When he comes to bat with two outs and one on in the bottom of the ninth, you no longer feel like he’s going deep. You don’t even feel like he’s going to poke a dinky single through the shift. You’re satisfied if he walks.
The David Ortiz of today is a far cry from the guy who almost single-handedly delivered defeat to the New York Yankees in the 2004 ALCS. Nothing will ever take away from what he did to completely change the identity of the Red Sox, but it is a simple truth: He shouldn’t be hitting in the heart of the order anymore.
Assuming general manager Theo Epstein somehow manages to re-sign left-fielder Jason Bay and doesn’t release J.D. Drew in the next four months, the Red Sox boast decent options for the No. 3 through 6 slots in the lineup.
First baseman Kevin Youkilis proved efficient hitting cleanup for the bulk of 2009, finishing the year with 27 homers, 94 RBIs and a .305 average.
Catcher Victor Martinez — who is probably the closest thing to a clutch hitter the Red Sox have had since Manny Ramirez was shipped out of town — should be hitting in front of Youkilis. After being traded from Cleveland to Boston at the 2009 deadline, Martinez hit .336 with a .405 on-base percentage, the best mark of his career. (However, given Youk’s team-best .413 OBP and Martinez’s penchant for clutch hitting, it might be worth flipping them in the lineup. That’s a story for another day.)
Bay spent much of the year in the No. 5 hole, and he had success there, finishing with a team-best 39 homers and 119 RBIs with a .537 slugging percentage. If Mike Lowell is healthy, he could be hitting either sixth or seventh — only because J.D. Drew seemed to thrive in the No. 8 spot in September.
So where does that leave Ortiz? It seems that we have three options: sixth, seventh and ninth. And the day David Ortiz becomes a No. 9 hitter is the day 90 percent of Red Sox Nation heads into early retirement from baseball fandom.
If Ortiz starts 2010 the way he started 2009 — going homerless throughout the first 40 games of the season — it is likely he’ll be dropped further in the order. But right now, at this very moment, he should be hitting sixth.
The simple truth is that Lowell is fragile and getting old. Since being crowned World Series MVP in 2007, he has missed substantial time in each of the past two seasons with serious injuries to his hip and oblique, and underwent offseason hip surgery in 2008. Given that, there are very few who expect him to be a productive component of this team in 2010 — despite the fact that he finished 2009 with a respectable .290 average, 17 homers and 75 RBIs in 119 games.
Ortiz's and Lowell’s numbers are comparable, but Ortiz’s are just a little bit better. Ortiz hit .238 with 28 homers and 99 RBIs in 150 games last year. Given each of their numbers, Lowell (445 at-bats) hit a home run about once every 26 at-bats. Ortiz (541 at-bats) went deep once every 19 at-bats. Ortiz projects to be more productive than Lowell, and although he may not be more productive than Drew — who went yard once every 18 at-bats in 2009 — manager Terry Francona seems partial to the idea of keeping Drew down in the order, a la Bill Mueller in 2004. If it works for Drew, why mess with it?
Last year, Ortiz’s numbers were the worst they’ve been since he was a 25-year-old nobody in Minnesota. It could change in 2010. He could bounce back. But given his age (he’ll be 34 on Nov. 18) and those allegations that we shall not mention, expecting a complete resurgence is a long shot.
Hitting sixth isn’t an insult. It’s not hitting third or fourth, but times have changed. This is who Ortiz is now.
NESN.com will be answering one Red Sox question every day in November.
Monday, Nov. 9: Who is the glue guy?
Wednesday, Nov. 11: Do Red Sox fans take J.D. Drew for granted?