Flags Fly Forever: an Ode to David Ortiz

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

If there is a purpose to a Major League Baseball team, beyond bringing professional baseball to their community, it is to win a World Series. This is the stated goal of every franchise (although some franchises obviously do not make the financial commitments necessary to win) and thus the most notable achievement in the sport. As such players who proved crucial, or provided spectacular moments during, World Series championships frequently earn credit for those accomplishments by BBWAA voters and the Veterans Committee. To compile a short list:

-Bill Mazeroski was inducted into the Hall of Fame; his Game 7 home run, the first to ever end a World Series until Joe Carter, played a role in his induction into the Hall of Fame

-Jack Morris' Game 7 10 inning shutout played a crucial role in arguing his grit and determination

-Mariano Rivera's postseason career, in my opinion, was crucial to his legacy as arguably the best postseason pitcher of all time

-Reggie Jackson, or "Mr. October" if you prefer, has a tremendous World Series legacy which helped make him a first ballot selection

-Christy Mathewson had a tremendous World Series career which included three shutouts in the 1905 World Series. He would play in three more World Series, tossing eight more complete games (only one more shutout)

-Sandy Koufax's postseason heroics are entirely why he is in the Hall of Fame and are well known

-Bob Lemon was the Cleveland World Series hero

This is not an exhaustive list of course and plenty of other players earned induction at least partially because of their time in the postseason. Joe Gordon comes to mind, a start second baseman who played around WWII and won several World Series for both New York and Cleveland. Derek Jeter's postseason heroics need little mention. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz all pitched well for Atlanta in the postseason. As did Randy Johnson, who shared 2001 Sportsmen of the Year honors with Curt Schilling. Some players receive recognition they otherwise would not due to postseason heroics. Joe Carter has appeared on numerous Veterans Committee ballots despite playing a relatively (to the Hall of Fame) uninspiring career, but he did end the 1991 World Series.

That being said, the application of postseason greatness is unevenly applied. Bret Saberhagen was the 1985 World Series MVP and a generally better pitcher than Jack Morris but fell off the ballot after one cycle and has not been considered since. Luis Tiant was tremendous in the World Series for Boston tossing two complete games and a shutout and lost out to the comparatively mediocre Jim Kaat (although Kitty did win a World Series at the end of his career). Lance Berkman, as Jay Jaffe recently pointed out, was superb in the postseason and yet fell off after a single ballot.

Unlike the regular season there is no proper mathematical equation to determine the 'value' of postseason heroics. Frankly that's as it should be as the value of a World Series title, as many on this board will argue endlessly, is not exact. To some the World Series means comparatively less than the regular season, and truthfully the regular season is a far better measure of a players' skill than the comparative randomness of five and seven games series.

That being said: David Ortiz transcends this dichotomy.

David Ortiz, 1B (DH): 55.3/35.2/45.3 (29th); AVG 66.0/42.4/54.2

David Ortiz was the offseason hero of his time. From 2003 to 2016 Ortiz tortured postseason pitchers and led Boston to three of its most recent four World Series titles. The moments are the moments to briefly recap them:

David Ortiz walked off the Oakland Athletics in Game 4 of the ALDS in 2004

Big Papi then walked off the Yankees in the next series to force a Game 5

Ortiz walked the Yanks off again in the next game with a game winning single in the 14th

Ortiz tied the Cards in Game 2 of the World Series with a Grand Slam in 2013

This list is not comprehensive, and it should not have to be: David Ortiz batted a combined .289/.404/.543 (0.947 OPS) in his postseason career including a just stunning .455/.576/.795 (1.372 OPS!) in the World Series. He took home series MVP honors twice in the 2004 ALCS when Boston overcame a 0-3 deficit against New York to win the ALCS and the 2013 World Series, where the Cards ran scared of him basically every game.

Let's just be honest here: Ortiz could have won MVP honors in numerous postseason series. He batted .528 and slugged 1.000 in the 2004 ALDS against Oakland. He batted .308 and got on base at a .474 clip in the 2004 World Series. There are other series where he also simply dominated the opposition. Ortiz, in 370 postseason plate appearances, was a better hitter than he was in the regular season: and David Ortiz was superb in the regular season.

