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.