Does Big Papi Need Big Protection?

David Ortiz made some waves this spring by advocating again for the acquisition of a big bat to hit behind him in the lineup — under the theory that without a Manny Ramirez-esque bat protecting him, he will receive no pitches to hit.

There are obviously some problems with this statement, the first being that the likelihood of a hitter as good as Ortiz being protected by a hitter as good as Ramirez (or vice versa) are historically rare. The Ortiz-Ramirez combo from 2003-08 was one of the best in the history of the game. That is not easily replaced nor replicated, yet big bashers have managed to put up big numbers anyway.

Secondly, it's easy to forget but Ortiz batted behind Ramirez, not in front of him, during the magical 2004 playoff campaign, as well as down the stretch of that season. In fact, Ortiz has compiled an impressive 907 plate appearances at positions other than third in the lineup for Boston. That's a little less than two full seasons' worth.

Thirdly, it just doesn't pass the smell test. Wasn't Ortiz pretty awesome in September 2006, when Ramirez was injured? Ditto 2007?

That's all well and good, but it's anecdotal. So let's quantify it. How has David Ortiz hit in a Boston uniform without Manny Ramirez behind him in the lineup?

This was a quick-and-easy project, thanks to Baseball-Reference's Event Finder and Batting Order tools. 


The Event Finder quickly allowed me to find Ortiz's batting lines for every spot in the order while in a Red Sox uniform — the aforementioned 907 plate appearances over 227 games. Thanks to pinch hitting appearances, Big Papi has made an appearance at every spot in the lineup for the Sox.
  • Batting 1st: 1 for 3
  • Batting 2nd: 2 for 2, 2B, 2 RBI 
  • Batting 4th: .289/.383/.580, 25 HR in 402 PA
  • Batting 5th: .285/.375/.596, 25 HR in 416 PA 
  • Batting 6th: .288/.315/.538, 3 HR in 54 PA 
  • Batting 7th: .312/.353/.562, 1 HR in 17 PA 
  • Batting 8th: 1 for 2, HR, RBI 
  • Batting 9th: 0 for 10, 1 BB 

Over 907 plate appearances, that's a total line of:

  • .286/.368/.582, 55 HR, 172 RBI, 108 BB, 157 K

Ortiz isn't asked to pinch hit much because he's rarely out of the lineup, and most of these at bats took place in 2003 and 2004, when he was still coming into his own. So we would expect the line to not be the .300/.400/.600 we were used to seeing from 2005-07. Anyway, so far it looks like Ortiz was pretty good without Manny's protection. But that was five and six years ago, when Ortiz was still a surprise to everyone on the planet. What about those times since then, when Ortiz has been among the most feared hitters in the game and pitchers would have incentive to pitch around him without a Hall of Fame slugger behind him?

Using the Batting Order pages for the Red Sox from 2003-08, we can easily see when Ortiz has batted third (any other spots in the lineup have been taken care of) and Ramirez out of the lineup:
  • 2003: Zero games
  • 2004: Four games in July.
  • 2005: 11 games scattered throughout the season.
  • 2006: Four games through August, then the final 19 games of the season.
  • 2007: Eight games through August, then the final 27 games of the season. 
  • 2008: Six games through July, then the final 49 games of the season. 

Many of these plate appearances have very small sample sizes, but beginning in 2006, as Manny's knees began acting up (or not), and finally culminating with the July 31 trade to LA, Ortiz was given more and more time with a variety of non-Mannian bats to protect him.

Well, Papi managed all right for himself in those situations.
  • In 2006, capping his historic 54-homer season, Ortiz hit .304/.524/.732 during the 19 games Ramirez was shelved.
  • In 2007, capping his best season by OPS+, Ortiz hit .394/.521/.840 during the 27 games he appeared without Manny, including 22 extra-base hits and 28 RBI to go with 25 walks (only five intentional).
  • In 2008, capping a much more frustrating season marred by injuries, Ortiz still hit .262/.381/.519 in the final 49 games, good for a .900 OPS that topped his season-long OPS of .876. 

So in six years, Ortiz has batted third without Ramirez behind him 568 times. The line:

  • .313/.456/.651, 35 HR, 109 RBI, 120 BB, 78 K 

Ortiz clearly walked more without Manny (12 more walks in 350 fewer appearances), but he also was a more feared hitter in general from 2006 forward, when he appeared without Manny with greater and greater frequency. His walk rate jumped in 2005 and has stayed stratospheric, and that obviously contributes to at least some of the additional walks we see here.

For the record, Ortiz only once has batted as high as .313, and he's never topped .445 or .636, so his career from the third spot in the lineup without Manny — coincidentally a season's worth of plate appearances — is actually better than the best season he's ever had.

