Red Sox: David Ortiz explains importance of adding a power threat
By Sean Penney
Former Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz commented on why the team needs to find a new power threat to replace him in the lineup.
The Boston Red Sox failed to adequately replace the bat of David Ortiz following his retirement at the end of the 2016 season. That was a mistake, according to Big Papi himself.
Ortiz publically campaigned last winter for Edwin Encarnacion to be his heir apparent anchoring the Red Sox lineup but an ownership group intent on resetting the luxury tax penalties wasn’t willing to make the investment. Encarnacion signed a free agent deal with the Cleveland Indians, bolstering a lineup that scored the third most runs in the league, while the Red Sox finished dead last in home runs.
While he isn’t mentioning names this time, Ortiz continues to stress the importance of the Red Sox adding a big bat to their lineup. At the annual David Ortiz Celebrity Golf Classic in the Dominican Republic last weekend, the former Red Sox superstar explained to WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford how a middle of the order power threat can help the rest of the lineup.
"“It takes pressure away from everybody,” said Ortiz. “When you are that one guy in the lineup that pitchers worry about, pitchers know they are going to make a stop there, they have a tendency to make more mistakes with the rest of the guys. All of their focus is going to be not let that Big Papi guy beat you.”"
The Red Sox lineup remains loaded with talent, yet their best hitters are still young and have yet to establish themselves as the type of sluggers who can strike fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers.
Mookie Betts remains one of the game’s best all-around players but he’s not a true home run threat. He hit a career-high 31 homers in 2016 with Ortiz behind him in the lineup but that total fell to 24 this year.
Betts also saw his batting average plummet to .264, a steep decline for the career .291 hitter. Some of that can be chalked up to bad luck on balls hit in play, although it’s also fair to say that he saw fewer good pitches to hit. Teams weren’t worried about walking Betts without the threat of a slugger behind him to drive him in. He shattered his career-high with 77 walks and a 10.8 BB% yet scored fewer runs than he did the previous year.
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The decline at the plate for Betts is significantly tied to the lack of a power threat to protect him in the lineup. The Red Sox were a mere 12th in the league with a .745 OPS from their cleanup hitter and last in the league with a .667 OPS from the No. 5 spot.
The benefit of a power hitter in the lineup isn’t limited to Betts. Xander Bogaerts and Andrew Benintendi both fell short of expectations with batting averages below .275 and an OPS below .800. They would have found it much easier at the top of the lineup if the opposing pitcher was distracted by the looming threat of the big bat waiting behind them.
Acquiring a 30+ homer threat to replace someone who provided a total in the low 20’s isn’t as simple as saying that the Red Sox will improve by about 10 home runs next season. Having that threat – the type they once had with Ortiz – makes everyone around them better.
Ortiz hears the various options floating around the rumor mill but he’s hoping the Red Sox do more than talk about adding a power hitter. He wants to see them act on it.
"“We always talk about getting this or getting that. Hopefully, it’s not just throwing names out there,” Ortiz said. “It’s making it happen.”"
There are plenty of bats on the free agent market but few of them can provide the Red Sox with what Ortiz believes they need. Eric Hosmer is a great hitter but he’s not much of a home run threat. Logan Morrison, Mike Moustakas, and Jay Bruce are all capable of topping 30 home runs but are any of those guys leaving opposing pitchers shaking in their boots?
Not in the same way a Giancarlo Stanton or J.D. Martinez would. Certainly not anywhere near how Ortiz himself did for so many years in Boston.
Next: Pros/Cons of signing JD Martinez
It will certainly be more expensive to lure those superstars but it would be worthwhile. Not only for what those bats can do to improve the run production for the Red Sox but for what their presence would do to help their young players thrive.