David Ortiz - Hall of Famer?
Over on the Projo Bulletin board, there's been a bit of a discussion about whether or not David Ortiz is a potential Hall of Famer. And the comparison that comes up is, of course, Jim Rice.
Some people are going to be surprised or offended by this, but here it comes:
David Ortiz has been a much better hitter than Jim Rice.
I don't know if Ortiz will be a Hall of Famer some day. But I'll say this - he's done enough through age 31 for it not to be a ludicrous question. Let's look, briefly, at what Ortiz has done vs. Jim Rice (who is, in my opinion, not a Hall of Famer, but is close, and will probably get in next year.)
|Ortiz through age 31||1192||4215||738||1219||315||12||266||880||651||.289||.384||.559||139|
|Rice through age 31||1493||5963||921||1804||272||69||304||1076||451||.303||.353||.524||133|
|Best five contiguous|
|Best five overall|
We include OPS+ because that adjusts for league context, and Ortiz has certainly played in a higher offense era than Rice did. Regardless, as compared to their contextual cohort, Ortiz has had a much higher peak than Rice did.
At Ortiz' age, Rice had better counting stats by virtue of having played in more games. But his rate stats weren't anywhere near as good, led by the huge difference in OBP. And not all of the counting stats were better - despite the huge plate appearance discrepancy for Rice, Ortiz had 200 more walks. It's clear that Rice never had five years as good as Ortiz' last five, never mind five consecutive that good.
The offensive era means that it's easier for Ortiz to put up big offensive numbers than it was for Rice. Even given so, the comparison to league context suggests that Ortiz has been a better hitter. Rice gets an advantage because he played more defense and did less DHing than Ortiz - on the other hand, he didn't have much defensive value. Rice also took enormous advantage of an extreme hitter's park for his best seasons. During his five-year peak, Fenway played extremely small, and he hit 60% more home runs at home than he did on the road. Ortiz, on the other hand, has seen his power production suppressed at home. Rice hit one home run for every 14.28 at-bats at home during those seasons, but only one in every 24.17 AB on the road. Ortiz has hit one in every 11.69 AB on the road during his five year peak, and only one for every 15.02 AB at home. Big advantage to Ortiz.
Obviously, Ortiz has not done enough yet to be considered a Hall of Famer. But it's not difficult to imagine him doing so. Another 6-7 years comparable to the last five would probably do it. Whether he can do that or not is tough to say. It's not hard to imagine him dropping into the Mo Vaughn "body-just-won't-hold-up" category, but, on the other hand, he's just DHing the vast majority of the time. And he has a couple of intangibles that compare favorably with Rice's "most feared hitter in baseball" thing. For one, everyone watching considers him one of the great clutch hitters of all time, and there's no question that he's hit several memorable big late-inning home runs over the past few years. And he was a key player on two World Series winning teams (so far.) I'd say that Ortiz is in a decent place as far as being a potential Hall of Famer - he's reached age 31, it's a legitimate question, and sustaining current demonstrated performance would very probably get him in...