A writer is supposed to be neutral right? But perhaps when a site is called, "The Flagrant Fan," that's a little silly. As such, there has to be the admission that David Ortiz is this writer's least favorite player in the game of baseball. The Fan hates everything about the guy. The way he spits into his batting glove [ewww], the way he looks so self-assured and cocky, the way he's called, "Big Papi," all grate on the nerves to the nth degree. Of coarse his heroics leading to the obnoxious Red Sox Nation back in 2004 is reason enough to hate the guy. And then there was his calling out of players who were confirmed PED users only to find out that he, himself, was on that list of shame. Never has a player been so rooted against from this corner of the planet.
With such a grand and noble hatred, this writer rejoiced when David Ortiz struggled in 2009. His demise was gleefully predicted...until he had a much better second half and the Fan had to apologize. Then there was more happiness when Ortiz started 2010 so poorly that his manager was getting serious flak for sticking with Ortiz. His manager was right and again, this Fan had to eat crow on those feelings that David Ortiz was done as an effective player. 2010 ended up as a very successful season for the king of designated hitters. Crap. The apologetics were so bad the Fan thought the Red Sox had no choice but to pick up Ortiz's option for 2011.
This season, there were no slow starts. Ortiz hit even when the Red Sox started poorly. He was their only constant. He never gave anyone any reason to question his presence in the Red Sox line up. All he has done all year is hit and hit and hit and hit. So what's the reason for this year's version of the now-annual David Ortiz apologetic? Well, the guy has simply showed that the hatred has no reason for existing.
Ortiz was unbelievable in that 2003, 2004 stretch as he came up big over and over again. Whether his performance was enhanced at the time is irrelevant. He wasn't the only one. He came up so big so often that it was just crazy. His legend was earned. When he was just so-so in 2008 and 2009, his walk rate was unjustified. Pitchers were still fearing Ortiz and simply refused to go right after him when he had two strikes on him. Some of that fear factor had worn off. But that fear became more justified in 2010 and is back in full bloom in 2011 as Ortiz has been outstanding. Alastair Ingram over at Fenway Faithful Report has an eloquent take on the fear being back in pitchers. David Ortiz is as good as ever.
Drat. So again, for the third straight year, this Fan has to humble himself in the sight of the world and state for the record that David Ortiz very often hits the ball very well. He is hitting lefties again, as Ingram pointed out so well. For several years, he couldn't do that. His strikeout rate has tumbled dramatically. That rate was at 24.8 percent in 2009 and 28 percent in 2010. It's only 11.8 percent this year. Perhaps this version of David Ortiz doesn't have to be the man anymore in the Red Sox line up. Adrian Gonzalez has ably assumed that mantle to become the one guy in that line up you have to get out. Ortiz is just a cog now in a great revolving wheel of a great line up. Despite being one of the most lumbering and worst base runners in the majors, he's scored 34 runs already.
David Ortiz is batting .325. His on base average is .392. He is slugging at a .594 clip. His wOBA of .427 is easily his highest since 2007. This Fan doesn't buy the crap about players playing much better in their contract year. But Ortiz and Jose Reyes are making that stance a little tenuous. Both are playing the snot out of the ball and having huge seasons. Ortiz has bucked recent history and has not started the season in a deep hole. Since he traditionally murders the ball in the second half, what will this year bring? That's scary to even think about.
Once again, David Ortiz is a force. Once again, this Fan stands open-mouthed and has to come to grips with reality. Sometimes life really is that "B" word.