Still, that's just the second part of the equation. There's the matter of those 907 plate appearances from all the other spots in the order. So let's combine them and see the final line for every time Ortiz has stepped to the plate with someone other than Manny Ramirez in the on-deck circle:
  • .296/.402/.607, 355 G, 1,475 PA, 90 HR, 281 RBI, 228 BB, 235 K

Versus his entire career in a Red Sox uniform:

  • .297/.398/.598, 846 G, 3,735 PA, 231 HR, 731 RBI, 535 BB, 634 K 

Versus his appearances with Ramirez behind him:

  • .297/.388/.592, 491 G, 2,260 PA, 141 HR, 450 RBI, 307 BB, 399 K 

Surprised? I know I was. Expecting to see little to no difference between Ortiz's lines with and without Manny, I wasn't prepared to see that Ortiz has posted an OPS nearly 30 points higher when Ramirez wasn't protecting him.

Le't's make some of those counting stats a little more uniform, shall we?
  • With Manny: 16.0 PA/HR, 5.0 PA/RBI, 7.4 PA/BB, 5.7 PA/K
  • Without him: 16.4 PA/HR, 5.2 PA/RBI, 6.5 PA/BB, 6.3 PA/K 

The conclusion: Ortiz has walked quite a bit more without Manny behind him, but he also has struck out less and hit home runs at basically the same rate (roughly one home run difference over a 600-PA season). 

If Ortiz's numbers fail to rebound to previous rates in 2009, it appears the absence of Manny Ramirez will be far less to blame than Big Papi's own health and age.

17 comments… add one

  • Bravo, Paul. I always thought the “protection” angle was over-hyped, but especially in a lineup as stacked as the Sox. Even without Manny, it wasn’t like they were hitting a chump behind him.
    Interestingly, on this note, it appears Girardi will be hitting Tex third, in front of and not behind Alex in the Yankee lineup, despite the various calls to “protect” Alex, esp. in clutch situations. I’m sure this will be discussed ad nauseum, but my guess is it’s of little consequence in which order they hit, overall.

    YF (Mark Lamster) February 21, 2009, 10:56 am
  • Does he need it? Nope.
    Would it be nice to match firepower with NY? Yep.
    Nice work, Paul. Again.

    Brad February 21, 2009, 11:59 am
  • I thought you meant protection from the new revelations about the Dominican trainer.

    SF February 21, 2009, 12:37 pm
  • Would it It will be nice to match firepower with NY? Yep.
    Fixed that for you, Brad. :-)

    Paul SF February 22, 2009, 12:55 am
  • hmm…maybe it’s the magic protein shakes from the DR that he misses most…by the way paul, as usual, nice job with the stats, but you know me, maybe you can just throw the stats out…if it’s in his head that he needs manny, it won’t matter to him what the stats say…that, and the fact that he just doesn’t seem to be the same guy physically that he was just a couple of years ago…

    dc February 22, 2009, 7:24 am
  • Great analysis, but I’m not sure I agree for at least two reasons:
    1) If Ortiz thinks he needs protection, then maybe he does. Perhaps he recognizes his skills are diminishing and so protection would be more likely to help him now (i.e., seeing more pitches to hit). Regardless of what the numbers say (and how many hitters would go this deep into the stats to question their own conclusions), if he thinks he needs protection then he might be more willing to swing at worse pitches if he doesn’t think the guy behind him is as likely to get the job done.
    2) Ortiz may or may not need protection, but the Sox will if either Papi or Lowell or Drew are out for any length of time. As it is, who hits 5th right now? If Varitek is the catcher, and with the injury of Kotsay, there just isn’t much wiggle room for that lineup, especially with the youth of Lowrie and Ellsbury and the injury histories of Lowell, Ortiz, Drew and Baldelli. Anderson could be a fine addition, but only if the Sox are willing to rush him and he hits right away. It’s a potent lineup, but with too many injury concerns to think they’re a lock for 845 runs again.
    I’m skeptical of the Yanks offense for a similar reason (except Austin Jackson isn’t Lars Anderson). If Posada can’t catch the Yanks are putting two replacement level players on the field with corner outfielders that are likely to be barely average for their positions. That’s very little room for error and it would have been nice to get another big bat to hit behind A-Rod. Matsui isn’t a five hitter at this stage of his career. But the Yanks at least could put someone like Swisher or Matsui at #3 then bat Teixeira at #5.
    For the Sox, putting Ortiz between Bay and Drew or Youkilis (if Ellsbury is leadoff) and Drew, is very good depth, but only if everyone is healthy. Otherwise, it’s a manageable lineup to pitch to and it’s gets much easier to pitch around Papi if it’s Lowell behind him.

    Rob February 22, 2009, 8:03 am
  • This is the first time Ortiz has gone into the season without Manny, and if it’s in his head then it’s going to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Having said that, great work Paul. It’s nice to see the “protection” myth debunked.

    Atheose February 22, 2009, 11:17 am
  • For the Sox, putting Ortiz between Bay and Drew or Youkilis (if Ellsbury is leadoff) and Drew, is very good depth, but only if everyone is healthy.
    or, just type “For the XXX, putting XXX between XXX and XXX or XXX (if XXX is leadoff) and XXX is very good depth, but only if everyone is healthy…”, and you can make this claim about every top tier team.

    SF February 22, 2009, 2:42 pm
  • Count me among those who see the need as a myth.

