Is David Ortiz simply old?

Bill Simmons has a theory on David Ortiz. I think it makes more sense than the PED-withdrawal thing people have been muttering about:

How many Latin players have been exposed for lying about their ages in the past few years? Hell, one of Papi’s best friends — Tejada — was found to have cut two years off his birth certificate when he was 17, er, 19 … you get the point. Watching Papi flounder now, I’d believe he’s really 36 or 37 (not 33) before I’d believe PEDs are responsible. In a recent game in Minnesota, he couldn’t catch up to an 89 mph fastball. Repeat: 89 mph!

That’s what happens to beefy sluggers on their way out: Their knees go, they stiffen up, bat speed slows and, in the blink of an eye, they’re done. Beefy sluggers are like porn stars, wrestlers, NBA centers and trophy wives: When it goes, it goes. You know right away.

So that’s my theory. I think he’s old(er). You may think something else. Whatever the case, it’s clear that David Ortiz no longer excels at baseball.

I still won’t rule out some weird injury, and whether he’s truly injured or not, I bet he spends a loooong stretch on the DL this year if for no other reason than they need to do something with him.

But it could easily be age. A lot of guys simply fall off a cliff at a certain age, and perhaps Ortiz finally just made it to the cliff.

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Comments

  1. tadthebad said...

    This conversation has been going on Boston sports talk radio since the season began.  I happen to agree with Simmons here.

  2. Wooden U Lykteneau said...

    I can’t find it here, but I’ve been accusing Ortiz of being a bit “Smiley” for at least a month

  3. Jack said...

    This guy posted the highest OPS of his career in 2007.  Has anyone completely lost it THAT fast? I know some players “fall off the cliff”, but Ortiz has taken it to a new level.

  4. J.W. said...

    Good to have an unbiased writer like Simmons on the case. But seriously, these things have a way of coming out, and Ortiz has been under more scrutiny than Tejada for many years now, so it seems unlikely that Papi could have kept it hidden for so long. (And yes, I realize this isn’t exactly an airtight argument; a lot of things are kept 100% hidden until, well, until they’re not hidden any more [see: Rodriguez, Alex or Ramirez, Manny].) But really, it isn’t too much of a stretch to believe that 33 would actually be the age at which Ortiz falls off the proverbial cliff. I believe it’s often been said that out of shape left handed power hitters who don’t hit for average rarely age well. Look at Travis Hafner. Sure he’s had injury woes, but for all we know Papi is also suffering from an assortment of ailments that really weigh his already weighty body down. He doesn’t have to be 37 to miss 89 MPH fastballs, just an old 33. And extra bodyweight and a lack of a good fitness regime are two things that will go a long way to making you an old version of any age.

  5. Craig Calcaterra said...

    Dale Murphy, 1987: 295/.417/.580, highest career OPS and OPS+, 44 homers

    Dale Murphy, 1989: .228/.306/.361

    Ages 31-33

  6. J.W. said...

    Also there’s this to consider. Simmons is lobbing a pretty severe accusation at David Ortiz based solely on WHERE HE WAS BORN and WHO HE ASSOCIATES WITH. I bet a lot of us would be pretty darn hot under the collar if we were accused of unethical deeds simply because of where we’re from and who we’re friends with. I’m stopping well short of saying Simmons’ accusation is border-line racist, but it certainly seems irresponsible,

  7. J.W. said...

    Thanks for filling in an example for me Craig. I’ve always wished that I had: A) a greater amount of historical knowledge about the game and its players, B) greater skill at naviagating baseball-reference. Hey, maybe if I work on the latter, I’ll fix the former! Now pardon me, I have to go introduce a couple birds to a stone I know…

  8. Wade said...

    Here come the theories.  Some lucky so-and-so is gonna guess it correctly, and they’ll be lauded as the next guru. Hindsight’ll kick in once Ortiz’s true achilles heel has been exposed, and most of the flacks will have ‘seen it coming’.  Until then, we’re all invited to the speculation party, and evidently everyone wants up on the dance floor.

    Andruw Jones was nigh written of by everyone after he took a colossal dump in LA.  And here he is stroking it okay in Texas.

    Nice article by Simmons though.  I’ll go with age until something better comes along…

    Happy Tuesday everybody.

