnesota Twins. After the 2002 season, when he hit 20 HRs and had 75 RBI, the Twins released him because they had depth in their farm system at that position, and didn't feel he was worth resigning. Something I enjoy personally is looking for free agent bargains during the offseason, and then claiming I had the idea to sign that player first. I actually told some friends during that offseason that the Sox should sign Oritz. I saw him in Minnesota, and thought with his size and swing it was a matter of time before he started dropping bombs. I was right. His numbers in Minnesota only serve to point out the mistake made by the Twins in evaluating Ortiz' potential. That is not to say the Sox predicted this 3 year offensive onslaught; but they did think they got a bargain by signing him.

A good indicator of how well a player is performing over a certain amount of time is to look at his stats, and compare them to previous years. Some statistics are more important than others. The following are categories that Ortiz has improved in statistically since joining the Red Sox: Games, Home Runs, Runs Batted In, On Base Percentage, Walks, Slugging Percentage, Total Bases, Hits, and Runs. Every single year since 2003, his numbers in these categories have increased, some more dramatically than others. And its not like he was starting from mediocre statistics. His first year in Boston, he hit .288 with 31 HRs and 101 RBIs, 58 walks, 129 hits, and 79 runs. For the 2005, he hit .300 with 47 HRs and 148 RBIs, 102 walks, 180 hits, and 119 runs. Those are amazing increases over a 3 year period across the board in every major offensive category. There are plenty of good hitters in the major leagues today, but none of them have done what Ortiz has done. What he does in the regular season is a precursor to the place Ortiz separates himself from the rest of the major leagues: The Postseason.

Even if you aren't a baseball fan, you must have at least heard David Ortiz's name mentioned in the fall of 2004. First, he beat the Angels with a walkoff, extra innings home run off a hanging slider from Jared Washburn. Now, let me set the stage. By the end of Game 3 of the ALCS, I had just finished drinking my face off to mask the fact that the Sox were down 0-3. No team had ever come back from that. But that didn't stop me from going into my friend's house and putting a $100 bet on the table that the Sox would win the series. Nobody accepted it, probably because nobody wanted to look bad and bet against the home town team. Fast forward to Game 4. Sox are down in the 9th, but tie it against Mariano Rivera. Then Ortiz puts me to bed around 1:20 AM with a walkoff homer. Game 5 is that same day, and he ends THAT game with a walkoff hit after he went deep in the 8th inning. Thats 3 game-ending hits during the postseason, within 6 games of each other. Now people are starting to believe the Sox can do it, and I'm starting to say I Told You So...all because of Ortiz. Then he opens up the scoring in Game 7 with a 2 run MISSLE into the seat in rightfield, and the Sox never looked back. Ortiz also led off the World Series scoring with a mammoth 3 run shot in Game 1 against the Cardinals. In the 2004 playoffs, Ortiz hit .400 with 5 HRs and 19 RBI in 14 games. His career playoff average is .301. The postseason is where a good player becomes great, but a great player can become a legend. That is what Ortiz did in 2004; he became a postseason Legend.

Even though the Sox didn't win the World Series in 2005, it didn't have anything to do with Ortiz. In August and September, while the Sox were in a race for the playoffs, he hit 22 HRs and 59 RBI. In two months??? If anyone remember watching these games, he was just destroying everything he saw. Walk offs. Go-ahead home runs. Clutch singles and doubles. He was single handedly keeping the Sox alive and without him, they definately don't make it back to the playoffs. For a baseball fan, there is nothing better than watching him and Manny go back-to-back. NOTHING. Give me any two batters on any team, and I'm taking Manny and Oritz against them.

The other part of Ortiz is his attitude. He is always smiling, and always in a good mood. He realizes as a DH, the only thing he can do is have 4 great at-bats during a game. That is why in between at-bats he can be found in the locker room, watching previous trips to the plate and looking for an advantage against the pitcher. He makes adjustments during the game better than most, and his swing is always fluid and similar to the last one. The best part is that you can tell how much he is enjoying himself. There isn't a player in the Majors better suited to be the focal point of MLB's marketing. He has the smile, the skills, and the history of his clutch hitting. No player has a better combination of attractive characteristics with which to endorse the game. While A-Rod acts like what he THINKS a player of his caliber and in his position should act, Ortiz is natural, and more indicative of the joy players get playing baseball every summer for a living.

For all the reasons listed above, I am awarding David Ortiz the MVP Award for the entire Major Leagues over the last two years. There has clearly been no one as important to his team as Ortiz, and the fact that he doesn't have an American League MVP award is simply unacceptable. Last year he was clearly the MVP, but the award went to A-Rod based largely on the fact that he plays in the field. So fucking what. That guy is garbage in crunch time, and his teams have never won anything on the field. I realize that he is good at third base, and he makes plays that help his team, but don't you think for a player to be most valuable, he has to make the most of his most valuable at-bats? Here is the biggest stat of all: In 'close and late' situations during the 2005 season, Ortiz led all the majors with 11 HRs and 33 RBI. A-Rod? 4 HRs and 12 RBI.Hey A-Rod, great season buddy, you really earned that $25 mil. You slugged shitty pitching during blowouts, but when your team needed a hit you had nothing for them. Ortiz, on the other hand, takes it to a level only he can talk about when the game is on the line. I cannot remember a hitter being so clutch so consistently. Game 7 of the World Series, winning run at the plate, you get any batter to win you the game; I'm taking Ortiz over everyone, including Bonds. This season I don't expect anything but the same from Ortiz. I just hope this year the rest of the baseball world really appreciates how valuable he is, not just to the Red Sox, but to the entire league.


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