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David Ortiz Will Give You The Runs

Wait... that's not, um, quite... uh... never mind.

There are lots of ways to measure a player's offensive productivity. Some are more esoteric, some more complex, some simple and plain. But, no matter which one you pick, in 2011, David Ortiz was likely one of the best in the league. Ortiz was a top ten hitter last year in terms of OPS and wRC+. He had the highest fWAR of any DH as well, though admittedly that's a much smaller group. Any way you look at it, Ortiz was a monster at the plate last season. Now though, at least technically, Ortiz isn't a Boston Red Sock. He's a free agent, and though the market for his services may be limited, there exists a real possibility Ortiz won't be back in Boston next season.

I wanted to see how all that translates in terms of runs for the team. For fun, I pulled up the Kardashian Calculator Lineup Analysis Tool at Baseball Musings. The Lineup Analysis Tool attempts to tell you how many runs a given lineup will score over the course of a season. The way it works is you enter the On Base Percentage and the Slugging Percentage for each of the nine players in the batting lineup. The Tool then spits out a number of different projections, depending on how the lineup is structured.

For example, I plugged in the cumulative stats that the Red Sox generated at each position over the entire 2011 season. The tool gave me a Runs Per Game of 5.552 on the high side and 5.195 on the low. Multiply by 162 and you get a a team that the tool predicts to score between 899 and 842 runs. The midway point between those two totals is 871 runs. The 2011 Red Sox actually scored 875. Not too shabby. 

So, what happens when you take David Ortiz out of that lineup?

First you have to replace him with someone. The Red Sox will field a DH next year one way or the other. So I looked up what kind of production other teams got from their DH slots. Of non-Red Sox teams, the Blue Jays were right in the middle in terms of DH production. They got a .255/.320/.415 slash line from their DHs this past year. While that was a bit below the average it was the median number so I plugged that into the Lineup Analysis Tool. What happened?

Well, the Red Sox's scoring dropped. Duh. We knew that was going to happen. Take a good hitter out and replace him with a mediocre one and you're bound to lose runs on the other end. The question is, by how much was the team's scoring hurt? The non-Ortiz 2011 Red Sox scored between 853 and 801 runs on the season. The midway point between those two is 827. The difference between 871 (I'll use the projected number) and 827 is 48. That means, on average, Ortiz was worth about 48 runs* or almost five wins (ten runs is generally accepted to equate to a single win) to the 2011 Red Sox. Fan Graphs calculated Ortiz's fWAR to be 4.2 in 2011, which is a bit over four wins. So they're in the same ballpark.

*Of course, the tool isn't exact. There is a scenario where the Ortiz-less lineup outscores the lineup with Ortiz. That is on the outer bounds of likely, however.

As I said above, the 2011 Red Sox scored 875 runs, the most in the majors. In fact, only three teams last season, the Red Sox, Yankees, and Rangers, scored more than 800 runs. The Red Sox outscored the World Series winning Cardinals by 113 runs. The Red Sox were so far ahead of most teams that I think you could make a credible argument that, assuming everything stays the same, the Red Sox don't actually need to resign Ortiz. Of course we know assuming that everything stays the same is a fools errand.

The argument you often hear during the off season is that it's acceptable to play someone who won't be a very good hitter because the team has a bunch of other guys who we know can hit. They'll make up for the one that can't. As in, "Don't worry about Kevin Cash at catcher. Sure he'll hit .150, but that's why we got Adrian Gonzalez." This is true except when there are injuries (Red Sox fans know nothing about those), or down turns in performance, which I will remind you, only happen every single year. This is in fact, exactly why the Red Sox should re-sign David Ortiz. A player who can make that much of a difference to the offense can make up for a lot of unknowns. Ortiz was one of the reasons the Red Sox led the league in runs scored despite getting very little production from right and left field. Nobody expected those going into the season, especially not in left, but they happened, and Ortiz (and many others) were there to pick up the slack.

So, to wrap this up, the title, David Ortiz Will Give You The Runs, is completely true, or at least was last season. Other than the wrist injury which lingered over two seasons, Ortiz has been a monster at the plate almost since setting foot in Fenway Park back in 2003. While I won't argue it's a repeatable skill, he has nonetheless authored some of the most amazing and vital moments in Red Sox history. He's the best at what he does and considering what he provides to the team, there is little reason for them not to retain him.

Right now the Red Sox are in a waiting period. They're hoping that other teams make offers to Ortiz in order to prove that the money Ortiz wants won't be available to him. They're gambling that this is a better course of action than potentially hurting his feelings by offering him what they think he's worth. Time will tell if the strategy works or not. One hopes it does. If not, and Ortiz ends up playing some where else in 2012, I think the Red Sox and their fans will miss the runs.