The Return of the Large Father

Courtesy the fine bloggers at Fangraphs, we have this little graph:
Dist_fig 

That's the distance of each David Ortz fly ball this season, based on GameDay data points entering yesterday's game (where Ortiz launched a 412-foot blast to dead center field). The straight line is Ortiz's 2008 average, and the wavy line is a rolling 2009 average. It shows that not only are Ortiz's home runs flying farther, so are the balls that aren't getting over the fence.

In fact, Ortiz is averaging 300 feet per fly ball this month — an average right in line with the 291-foot average he posted in his last true Ortizian season, 2007.

As Dave Allen, who authored this study, notes:

This is a small sample, but things look qualitatively different for Ortiz since the end of May, an encouraging sign for him and the Red Sox.

Clearly, David Ortiz is back on steroids. It's the only logical answer, right?

The answer surely can't be what Dave Cameron, in a post entitled "Let's Stop Burying the Living," describes:

We haven’t figured out what numbers show that a player is truly washed up. We haven’t figured out what it looks like when that happens. We haven’t figured out how to combine scouting and statistical analysis to give us a warning before a player heads off the cliff. All we’ve figured out is how to guess wrong a lot. Young player struggle, old players struggle, middle age players struggle, and we don’t have any good way of figuring out why in most cases. Just because a player experiences a drop in performance, and is old, does not mean that age related decline is the reason for the performance. More often than not, it’s just bad luck.

Let’s stop pretending that we can identify players who have “just lost it” overnight. Too often, they find it again the next morning.

12 comments… add one

  • Too often, they find it again the next morning.
    And then lose it again the day after that. The loss of physical skills is stochastic. At his stage of a career, it’s not how much but how long. The Sox were patient for two months. Will they be next time?

    Rob June 25, 2009, 11:18 am
  • On closer inspection, I need to see more. That graph’s last uptick is based on all of 12 balls.

    Rob June 25, 2009, 11:20 am
  • I count 20 fly balls above the 2008 average between the trough of the rolling average to the crest. It also includes another 27 that were below that average.
    So the uptick is based on 47 fly balls, not 12.

    Paul SF June 25, 2009, 11:34 am
  • Bah, the inability to talk about graphs in this medium. I meant sustained uptick above 2008. After all there were others in 2009 that sputtered again. It’s not kosher to go to the lowest point and then look for an upward trend.
    The problem is one of variance. To my eyes things were looking good (when everything was above the line) but the variability of the last few days still leaves me suspect. Need to see sustained success.
    Interesting data though.

    Rob June 25, 2009, 12:05 pm
  • A little calibration would be nice – what is the mean fly ball line for 2007?
    This graph suggests that a relatively minor change in mean FB distance can cause a major change in the HR%, but it’s tough to be sure with only one data point for reference.
    also, Rob has a point – not only is the variance of FB distance involved, but added to that is the variance of whether a FB of a given distance will be a HR. That makes it really tough to draw any conclusions from this plot, even tentative ones.

    dabize June 25, 2009, 2:15 pm
  • but added to that is the variance of whether a FB of a given distance will be a HR.
    But that’s just incidental, isn’t it? We know that a lot of factors — fence height, wind, temp, humidity, amazing leaping catches — affect whether a deep fly ball is a home run. Often a decrease in home runs is not indicative of a decrease in production, or even a decrease in power. Average fly ball distance strikes me as a better determination of whether a slugger still “has it.” It removes the variance entirely.
    The main problem is, of course, small sample size. What this graph confirms is that Ortiz’s increased HR rate is not the product of random luck, but of a legitimate increase in power. Now, is it sustainable? That question is obviously very much in play, but the graph is not trying to answer that. It’s simply showing what has happened, not trying to project into the future.
    Tools like ZiPS’ in-season projection tool, on the other hand, are designed for the future, and it shows Ortiz maintaining a .900-OPS level of production for the rest of the season.

    Paul SF June 25, 2009, 3:37 pm
  • spot on Paul…
    hey on another note – what happend to the “reply” feature?

    dw (sf) June 25, 2009, 3:41 pm
  • > what happend to the “reply” feature?
    we tried to work with “TypePad Connect” for a few months. It had a few features we thought would be beneficial, including [reply] but in total consideration the venture turned out to be a step backward in usability, so it has been removed.

    attackgerbil June 25, 2009, 3:55 pm
  • Clearly, David Ortiz is back on steroids. It’s the only logical answer, right?
    Sadly, there will be more than a few who advance this theory non-facetiously. At least the Finger of Canseco has not been pointed…http://sportsradiointerviews.com/2009/06/09/jose-canseco-still-trying-to-stay-relevant-by-talking-about-david-ortiz/

    beth June 25, 2009, 4:24 pm
  • But that’s just incidental, isn’t it? We know that a lot of factors — fence height, wind, temp, humidity, amazing leaping catches — affect whether a deep fly ball is a home run. Often a decrease in home runs is not indicative of a decrease in production, or even a decrease in power. Average fly ball distance strikes me as a better determination of whether a slugger still “has it.” It removes the variance entirely.
    That’s precisely my point, stated in a rather inverted way.
    I agree completely that the FB distance is the variable that is the best measure of DO’s hitting health.
    But all of the variables that you named PLUS the SSS separate HR rate (which is, after all, the “product”) from any direct sign of whether DO is actually doing better.

    dabize June 25, 2009, 6:53 pm
  • I don’t care about trends. I only care that Ortiz produces. And he’s producing again. Until he stops producing, all is stochfantastic.

    SF June 25, 2009, 7:04 pm
  • Interesting stuff and I’m sure heartening to many Sox fans. As for roids, I would only suspect that if Ortiz’s power numbers leapt as much as they did when he moved from MN to Boston. ;o)

    IronHorse June 25, 2009, 7:37 pm

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