  9. Craig Calcaterra said...

    That one wasn’t really from skill, J.W. I just happened to have lived through it as a Braves fan (I’m old), so I kinda know what Sox fans are going through with Papi.

  10. Jack said...

    Murphy also managed to bang out 20 home runs in 1989 and 24 in 1990. He was still a league average offensive player (if you go by OPS) for 3 years after his insane 87. Ortiz’s decline has been much more dramatic. He’s gone from MVP candidate to black hole. 

    And of course Murphy’s stats in 87 likely got a little boost from whatever was causing balls to fly out of parks that year…

  11. Jeff Berardi said...

    Ah, classic Bill Simmons, aka making stuff up for no good reason, other than ESPN apparently prints licenses for that. Seriously, the guy’s whole career is based on “well, I don’t have any hard evidence for this whatsoever, but doesn’t it make sense that [xyz]. And my dad and this one guy I used to drink beer and watch Sox games with in college totally agree we me, so it must be true!”. As other readers have pointed out, 33 is plenty old for a hefty slugger to fall off the face of the earth. No age-based conspiracy theories required here.

  12. J.W. said...

    Wooden U Lyketeneau—

    I think I get the gist of what you’re saying, and points for the snappy one-liner, but, to be clear, are you saying that I’m being naive in thinking that David Ortiz isn’t lying about his age? If so, then it’s more than possible that you’re right. On the other hand, As Craig pointed out with the Dale Murphy example, such a sudden decline at age 33 isn’t unprecedented, so why assume that Ortiz is lying about his age? Because he’s Dominican? That doesn’t seem quite fair to me. Because he’s “friends” with Miguel Tejada? I have friends who have cheated on their girlfriends, does that make me a cheater? I appreciate that you disagree with my view, I’d just appreciate it more if you explained your reasoning, rather than just introducing me to reality.

  13. MooseinOhio said...

    JW – I actually think Simmons’ was trying to ‘protect’ Ortiz by making an argument for something other than steroids, an issue that has disproportionately affected players from the DR, though he may have used another loaded rationale.  As one who has a strong radar for issues related to race and ethnicity I did not pick up on what you are sensing. 

    I do think that MLB needs to dig deeper into the issues associated with why so many Latin, specifically Domincan, players are getting busted with the PEDs test.  Combine that with the whole signing bonus shannigans (i.e. paybacks), drafting of underage players (by our standard) and baseball academies that may exploit more than they benefit and I think MLB doesn’t pass the smell test. 

    However that is a discussion for another day.  As for Simmons – I think he deserves a pass on this one.

  14. J.W. said...

    MooseinOhio—

    I hate filling up the comments section like this, but I just wanted to say that know that you mention it, I think you’re right. Simmons does seem to be looking to provide cover for Ortiz, and if there are any lurking issues about race and ethnicity, they’re pretty far submerged and I highly doubt that Simmons meant it in any negative way. As you say, he deserves a pass on this one.

  15. Kevin S. said...

    The other thing is, he’s not completely basing it on the fact that Big Pop-up is Dominican.  He points to the fact that the Sox were at least concerned about the veracity of his age before acquiring him, and he does acknowledge that Bill James went and Bill Jamesed the numbers and concluded his career arc was consistent with a player of his stated age.

  16. Wooden U. Lykteneau said...

    Craig and Moose have already done most of my legwork, but the REALITY is that Dominican players are not subject to the MLB draft, and the REALITY is that this gives Dominican (and other countries to which the First-Year Draft does not apply) players a very strong incentive to do whatever they believe is necessary to get signed, whether it’s lying about their age, taking PEDs, pimping themselves to buscones, etc.

    Thus, Simmons making the connection (read: suggesting) to a player with an incentive to lie (Ortiz) to a player that HAS lied (Tejada) with the exact same incentive to lie is not irresponsible, it’s logical. That’s REALITY.

  17. Bon said...

    For those taking notes at home, one can discern what is real from what is fantasy by the amount of capitalization used to relate the information.

  18. Jason B said...

    *Peers through binoculars*

    I think that’s Vlad Guerrero, swan-diving on the cliff right next to Papi.  Although he’s been coasting downhill on a less precipitous decline for a couple of years now.

    Different skill sets in their primes, for sure.  But both have now fallen from coveted middle-of-the-lineup bats to…something much, much less.

