Walking Ortiz

There are many, many reasons why I despise the Intentional Walk. It’s anti-competitive. It’s often terrible strategy. It’s basically taking advantage of a loophole in the rules -- I’m not a fan of loopholes in general. Etc. But in Game 6 of the World Series, when the Cardinals intentionally walked David Ortiz three times (twice to their own huge disadvantage) I came up with another reason why I despise the Intentional Walk.

Think about David Ortiz for a moment. Great hitter. Awesome hitter. I’m not sure about all this Hall of Fame talk already -- I mean, up to this point, Ortiz’s career offensive WAR is still behind Carney Lansford, Tony Phillips, Amos Otis and Chet Lemon, and offensive WAR is basically his whole case -- but he’s great for the game, he has been fantastic in the postseason, and he still has some years left. I’m a huge fan.

But think about the REAL David Ortiz. This year he hit .308 and slugged .554. Very good numbers. The two seasons before this one, it was about the same (.312 average and .576 slugging). We all know this: David Ortiz is a fantastic hitter, one of the very best of his generation.

In the World Series though, coming into Game 6, Ortiz had been something else. He had been otherworldly. As people kept saying, he was hitting .733! He was slugging 1.267! He had Thor’s hammer! He had The Hulk’s rage! He had Iron Man’s suit! (Yes, I just watched The Avengers with the kids). You couldn’t pitch to this man. He was so hot that people blamed him for global warming. He was so on fire that people were using him for barbecues. You would not dare pitch to this man.

And the Cardinals, who absolutely should know better, fell for these fairy tales. David Ortiz got 11 hits in 15 at-bats in those first five games. Let’s start by using the right numbers here. He did not hit .733. That’s suggesting he had enough at-bats to make a batting average credible. No. He went 11 for 15. I don’t know whose idea it was to start giving batting averages for numbers that small, but they should stop. If a guy goes four for five in a game, we say that. We don’t say: Oh my gosh, he hit .800.

OK, so Ortiz went 11 for 15, which is obviously spectacular. It’s not the first time he’s gone cuckoo for a few games. In 2000, he had a five game stretch where he got 14 hits in 19 at-bats. He hit .266 the rest of the year. In July this year he had had three games in July where he went eight for 10 with two home runs. He went one for 15 the next four games. People want to believe in hitters who can go clutchy on demand. People want to believe that hot hitters will stay hot because they’re seeing the ball well, because it’s the size of a coconut coming up there, because they’re locked in. But there’s just so much data that shows these things to be myths. And even if you can’t buy into them being total myths, even if you just cannot stop thinking that some hitters ARE clutch and some hitters DO stay hot, maybe you can concede that there’s a lot less to those theories than meets the eyes.

Maybe you wouldn’t build a baseball STRATEGY around these things.

The Cardinals completely bought into what a man had done in 15 measly at-bats. They knew how good David Ortiz was before the series started. Suddenly, they believed he was actually much better than that. They threw their entire playbook out the window based on 15 at-bats. Instead of respecting David Ortiz for the player he really is, they worshipped him as an immortal and brought out a self-destructive intentional walk strategy based on a tiny sample size and the folklore of the World Series stage.

One thing I will take away from this Series was the one time in the middle of Game 6 when the Cardinals DID pitch to Ortiz. Nobody was on base so I guess it was OK. Tim McCarver, in his last game broadcasting for FOX, gushed about how Ortiz “just doesn’t swing through pitches.” He said this seconds before Ortiz swung through strike three.