As the Boston Red Sox stretched their A.L. East lead last night, a debate in the day referred to David Ortiz as a pull hitter. Is he? Hardly.
Yesterday, in the first hour of the Canadian sports talk radio show Prime Time Sports, the host Bob McCown was discussing with guest Kevin Barker, a former MLB player, about why many star hitters don’t seem to be able or even want to hit to opposite field, especially with the defensive shift in place. McCown argued that the fundamentals seem to be lacking in the majors, as it may be hard to hit to opposite field with the right pitch thrown but that all MLB pitches can be just as frustrating to hit. Barker disagreed to a degree.
Barker said that the shift has killed ground balls for good hitters, mentioning how a manager or a fan wouldn’t want their big hitters to do something against their natural swing. He continued that argument when discussing the topic of David Ortiz, saying how “he doesn’t really like to hit opposite field, does he?”
Both McCown and Barker are excellent at their jobs, they have a ton of knowledge about the game, and it’s only a minor point to the overall discussion that was had, but that particular comment from Barker about Ortiz needs to be addressed.
Only a week ago, ESPN’s senior baseball analyst Buster Olney mentioned in an interview with BoSox Injection the following about Ortiz and the reason for his 47 doubles this season: “The wall for left-handed hitters is doubles paradise […] it gives them a visual target.” Olney added that Fenway “really reinforces good habits for left-handed hitters, because they are rewarded for hitting to opposite field, to left-center.” Ortiz has told Olney and many other reporters over the years that “Fenway Park was the perfect place for him,” and that many other left-handed hitters have told Olney the same thing.
Ortiz is 10th all-time in doubles, 12 shy of Hall-of-Famer Honus Wagner. That’s with the shift constantly being used on him. At 40 years of age, in his retirement season, Ortiz is hitting .318 with an on-base percentage of .406 and a slugging percentage of .630. He’s earned 36 home runs and 122 RBIs, putting him in eleventh place and third place in the majors in those respective categories.
Ortiz is also at only 78 strikeouts on the season, putting him 189th in the majors, better than home run leaders Mark Trumbo, Brian Dozier, and Edwin Encarnacion as well as “pure hitter” Miguel Cabrera.
All of this evidence is not to say that Ortiz is looking to plunk one to left field to beat out the shift, although Ortiz has done that a number of times this season, but the argument is very subjective, to say the least, that Ortiz doesn’t like hitting to opposite field. According to FanGraphs.com, Ortiz pulls the bull 48.6% of the time, with 33.3% going to center. However, if one looks at his spray chart, those hits to center look much more like left center field:
The groundballs and home runs support Barker’s claim, but the flyballs and linedrives do not.
When one puts all of the evidence together, the shift isn’t doing much to Ortiz’s batting average, the pitches are not doing much to create popups or bloopers, and the claim that he desires to stay away from opposite field seems far-fetched. Ortiz may love hitting home runs on pulled hits over the short fence in right field in Fenway Park, but he looks like he loves getting on base more. Ortiz is no Ty Cobb, especially in the running department; however, Ortiz knows the value of hitting opposite field, or at least left-center field, than the statement made.
It was, granted, a small statement in Barker’s otherwise very valid arguments, but one that needed a response.