Seasons in Boston: 2003-2016
Honors: 3x World Series Champ, 10x All-Star, 7x Silver Slugger, 2013 World Series MVP, 2004 ALCS MVP
Red Sox Numbers: .290/.386/.570, 483 HR, 1204 R, 1530 RBI, 13 SB, 146 wRC+, 48.8 fWAR
Signature Season: 2007 .332/.445/.621, 35 HR, 116 R, 117 RBI, 3 SB, 175 wRC+, 6.3 fWAR
David Ortiz is, without question, the most important player in Red Sox history. His arrival in 2003 represented the beginning of a turning point in the franchise’s history. Yes, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Wade Boggs, Roger Clemens, Dwight Evans, Jim Rice, Bobby Doerr, Pedro Martínez, Cy Young and Tris Speaker outperformed him in FanGraphs WAR while here, but none of them had the impact that Ortiz had. Ortiz was an integral part of three World Series Championships and in all three of those you could make the argument that he was the most important part of those teams and that none of them get there without him. Even beyond that, he means so much to the city of Boston and New Englanders because of the confidence that he instilled with his play on the field and with his words.
Everyone in New England has heard the story of how Ortiz made his way to the Red Sox with the help of Martínez and Theo Epstein, but few take the time to look at the totality of his career. Outside of the playoff heroics, Ortiz compiled some truly Cooperstown-worthy numbers. He is one of only four players ever, along with Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds, and Albert Pujols, to hit over 500 home runs and 600 doubles, finishing with 541 and 632, respectively. He ranks 17th in MLB history in home runs and 12th in doubles. Even more impressively, Ortiz is eighth in extra-base hits at 1192. That total puts him behind only some of the biggest stars ever to play the game: Aaron, Bonds, Stan Musial, Babe Ruth, Pujols, Willie Mays, and Alex Rodriguez. It also puts him ahead of the greatest Red Sox ever to play the game including Jimmie Foxx, Williams, Speaker, Yastrzemski, and Manny Ramirez. Without his postseason heroics he’d still be firmly in the Hall of Fame conversation.
Most of Ortiz’s damage was done while with the Red Sox, with 1023 of his 1192 (86 percent) extra-base hits coming with the team. That total puts him third in team history behind Yastrzemski and Williams, but it took Ortiz just 1953 games to do that versus 2292 for Williams and 3308 for Yastrzemski. He’s second to Williams in home runs at 483, third in both RBI and doubles at 1530 and 524, respectively, and sixth in hits at 2079. He posted a career line of .290/.386/.570 while with the Red Sox which ranks him fourth in team history (min 1500 PA) in slugging percentage behind only Williams, Foxx, and Ramirez. His career mark is good enough for 25th best in baseball history. One of the most telling metrics of how feared a hitter was is intentional walks, and Ortiz is second only to Williams in team history.
Ortiz wasn’t just a compiler over his 14 seasons with the Red Sox, either. He had some truly remarkable single seasons. It was nearly impossible to pick a signature season for him because so many were outstanding in different ways. He led the league in RBI three times, and once each in home runs, doubles, slugging, on-base percentage, and OPS. Five times during his career he posted an OPS over 1.000 with a career best mark of 1.066 in 2007. Ortiz slugged his way into the Red Sox record books in 2006 when he broke Foxx’s team record of 50 home runs by smashing 54. That same year Ortiz had 85 extra-base hits, tied for tenth best in team history. He posted totals higher than that in 2004 (91, one behind Foxx’s team record), 2007 & 2005 (88) and 2016 (87). He owns five of the top ten extra-base hit marks in team history.
It was 2007 that I chose as his signature season because he did it all that year, posting career-best marks in batting average (.332), on-base percentage (.445), and wRC+ (175). He also had the second best slugging percentage of his career at .621 and second best extra-base hit total, as alluded to above. That postseason he also led Boston to a championship with a postseason wRC+ of 203.
We’ve gotten this far and we’ve only barely talked about the postseason performance. This is, of course, where Ortiz truly separates himself from nearly all others. In the three championship runs in 2004, 2007, and 2013 he posted wRC+’s of 222, 203, and 214 over the entirety of each respective postseason. To put that number in perspective, the only players since 1980 to post a 200+ wRC+ for the entire year were: Barry Bonds, who did it four times, and Mark McGwire in 1998. He hit like an all-time slugger every time he made a run through the entire postseason.
Over the course of his career Ortiz ranks first all-time among offensive players in Win Probability Added at 3.2. Second place on that list is Albert Pujols at 2.9. In 2004 alone he had three game-winning hits in the postseason: The clincher of the ALDS, and Games Four and Five of the ALCS comeback against the Yankees. His 2004 performance is the highest single-season WPA of all-time at 1.9.
Ortiz continued to do this type of thing with regularity with more than 20 game winning hits over the course of his career, which doesn’t even include his game-tying hits, of which his Game Two grand slam in the 2013 ALCS is his most famous. In the 2013 World Series, Ortiz put the team on his back as they came back from a 2-1 deficit to the Cardinals. He batted an otherworldly .688/.760/1.188 reaching base 19 times,earning himself MVP honors. This is arguably the greatest World Series performance ever.
Ortiz’s words also meant so much to the city of Boston during that regular season where he gave his famous speech following the tragic events of the marathon bombing.
In his final season with the Red Sox in 2016, at age 40, Ortiz led the league in slugging percentage, doubles, RBI, and OPS prompting many to think he should keep going. His feet would no longer let him, however, as his body had simply had enough. It was a fitting way for the greatest clutch hitter in baseball history to go out—on the top of his game. I wrote a very emotional take on Ortiz’s career and what he meant to the city following the playoff loss to the Indians. I still feel the same way and whether you look at Ortiz for what he meant simply as a baseball player or what he meant as much more than that it’s easy to see why he belongs on this roster and is undoubtedly its most important member.