There’s no doubt about it. David Ortiz did slip in 2014. After slashing an excellent .309/.395/.564 in 2013, Ortiz’s slash line dipped to .263/.355/.517 last season. However, it wasn’t a big enough dip to prevent him from having one of the best age 38 seasons that a player has had an MLB history.
In fact, the main reason that Ortiz even declined at all was a massive decrease in BABIP, with his career mark of .301 falling all the way down to .256, well below league-average. Some of that drop can be attributed to an increase in defensive shifts; however, opposing teams have been shifting on Ortiz for years now, so a small increase is unlikely to be a huge factor. It’s true that Ortiz’s fly ball rate rose while his line drive rate decreased, which could be a factor in why his batting average fell but his power numbers stayed roughly the same.
In any case, we’ve been waiting for a while for Ortiz to show any signs of decline at all and 2014 was the first evidence of that. Still, his decline wasn’t too severe, as he was still the biggest contributor in the Red Sox lineup by a wide margin and his numbers improved once the Red Sox gave him some lineup protection with Yoenis Cespedes, as he slashed .342/.442/.592 in August (his best month of the season). He’s certainly declining, but his 2014 season was still another chapter in a long line of excellent seasons for Big Papi.
It’s tough to know what to expect from Ortiz in 2015. Will he adjust to the shifts, knocking his BABIP up a few pegs and bringing his batting average back close to its former levels? Or will his decline continue, as he falls further and further from his former heights?
Nobody can predict Ortiz’s 2015 performance, but it would likely be smart money to put it on the latter. Ortiz will be 39 years old this season and the list of players that have been elite offensive performers at that age isn’t a very long one. Of course, Ortiz has defied the norm before, but an age-related decline will set in sooner rather than later for Ortiz and last season appeared to be the first signs of that decline.
That’s not to say that Ortiz will be bad next season. However, it is likely that his 2015 season will be worse than the year before it, as Ortiz’s average may slip a few more points and his power might drop a bit too, unless he continues to hit a ridiculous amount of fly balls. He should still be an effective player and might well be the best hitter in the lineup, as Farrell certainly expects him to start the season hitting third in the batting order.
Unless he begins a drastic decline next season or gets injured, Ortiz will still be a major contributor. However, as the years pile up, expect his numbers to fall farther and farther from his former heights.