    I'mBillMcNeal February 22, 2009, 7:29 pm
  • “myth”
    maybe, but it seems real to him, and that’s all that matters frankly…with all due respect to paul’s hard work, do you really think ortiz gives a rodent’s rear-end about stats that appear to debunk the “myth”?

    dc February 23, 2009, 8:23 am
  • but it seems real to him, and that’s all that matters frankly
    NO! The point is that what he feels is not necessarily borne out by the numbers. He’s felt the “need” for Manny all these years, this year is no different other than the fact that Manny isn’t coming back. That might mean something, it might not. But Ortiz has had to deal with the discomfort of Manny not being around in the past, and what Paul is showing is that it doesn’t matter, statistically. This is the point: Ortiz should be shown this post. It will show him that how he feels and how he plays aren’t necessarily correlative.

    SF February 23, 2009, 9:20 am
  • Ortiz probably “felt” he wasn’t playing as well without Manny hitting behind him in September 06 and September 07. Each time he slugged over .730 and reached base more than half his appearances.
    Last year, I think the injury affected him more than he was willing to admit — maybe even to himself. Losing Manny served as sort of a crutch (“that MUST be it!”). Will Ortiz’s batting speed and pitch recognition skills disappear because the Youk-fu is behind him instead of the dreadlocks? Seems unlikely to me.

    Paul SF February 23, 2009, 9:34 am
  • so he’ll be ok, even though his mind is telling him to expect a different outcome…i get the original point sf…i’m just adding the thought that he is not convinced…and sometimes perception is more powerful than reality…in fact, it is that person’s reality…if papi performs well, he may wonder if he could have been better with his buddy in the lineup…if he performs poorly, paul’s stats won’t help convince him that it’s all in his head…and, don’t forget, he’s not getting any younger…he seems to have one of those body types that breaks down rapidly with age…that will be a bigger deal for him than manny’s absence…

    dc February 23, 2009, 10:21 am
  • and, don’t forget, he’s not getting any younger…he seems to have one of those body types that breaks down rapidly with age…that will be a bigger deal for him than manny’s absence…
    I think just about THE deal. Or if not the only deal, maybe 98% of the deal. If Papi continues to slide, I think it will be because he is older, his bat is slower, his wrist hasn’t healed because he’s a year on, etc. It’s a reasonable expectation, I think. I hope he bounces back, he certainly could, but I am not holding my breath for too long.

    SF February 23, 2009, 10:44 am
  • you can make this claim about every top tier team
    Not really. None of Drew, Lowell, or Papi played 114 games last year. Even if they match that level, who plays the other 120-140 games? Not Kotsay until June. So Baldelli, with his own injury concerns? Who else?
    My point still stands: The Sox could have used another bat as lineup protection.
    It will show him that how he feels and how he plays aren’t necessarily correlative.
    You’ve got the requisite evidence confused. On any random day, he may not have known whether he’d have Manny hitting behind him. Now he knows he won’t. Or perhaps the Sox only sat Manny on days they were facing a weaker pitcher. The difference isn’t random and so isn’t a statistical test. That leads to…
    If Papi continues to slide, I think it will be because he is older, his bat is slower, his wrist hasn’t healed because he’s a year on, etc. It’s a reasonable expectation, I think.
    I agree here, but if he thinks that downturn is related to protection, it could be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The post does show that Papi reached base more often without protection. If he starts swinging at poor pitches in an effort to make something happen, rather than passing the baton, he’ll further be illustrating that what he thinks he needs, he just might.
    Will Ortiz’s batting speed and pitch recognition skills disappear because the Youk-fu is behind him instead of the dreadlocks?
    Is that the plan? Hitting Youkilis fifth seems like a mistake. His power is likely to fall back some (say, .480-500) but he’ll still get on base. Still, if Ortiz doesn’t think the guy behind him is likely to get the job done, he might feel more pressure to make something happen. After all those years of talking about Ortiz’s clutch, there’s something to be said for knowing you have a HOF bat behind you whether you produce or not.

    Rob February 24, 2009, 7:39 am
  • I agree that Ortiz’ health is the biggest concern, but having Ortiz preoccupied with the Red Sox lineup doesn’t help things. If Ortiz thinks it’s going to start affecting him, then it’s going to. I think going into the season sans-Manny is different than having Manny gone for short periods of time in the past.
    As for the lineup, that’s a good question… what WILL the lineup be? I’d do something along the lines of:
    1. Ellsbury, CF
    2. Pedroia, 2B
    3. Ortiz, DH
    4. Bay, LF
    5. Drew, RF
    6. Youkilis, 1B
    7. Lowell, 3B
    8. Varitek/Bard, C
    9. Lowrie/Lugo, SS
    That gives us a pretty nice alternating lefty-righty order. If Youk is performing better than Bay you can switch them, or move Varitek to the 9 hole if he’s as atrocious as last year. I’m hoping for a huge year from Ellsbury.

    Atheose - SF February 24, 2009, 8:09 am
  • Don’t know if you knew, but this article was mentioned at http://www.survivinggrady.com. Good work Paul!

    Atheose - SF February 27, 2009, 1:28 pm

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