    Looking on down the road, you would expect that Ryan Howard and Prince Fielder may go cliff-diving rather than soft-landing in their later years.

  19. Jack said...

    Vlad suffered a serious injury – obviously not the same as Ortiz’s awful first two months. Check out Vlad’s numbers from last year…looks like a “soft landing” instead of a “cliff dive” to me.

  20. soxrock23 said...

    As a Boston fan, it sure is puzzling….Giambi was practically dead a couple years ago, but somehow rebounded to become semi-productive before departing NY. If I remember correctly, he went to the minors for a while before he got a grip. They might need to convince Ortiz to do the same.

  21. Kevin S. said...

    Actually, Giambi refused a minors assignment, in ‘05 I believe.  He actually bounced back to being better than semi-productive, posting a 4.5 WAR season in ‘05, 3.6 in ‘06 and 2.3 in ‘08.  Certainly not the return on investment the Yanks were hoping for, but given that he was left off the postseason roster at the end of his third year in New York and suffered from a benign tumor, it was quite the turnaround.  Don’t know if Big Papi can do the same thing without them figuring out exactly what it is that’s wrong with him.

  22. J. McCann said...

    I don’t think it’s racist when you have this kind of history.

    How many USA born players have been found to have lied about their age?  0

    How many Dominican born players (with poor central computer records, and simple documentation) have been found to have lied about their age? somewhere between 10 to 100 (including minor leaguers)

  23. Jack said...

    Of course nothing “fishy” can be proven without evidence…but we can make guesses based on what we know.  In this case, what would you say is more likely: Ortiz is this “super-rare” player that went from dominant offensive player to automatic out in 2 years….or something “fishy” (undisclosed injury, lied about age, PED’s) is the cause?

  24. Jack Marshall said...

    At the age of 24, after hitting .303 with an OPS of .838 the previous year, Red Sox first baseman George Scott hit .171, with an OBA of .235 and a .237 slugging percentage in 350 at bats. He started in a slump and never came out of it. No injury was ever reported. No explanation ever materialized. If Boomer had been 33, writers would have said that he had gotten old. If it was 2009 and not 1968, some people would have said he had been on steroids. Scott bounced all the way back in a couple of years and ended up winning some home run titles.

    The point is, sometimes strange things just happen, and the fact that they haven’t happened before or in the same way or to the same degree doesn’t prove, by itself, that something’s fishy. Anomolies exist, and Ortiz may simply be a super rare case of a player who just suddenly lost “it,’ whatever “it” is, at 33, and never found it again. Then the next time this happens, someone will say, well, it’s like what happened to David Ortiz.

  25. Jack Marshall said...

    I have no idea which is more likely. What happened to Steve Blass? Why did Steve Stone go from mediocrity to ace-for-a-year to mediocrity again? Do you have a theory about Scott? Have you ever seen anything like Cliff Lee from 2007 to 2008? Rich Gedman went from a top offensive catcher to a bum in one season: why? This happens in other fields all the time: a great writer suddenly has writer’s block. A great composer suddenly can’t come up with ideas, and nobody knows why. Brilliant talent is inherently mysterious, isn’t it? The “best” athletes are not always the most successful—-what is that “X-Factor’?  I’m just saying that “No reason we can identify” is just as likely an explanation as the ones you suggest.

  26. Jack said...

    Blass – while we can’t explain why he lost the strike zone, we do know that other players have gotten the yips and never recovered (Ankiel, Sax, Macky Sasser).  At least he has company

    Steve Stone – his ERA+ is pretty consistent all the way up until 1980 where he threw a ton of innings and predictably got hurt.

    George Scott – my theory on Scott is that he had some sort of injury that was hiding, was never diagnosed, or simply wasn’t reported.  After all, it was 1968. 

    Cliff Lee – Lee had shown flashes in the past.  It’s not uncommon for pitchers to finally master their command or whatever and show dramatic improvements.

    Gedman – never was THAT good so his “decline” wasn’t all that steep. 

    Saying “no reason we can identify” is a cop out. Multiple players from this era have fabricated their age and used PED’s – especially Latin players. Is it fair to lump Ortiz in with them without evidence? Of course not…but they are reasonable assumptions given his staggering and sudden decline.

