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From Slap Hitter to Big Papi

As Ben Buchanan told you earlier, those of us from Red Sox Beacon will now be doing our Red Sox blogging here. I'm a Massachusetts native, and have been a Sox die hard since I was capable of knowing what that entails. Of course, at that point, my father warned me that rooting for Boston was both a blessing and a curse, given that whole problem they had winning throughout most of the 20th century. Thankfully, I stuck with it, and was rewarded twice last decade.

I'll be writing very often about both the Sox themselves and future Sox that haven't left the minors yet. In short, I'm glad to be here, and I hope you enjoy reading my work as much as I expect I will enjoy writing it for you.

We all know the old "April showers brings May flowers" adage, but in David Ortiz's case, we may want to rewrite the rhyme to "April struggling brings May slugging." As was discussed about a month ago, Ortiz looked like a slap hitter at the plate, as he was going the other way with the ball to hit singles, and was drawing loads of walks while avoiding strikeouts. While that is all well and good, the thing Ortiz is supposed to do--hit home runs in the middle of the Red Sox order--was just not happening. He had just two homers through April 29, the last day we checked in on this.

Again, Ortiz wasn't struggling at the plate--his absurd walk rate and high batting average (in what has started out as somewhat of a down offensive year across the league) resulted in a .317 True Average* (TAv), compared to last year's .314 mark--but the lack of power was a question that needed answering.

*True Average is an all-encompassing offensive rate stat, created by Baseball Prospectus--if you're familiar with wOBA, it's similar. It uses the batting average scale, though, and league average is always .260; this gives it a contextual familiarity that I prefer.

It's a question that requires no more searching for answers, though, as Ortiz has popped nine dingers this month, to give him 11 on the season.    

Ortiz is now up to .306/.378/.549, a line with basically the same power as his 2010 showing (.259 ISO to .243 this year), and with plenty of season left to catch up in that regard. In fact, in less than a month's time, he bumped his slugging percentage up by .126 points, bringing his season's TAv to .328, once again ahead of last year's pace.    

Most impressive is that Ortiz's power came without any serious sacrifices in his peripheral numbers. His strikeout rate sits at 10.1 percent, right around where it was when we last looked at his numbers. That is less than half of his career punch out rate, meaning Ortiz is making some serious contact. His walk rate has fallen dramatically since April--it's down to 10.6 percent--but there is nothing wrong with that figure, especially when it is paired with Ortiz's power output. You would also expect a drop if he was going to start attacking more pitches he could drive with authority--it's hard to argue with the results.

Alex Speier pointed out that Ortiz may be taking cues from Adrian Gonzalez, who has always had power the other way and an ability to adapt to the park he is in (a trait you have to learn if you want to succeed at Petco, as Gonzalez has), and that the effects of this are paying huge dividends. Somewhere*, the Twins are weeping.

*Last place in the Central

Ortiz leads the Sox in True Average (and is fourth in the American League), right in front of Kevin Youkilis and the aforementioned Gonzalez. Despite his advancing age and an April that had us worried his swing was slowing a bit--going the other way often and seeing a spike in your walk rate are both signs that a hitter's bat can't move quick enough to pull the ball with authority--he remains an integral part of Boston's lineup. If this continues, the Sox will have some difficult decisions to make over the winter, but, by the same token, if this continues, 2011 is going to be a year with plenty of power out of Boston.