Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Nice Try, Sports Guy

It was only a matter of time until Bill Simmons weighed in on the demise of David Ortiz. We've already had some fun with it, but not nearly as much as our buddy Simon on Sports who did some digging on FanGraphs and found out that they estimate Ortiz's value on the free agent market to be negative $5.2M

In his most recent ESPN The Magazine column, Simmons sounds like he's left Papi for dead:
At first, we Sox fans thought we were just watching an early-season slump. Then three weeks passed and we started worrying. The guy couldn't hit the ball out of the infield. His bat was so slow he had to cheat on fastballs; even then, he couldn't catch up. One swing a night made him look like the drunkest batter in a beer league softball game. Look, I've seen slumps. This was different. This was the collapse of a career.
I'm not ready to throw dirt on the guy quite yet. His struggles weren't quite as bad as Ortiz, but at the begining of last year, everyone had completely given up on a 36 year old Carlos Delgado and he ended up raising his OPS by over 200 points in the second half.

Like I did when the Manny HGC story came out, Simmons assumed that there was a good chance Papi's torrid mid-00's were a product of the juice, but he's since changed his tune. 
He just looked old. It reminded me of watching Jim Rice fall apart in the late '80s, when he lost bat speed overnight the way you and I lose a BlackBerry. That was painful too.

By mid-May, I was pondering another theory: Maybe Papi was older than he claimed. In Seth Mnookin's book Feeding the Monster, he recounts the story of how Boston nearly blew the chance to acquire Ortiz because they were concerned that he was much older than the media guide said.
This is an intersting theory, and right off the bat it seems to make a lot of sense. High profile Dominican guys like Vlad Guerero and Miguel Tejada have both been busted for fudging their ages recently, so the when performance seems out of line, it's reasonable to question that. 
Watching Papi flounder now, I'd believe he's really 36 or 37 (not 33) before I'd believe PEDs are responsible.
If he was three years older, it would make it more likely to me that Ortiz used PEDs.

On the surface, Ortiz being older seems to explain away his decline and works to rationalize him at this stage of his career. However, Ortiz's prime already took place in his late 20's and early 30's. If you take Simmons' lower estimate and add three years to his age, he would have hit 10 home runs at the age of 27, when a player is nearing the end of their ostensible physical prime. 

In Papi's defense he made a remarkably steady rise to being a power hitter, increasing his home run totals and slugging percentage every year from 2000 to his apex in 2006. The incredible (and somewhat suspicious) thing about Papi's carrer arc is that the biggest jump in home runs (+11) came when he went from the 12th best home run hitting park in 2002 (HHH Metrodome), to the 25th (Fenway), a layout that does not favor left handed hitters. 

Papi's late peak wounldn't be totally unprecedented. Raul Ibanez's highest home run total was 33 at age 34. However Ibanez didn't fall off a cliff like Papi. Despite hitting in Seattle, one of the very worst home run hitter's parks in the league, Ibanez continued with 21 and 23 HRs over the next two seasons and will almost certainly set another high water mark this year. Jason from IIATM,S can't help but wonder if something in up with him too

Every player ages, but not too many become totally useless in the matter of one season like Ortiz has, or goes on a sudden homer binge at age 37 like Ibanez. Unfortunantely for them, a significant portion of those who have these dramatic late career fluctuations are linked to steroid use, so the suspicions are going to swirl. 


  1. A classic Sports Guy Boston apology. Remember his column after the Manny thing, where he essentially danced around the fact that the Sawx '04 magic was as tainted as any other team's steroid era glory days (after he no doubt thoroughly enjoyed all those Yankee names popping up in the Mitchell report-and wow that thing sure got irrelevant fast)? The guy knows NBA back to front... and that's it. Otherwise he's a joke.

    And I'm 99% certain that Big Sloppy heard me screaming at him that he weighs 3 times his batting average from my seat 15 rows back at Rogers Centre on Sunday. Alright, so it's not as funny now that he's not a complete big fat mess, but my entire section appreciated.

    "Red Sox Nation... What a bunch of bullshit that is." -- My hero, HankenStein

  2. I for one would like to see MLB just release the testing list and let everyone see who the bums are. Of course, neither MLB nor MLBPA has any interest in seeing that list made public so it'll never happen. Still, it would certainly put a lot of things into perspective.

    I wonder how Manny's boobs are coming along now that he's off the HCGT.