Look, Ortiz's career 141 OPS+ is damn good, even if he was aided by Fenway Park. A 141 OPS+ is better than every non-PED tainted candidate on the ballot, including the already previewed Gary Sheffield. Let's look at Ortiz's entire batting line:

.286/.380/.552 with 2,472 H, 1,419 R, 1,768 RBI, 632 2B, 531 HR, 1,750 SO-1,319 BB in 10,091 PAs

The 541 HR is clearly Hall of Fame worthy and ranks 17th all time. Less known, but equally impressive in my view, is Ortiz's 632 doubles which ranks 12th all time. Over the course of his career David was an extra base hitting machine ranking in the top 10 of the league 10 times and led his league four times. Ortiz hit for solid averages, but also walked a ton ranking in the top 10 nine times, leading the league twice. He ranked in the top 10 in the league in slugging percentage 11 times, leading once, and on-base percentage six times, leading once. Overall: David Ortiz was simply a ferocious presence in the batters box.

Let's compare David Ortiz to the recently elected Tony Oliva:

David Ortiz

.286/.380/.552 (OPS+ 141) with 2,472 H, 1,419 R, 1,768 RBI, 632 2B, 531 HR, 1,750 SO-1,319 BB in 10,091 PAs

Tony Oliva

.304/.353/.476 (OPS+ 131) with 1,917 H, 870 R, 947 RBI, 329 HR, 220 HR, 645 SO-48 BB in 6,880 PAs

There are similarities, but even considering the era difference which depressed Oliva's slugging percentage (Oliva was a good slugger leading the league in doubles four times, and slugging percentage once), Ortiz got on base more, and hit more home runs. Ortiz did not quite hit for the same batting average but made up for it in walks. While Ortiz frequently ranked in the top 10 in on-base percentage: Oliva never ranked higher than 4th. Furthermore, Ortiz played much longer than Oliva and importantly performed much better in October. David Ortiz may be the greatest World Series batter of all time. In Oliva's lone World Series he batted an anemic .192.

Now, one thing which Oliva did do that Ortiz did not is play the field, and I am confident in believing that cost Tony a longer career. Oliva played right field for his entire career until 1973, and while Oliva did attempt to save his knees the last few years of his career it was too little too late. Perhaps if, like Ortiz, Oliva would have been able to play longer and accumulate some more impressive counting stats. But Oliva played in right, and won a Gold Glove there in 1966 (which Baseball-Reference, at least, thinks he might have deserved). Ortiz played a poor first base and spent nearly 90% of his career as a designated hitter.

Should that matter? JAWS would suggest that it should: Ortiz only ranks 29th at first base in JAWS, which is not particularly high. That being said, while JAWS thinks Helton was a much better player than Ortiz: I personally think Ortiz was a much better hitter than Helton. I would take Ortiz over Fred McGriff as well. I do take this into consideration.

But, in the case of David Ortiz, I think his postseason excellence overcomes his defensive limitations. In World Series batting rankings with a minimum of 40 plate appearances (which I classify as eight full games worth of appearances, or two World Series) David Ortiz ranks:

1st in Batting Average

1st in On-Base Percentage

1st in OPS

2nd in Slugging Percentage

There just have been few players who dominated October like David Ortiz, and basically all of the counting stat leader boards are dominated by players who received well over 100 plate appearances in the World Series. Since Boston swept all three World Series David played in: he only got 59. In large part because of David Ortiz: Boston both broke its 86 year long World Series drought and then added two more rings. Boston's postseason success is unusual in the modern era, and David Ortiz is a big reason for that success.


At the end of the day the Baseball Hall of Fame is quite subjective and World Series (along with postseason performance in general) is not a black and white area to evaluate. There are some players whom, I think, would not belong in the Hall without their postseason play. Sandy Koufax is a good example; without his World Series heroics Koufax's career is too short, in my opinion, to earn induction. David Ortiz falls into a similar category. Ortiz was unquestionably a great regular season hitter, but I do not think his regular season play on its own merits induction. I think it's important to explain this, and the obvious comparison is Edgar Martinez.

Edgar Martinez was simply a better hitter than David Ortiz. Edgar's OPS+ is higher (147 v 141), he got on base more (.418 v .380) and while his slugging percentage was lower (.515 v .553) the era in which Edgar played and his on-base advantage outweigh his lack of homeruns. But here is another thing about Ortiz: he's really specialized in a way even most bat first players were. Unlike Edgar, Ortiz provided no defensive value; he was -16 runs in incredibly little time on the field (only 278 innings!) which results in a 33 run difference between the two. Ortiz was also an atrocious base runner: B-Ref gives him -51 runs below average (Fangraphs has him at more). Edgar, while awful, was not quite as awful as Ortiz. In short WAR estimates Ortiz was worth 13 wins less than Edgar, despite accumulating nearly 1,500 more plate appearances. That's not a difference you can easily reconcile.

In this case the postseason truly does flip from no to yes.

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