AL All-Star Report: David Ortiz Is Back In Full Glory For Boston

Boston Red Sox’ designated hitter David Ortiz is experiencing more than just a career renaissance, where an in-decline veteran player is able to arrest the pattern and be productive again for a short burst at the end of his career. Ortiz is indeed doing that, but as we approach the time for final All-Star selection, he’s doing much more—with a .397 on-base percentage and .623 slugging percentage, Ortiz is hitting just like he did in the glory days of his career and that of recent Red Sox history, and in a top-heavy group of DH’s, he deserves a spot in Kansas City on July 10.

Ortiz has been given up on—or close to it—twice in his career. The first time came in Minnesota. After gradually improving his power from 10 to 18 to 20 home runs over 2000-02, he was given his release. The Red Sox, acting on a tip from the-ace pitcher Pedro Martinez picked him up. For as many games as Pedro won for Boston in the mound, his role as scout was almost as important in setting the stage for what was to come. Ortiz hit 208 home runs over the next five years, had on-base percentages that reached the stratosphere, always close to .400 and sometimes close to .450. He earned the nickname “Big Papi”, became a Boston icon and delivered some of the team’s biggest hits on its way to two World Series titles and the evisceration of the franchise legacy of postseason failure.

Then an injury in 2008 brought him back to earth, though with a .369/.507 stat line and 23 home runs in a partial-season he was still productive. 2009-10 marked the trying times. He got off to an atrocious start. When he hit his first home run of the season in early May it electrified the Fenway crowd, and as a Sox fan it was almost as meaningful as seeing him hit any of his legendary walk-offs. He bounced back to hit 28 home runs for the year, but the on-base percentage was back down to .332, in the area that caused the Twins to give up on him. 2010 started off similarly poorly and whether we loved him or not, most of us who follow the team thought the time had come for the hitter who was listed at 34 years old then and probably older.

But he proved us wrong—by the end of ’10, the numbers were .370/.529 and 32 home runs. Last year Big Papi gained further steam, lifting his stat line to .398/.554, not far off the glory days and this year he’s blasting away full throttle and keeping an injury-riddled team in striking distance. When it comes to MVP voting, I’m one who has an anti-DH bias—I wouldn’t rule anyone out, but that you don’t play half the game has to be factored in—but there’s no bias that can deny Ortiz his rightful place as king of American League DH’s and one of the great sports legends in his city’s history.

There are only three other American League DH’s having seasons worthy of even getting mentioned as All-Star caliber. Billy Butler should be a hometown favorite for Kansas City fans at the All-Star game, as the Royal hitter is at .357/.511 and been the most consistent offensive player on a team that has to score a lot of runs each night. Edwin Encarcion in Toronto helped keep the Blue Jays’ offense afloat when Jose Bautista struggled early, and Encarcion’s 22 home runs are one more than Ortiz, while the OBP is an excellent .360. Finally we come to another comeback player, Chicago’s Adam Dunn. He may strike out at record rates, he may only hit .214, but he draws walks by the boatload and his hitting home runs consistent result in a nice .359/.523 stat line. He’ll win Comeback Player of the Year and with a strong second half can join Encarcion and Butler in pushing Ortiz for this spot when TheSportsNotebook picks its final All-Star teams in September.

Moving down the ladder, I mentioned Oakland’s Seth Smith in yesterday’s corner outfielder feature, as injuries have gotten him time in left field, but he’s ideally the team’s DH and at least he gets on base, to the tune of a .380 OBP, even if the power is lacking. Ryan Doumit for Minnesota is at a tolerable .332/443 stat line and at the very least isn’t a big liability.

The same can’t be said for three disappointing players, and that’s Kendry Morales (Los Angeles), Michael Young (Texas) and Luke Scott (Tampa Bay). Morales is healthy for the first time in two years but is having trouble showing any consistency after a series of foot injuries. Young, with a terrible .304/.363 line may be showing his age, and Scott’s had injury problems and while he has nine home runs in 180 at-bats, that’s about all he has.

Jesus Montero (Seattle), Jose Lopez (Cleveland) and Delmon Young (Detroit) are also unproductive, although in their case it’s not as big a disappointment, except perhaps for Montero, a promising prospect who’d gotten out to a good start. The Yankees and Orioles have each had enough injury problems that you can’t really slot anyone at this spot. New York expected Raul Ibanez to fill the role, but we ended up covering him yesterday in the outfield, as an injury situation forced him into the field and it’s been a platoon at DH since. Baltimore is also experimenting with different options, none of which have proved satisfactory.