Too Early to Worry About Slow Start to Season for David Ortiz

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Too Early to Worry About Slow Start to Season for David Ortiz In spring training, David Ortiz made the proclamation that he's usually a slow starter and that things would work out just fine.

With his miserable showing at the plate so far this season, one can only hope Ortiz is right and good things are ahead.

But is he right?

As the table below and to the right shows, Ortiz has generally improved after April, although the differences aren't as striking as one might think.

The first three seasons of Ortiz's career were spent shuttling between Triple-A and the majors for the Minnesota Twins, so these statistics need to be taken with a grain of salt. In 2000, the year he established himself at the big league level, he showed a disparity between April (.390 slugging percentage and zero home runs) and the rest of the year (.452, 10).

April
Year AB AVG OBP SLG HR
1997
1998 77 .299 .382 .558 4
1999
2000 41 .268 .388 .390 0
2001 81 .309 .385 .605 5
2002 55 .236 .313 .527 4
2003 52 .212 .311 .346 1
2004 83 .301 .383 .602 5
2005 90 .256 .306 .556 7
2006 97 .278 .391 .639 10
2007 91 .297 .402 .615 7
2008 103 .184 .294 .350 5
2009 .87 .230 .290 .333 0
2010* 22 .136 .208 .227 0
Career 879 .258 .346 .504 48
*Through games played April 12

The following two years showed a reverse trend: Ortiz was better in April than he was thereafter. Following 2002, he left the club and joined the Red Sox. He was about to embark on a stretch of historical proportions.

In his first year for Boston, his April struggles continued, although he only had 52 at-bats, roughly half as many as a bona fide starter should receive. At that time, he was battling with Jeremy Giambi for everyday designated hitter duties.

We all know who won that battle.

It is 2004 that represents Ortiz's most consistent season with respect to April and the rest of the season. But that consistency has proven to be an anomaly.

Following 2004, he has indeed struggled early in seasons and eventually turned things around.

Take 2005, for example. His power didn't miss a beat, but his batting average certainly did. In 2006 and 2007, there is not much separating his April numbers from the rest of the year, but there are noticeable differences.

In 2008, the wheels started falling off when it came to April. A similar situation occurred in 2009, except this time his April showers continued well into May before flowers blossomed. From June on, he was tied for fourth-best in the American League in slugging percentage.

Sure, Ortiz isn't the Big Papi he was from 2003-07, but no one else was, either. Since then, throwing out April, he's been one of the AL's better hitters — which is nothing to mope about.

After April
Year AB AVG OBP SLG HR
1997 49 .327 .353 .449 1
1998 201 .269 .367 .403 5
1999 20 .000 .200 .000 0
2000 374 .283 .361 .452 10
2001 222 .207 .302 .428 13
2002 357 .277 .343 .496 16
2003 396 .298 .377 .624 30
2004 499 .301 .379 .603 36
2005 511 .307 .411 .613 40
2006 461 .289 .417 .636 44
2007 458 .338 .454 .622 28
2008 313 .291 .394 .559 18
2009 454 .240 .340 .487 28
2010*
Career 4,315 .286 .382 .551 269
*Through games played April 12

The 2010 season is still young, but his numbers so far suggest he may be headed for his worst April ever. Yes, worse than 2009. His .136/.208/.227 line to date has many screaming for Big Papi to hit the pine or at the very least, enter into a platoon situation with Mike Lowell.

But there have only been seven games played to date. Seven games is far too small a time frame to get worked up about.

"The next seven games, [if] he goes 15-for-30, nobody is going to be complaining," Kevin Youkilis noted to MLB.com.

After all, through these same seven games, Dustin Pedroia has three home runs and eight runs batted in. Project these numbers over the rest of the year, and the diminutive second baseman would crank 69 home runs and knock in 185 RBIs.

Sorry to disappoint, but that's not happening. And no one's saying Ortiz's struggles at the dish are going to last.

"He's in a situation where he's under the microscope right now, and I think a lot of it is what happened last year," hitting coach Dave Magadan said. "For the most part, he's trying to get through that process of feeling good at the plate and feeling like he's got a chance on every pitch."

Manager Terry Francona also chimed in on the situation, saying "he's not making quick outs," while also telling WEEI that "you can't just treat these guys like chess pieces. I don't think that works. There's a human element to this, and probably a lot more than people realize. And sometimes we struggle."

While there is cause for concern about Big Papi's struggles, patience was the key in 2009, and it will be key again in 2010. The Red Sox lineup needs David Ortiz anchoring it.

A period of seven games at the beginning of April simply doesn't tell enough about whether Big Papi is capable of providing the offense the team needs. That can only come with more playing time.

If Ortiz ends up one of the best hitters in the AL again from June on, no one will take umbrage with that.

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