  27. Jack Marshall said...

    That seems to me to be using profiling over character. Everything we know about Ortiz is that he is an honest guy with integrity—-unlike Manny, unlike A-Rod, unlike Tejada, unlike Canseco. When the Dominican who’s been banned from clubhouses on steroid suspicions was being slammed in the press, Ortiz came right out and said that he trained in his facility and knew him as a straight guy. That’s gutsy and principled: he knew admitting his association would be used to impugn him, and defended the guy anyway. Ortiz’s demonstrated character should count for more than his ethnicity or body type when you’re looking for reasons. He’s earned the right to have lying and cheating put at the bottom of the list.

    Re: Blass—he has company NOW. When it happened, nobody could find a comparison. Stone: that begs the question. He threw all those innings BECAUSE he was pitching like never before. Scott: good theory, but there’s zilch to support it. The Red Sox went over him carefully for injuries because they would have loved to disable him. Scott claims he was healthy. Lee: Again, begs the question. Most pitchers show “flashes,” but how many ever stunk so badly they were sent to the minors and then came back to win a Cy Young the next year? Gedman wasn’t great, maybe, but he was regarded as one of the top two catchers in the AL, he was young, and there were no injuries. Suddenly he was waiver fodder.

  28. Jack said...

    Of course Ortiz defended Presinal.  What was he supposed to say, “I knew this guy was shadey but I worked out with him anyway”? It’s like the Jack Ryan’s advice to the president…“we’re not just friends…we’re GOOD friends”

    For years Manny was portrayed as the fun loving/simple minded hitting savant who would never dabble in PED’s.  How’d that one work out?  Bottom line – many athletes and celebrities have well cultivated public images. Saying a guy his honest and has integrity just because he seems like a nice guy is a bit of stretch IMO.  And when you consider he was once suspended 10 games for throwing bats at an umpire, just how nice a guy he is up for debate. 

    Blass – So you’re saying there was never a player in the history of professional baseball prior to him who suffered an unexplained mental breakdown that affected performance?  That’s quite an assumption…

    Stone – maybe he was the original Cliff Lee…lol.  Regardless, his performance, while improved, was only half a run better than the year before in terms of ERA.  Not really a huge jump. Furthermore, it’s not like he became unhittable.  A 3.24 ERA in 1980 was only 7th best in the AL.  He went from ok to very good.  It’s not like he went from ok to great. 

    Scott – just because they couldn’t find an injury doesn’t mean there wasn’t one. I have a feeling MLB training staffs circa 68 weren’t exactly hotbeds of cutting edge medical knowledge and treatment. 

    Lee – Halladay was sent all the way to A-Ball after a solid stretch in the majors before he became a dominant ace.  Pitchers often don’t realize there full potential until after they’ve struggled for a few years or so. 

    Gedman – again, he was never dominant.  He was pretty good…and then we wasn’t.  Not all that uncommon.

  29. Jack Marshall said...

    If you say so. I don’t find any of those very persuasive rebuttals.

    Nobody EVER has thought Manny Ramirez was trustworthy. He has reneged on commitments and lied his whole career. You can be cynical about character if you want, but media scrutiny usually—-not always but usually—-lets the phonies shine through and the good guys reveal themselves. Ortiz’s rep is not manufactured. He is genuinely respected across the game, and Manny has never been respected unless he had a bat in his hand.

  30. Jack said...

    You don’t find them persuasive because they don’t jive with your “no reason we can identify” theory. Fact is, just about everything CAN be explained if you’re willing to look hard enough.

    Regardless, your examples are by and large not even remotely similar to what Ortiz is going through. Saying he is struggling due to “no reason we can identify” conveniently allows you to ignore the possible (and likely) reasons for his demise….reasons that would shatter your image of him. 

    Good luck with that…

  31. Jack Marshall said...

    Don’t intentionally misunderstand me, please. Obviously, there are reasons for a sudden, major change in performance skill. They don’t have to be obvious, bright line reasons. Some people are older physically at 33 than others at 40. The most incremental physiological changes suddenly reach a threshold, and you no longer can turn on a fastball. Accumulated injuries and age change your mechanics sufficiently that what once worked does no longer. That’s a natural process, and one hell of a lot more logical and fair a diagnosis in the absence of more than attributing dishonesty to an individual who has shown no evidence that he would stoop to it.

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