The 2014 season hasn’t been a career year for Boston Red Sox DH David Ortiz. Has it been his worst? Not at all. However, nobody will look back at Ortiz’s 2014 campaign the way we gaze upon his 2013 season, where his 10th-place finish in the AL MVP voting does no justice to how great he performed and how much he meant to the 2013 Red Sox’ run to the World Series.
Overall in 2014, Ortiz is hitting .248 with 17 home runs, 45 RBIs, and an .823 OPS — not bad numbers by any stretch. But by Ortiz standards — a career .285 hitter with a lifetime OPS of .926 — it’s subpar. He looks like a 38-year-old slugger should. With that said, if there’s anybody a pitcher fears seeing more than Ortiz when it’s all on the line, you can count the names on one hand.
Just ask Casey Fien and Fernando Abad, the last two pitchers who have received a losing decision at the hands of the Red Sox. Against the former, Ortiz hit a game-tying home run in the 11th inning; he went one step further against the latter, clobbering a game-winner in the 10th.
There’s still nobody in the game you’d rather have if you need a big hit, and the numbers back it up.
FanGraphs has an index it uses to determine the ‘leverage’ of a situation. According to the site, Ortiz has had 44 plate appearances where the leverage index is above 1.5 this season, tied for eighth in the MLB. Among the players who have come up in such a situation — one of whom is Dustin Pedroia, with 45 plate appearances — Ortiz has been the best among the group.
Of those 44 plate appearances, Ortiz is hitting .400 (14-for-38) with a 1.271 OPS, five extra-base hits, four home runs, and 10 RBIs. All four home runs, which were to tie or to take the lead, have led to Red Sox wins.
Going back to 2003, Ortiz’s first season in Boston, he is hitting .297 with a .962 OPS, 67 extra-base hits, 31 home runs and 227 RBIs in 651 plate appearances in high-leverage situations. Of course, we don’t need FanGraphs to tell us how crucial Ortiz’s clutch hitting was to Boston’s three World Series titles since 2004, as he’s delivered hits that have not just been game-altering, series-altering or postseason-altering — but history-altering.
We hear cliches thrown about regarding Ortiz like ‘greatest clutch hitter’, ‘best when it counts’, and ‘the one guy you don’t want to face’. When we look at numbers like the ones FanGraphs laid out, you can see why those expressions are attached to his name. And when we see him deliver big hits like we’ve seen over the past five days, you can see why as well.
And while it may be cliche, it’s as true now as it was two years ago, five years ago, 10 years ago — there isn’t a hitter pitchers fear more when it’s all on the line than David Ortiz.