David Ortiz is one of the most recognizable baseball players in the world. If we brought out the reliable Nana Index, I hazard a guess that David Ortiz would do as well as anybody. More people know who David Ortiz is than could pick Miguel Cabrera out of a lineup and is at least double the amount of people who can claim to have heard to words “Mike” and “Trout” in the same sentence.
This doesn’t mean David Ortiz is the best baseball player. He is just one of the most recognizable. The most iconic, if we dare head in that direction. His lovable bear persona play into this but, more than anything, David Ortiz seems to play the best when the most people are watching.
Over his career, David Ortiz has stepped up in some huge moments. These moments are not distributed equally. David Ortiz is known for being a great hitter – it’s really the only thing he brings to the table as one of baseball’s rarest creatures – the full-time DH. But for his career David Ortiz is about as good a hitter as Matt Holliday. David Oritiz is much much much more recognizable than Matt Holliday
Call it an East Coast bias is you like but the fact that David Ortiz has 352 career postseason plate appearances, posting a .296/.403/.554 line in across those October ABs. Matt Holliday actually has a comparable amount of postseason ABs and yet, Big Papi is as close to a household name as exists in baseball. Career National Leaguer Matt Holliday is…not.
The above link shows that, according to Wins Above Replacement, Matt Holliday has been much more valuable to his teams than Oritz through similar ages. The total value of contracts signed by the two players agrees with this line of thinking.
But most fans don’t care about value. Casual fans who only turn in for the playoffs care about watching their team, or adopted team, win the World Series. And with two rings for Ortiz (and nearly a third) compared to one for the Cardinals outfield tells you all you need to know about the relative notoriety of these two players. This sort of fan creates legends, not detailed accounting and adherence to run probability matrices. David Ortiz wins the hearts and minds even as Matt Holliday wins nine-figure contracts.
David Ortiz’s abilities in big moments aren’t representative of greater skill when the situation is the most important as Ortiz’s postseason and clutch numbers closely mirror his overall numbers. But those playoff hits go a lot farther to helping his team win titles and compete in playoff games. It is how a great player becomes a legend and a career designated hitter becomes a Hall of Famer.
This postseason, David Ortiz has grown from a folk hero to a demigod. A vital postseason performer to one of the most celebrated playoff starts of all time. This World Series, he’s earned every single one of those plaudits. David Ortiz isn’t beating the Cardinals single-handedly but reaching base safely in nine consecutive at bats sure counts as something.
The Cards have no answer for Ortiz, who looks as though he has Cardinals manager Mike Matheny spooked and is seeing more hittable pitches than his tuned-in swing deserves. A slugger of his pedigree gives the pitcher little margin for error at the best of times, right now he’s crushing everything he gets.
David Ortiz's World Series in heat-map form pic.twitter.com/sWN0JkJ9hM
— Mark Simon (@msimonespn) October 29, 2013
The Cardinals continue shifting against David Ortiz, trying to pitch him away and have him roll over offspeed pitches for harmless outs. He isn’t rolling over and the Cards pitchers are leaving too many pitches inside on the big lefty.
Win or lose, David Ortiz is already the World Series MVP. His numbers are absurd even before you recall the grand slam he missed thanks to the final few inches of Carlos Beltran‘s glove. Because of the rules in the National League park, Ortiz stepped in and played first base for the last three games, acquitting himself well (by not falling down or throwing the ball into the dugout.)
The clutch stats debate died long ago. The internet does not want for evidence of the fallacy of clutch stats and the hot hand. David Ortiz’s past performance in clutch situations is not particularly predictive of his future performance in high leverage spots. This is not a groundbreaking insight.
But Big Papi’s hits live long in the memory. The impact David Oritz had on the Red Sox recent past only grows as the years go by, even if they do not predict the future. Nobody, casual fans most of all, need the Sox DH’s hits to tell them anything about the past as they already inform so much of their memories – David Ortiz gets hits when his team needs them most.
It doesn’t really matter if the number of big hits for Ortiz grows in the memory or significance of those same fans – David Ortiz the man will never measure up to David Ortiz the Larger-than-Life legend. But it doesn’t matter – they are one in the same.
There are enough great hits forever immortalized on self-shot youtube videos and on the Baseball Reference resume of the Red Sox talisman that a little embellishment isn’t hurting any one. Except the Cardinals, of course. David Ortiz’s hits keep hurting them in a very real way. Poor Kevin Siegrist might never be the same. There are a lot of Kevin Siegrists in Ortiz’s past – that’s what makes him one of the most memorable baseball stars of the last decade.