Red Sox: Is this the greatest first half of David Ortiz’s career?


In his final season, Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz may have just put together the best first half of his career.

We’ve seen a number of monster seasons from David Ortiz since he came to the Boston Red Sox over a dozen years ago, but we may not have seen anything quite like this.

In the final act of his storied career, the 40-year old Ortiz is treating us to a season for the ages. He entered the break hitting a robust .332/.426/.682 to go along with 22 home runs and 72 RBI. The batting average and RBI total are both good for second in the American League, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to his uncanny accomplishments.

Ortiz is the major league leader in OPS (1.107), doubles (34) and extra-base hits (57). No player in the history of the game has led in all of those categories in the final season of their career, let alone one that is 40 years old. Yet Big Papi is more than halfway to becoming the first to do it before riding off into the sunset.

More from David Ortiz

What he is on pace to do this season is something we’ve never seen from a player his age before, but at this rate we can’t merely stop at asking if this is the best season ever for a 40 year old hitter. We have to begin asking ourselves if this is the best season Ortiz has ever had.

That seems unfathomable given how tremendous Ortiz was in the prime of his career, but the stats he has piled up so far this season rival any first half that he has ever produced. Impossible, you say? Well, as Bruno Mars would say, don’t believe me, just watch.

The slash line Ortiz enters the break with is easily the second best he has produced in the first half of a season, trailing only the 2007 season when he hit .365/.471/.657 before the break. If Ortiz finishes this season with his current .332 average he’ll equal the career-high that he set in 2007. The 191 OPS+ he produced in the first half of that season is also the best of his career before the break, while this year’s 184 OPS+ is second best.

However, the 16 home runs and 63 RBI he accumulated in the first half of ’07 fall well beneath this year’s totals, as well as the totals he produced in the first half during most of his prime. His 48 extra-base hits that season are also well short of what he’s piled up so far this season.

More from BoSox Injection

Are you a fan of big time power numbers? Well you’ll be impressed by Ortiz’s 2006 season, when he smashed 31 homers and drove in 87 RBI, both of which are by far the most he’s ever produced in a first half. He would finish that season with a franchise record 54 home runs to go along with 137 RBI, leading the league in each of those . Somehow he finished only third in MVP voting that year.

As amazing as those numbers are, his .278/.388/.609 slash line can’t compare to what he’s doing now. Despite the significant edge in home runs totals, Ortiz still belted out 11 fewer extra-base hits in the first half of the ’06 season compared to this year and his 156 OPS+ is well short of what it is now.

So what numbers do we use to determine his best season? Slash lines, OPS+, home run totals? Selecting his best first half would depend on what you value most in evaluating a slugger like Ortiz. Personally, I would consider his OPS (or OPS+, which is calculated based on the league average and adjusted for ballpark effects) to be a better indicator of his success over home run totals, but as the Home Run Derby reminded us earlier this week, fans still dig the long ball.

This is what makes this season so special. His home run totals aren’t the highest they’ve ever been to this point in the season and he’s produced a better slash line before, but this year is the perfect blend of all of these accomplishments. Ortiz is doing it all at the plate this year, showing he is still an elite hitter among his peers.

Perhaps Big Papi will slow down in the second half to fall short of his best seasons. He may be on pace for his best, but we can’t assume that the rest of the season will be as successful as it was before the break. Then again, it’s always possible he could pick up the pace even more with the finish line in sight. Ortiz is laying it all out in his final season, leaving nothing left in the tank.

Next: Wright watches All-Star Game from bullpen

Ortiz wants one more shot at postseason glory before he hangs up his cleats and the Red Sox will need him to keep smashing his way through the record books if they are going to get there. That may be all the motivation he needs to finish the season strong, at which point we may look back at this season as the best of his Hall of Fame worthy career.