General Red Sox

Worthwhile Reading

Bill Simmons on Ortiz.

34 replies on “Worthwhile Reading”

Too depressed to read it. I’m still holding onto the small fibre of my soul that still thinks he’s going to bounce back.

The precipitous nature of the drop coupled with the precipitous increase in his performance when he went from MN to Boston makes me think it is not just age. I know speculating about such things is prudently avoided by many here, but if we are going to speculate about things like age as an explanation – and Simmons wants to readily cut and paste that into the spot of “most plausible explanation” then…

I think Bill James had it right. Ortiz peaked at age 27 and continued to improve a little bit to have his best season at age 31. That’s not usually what happens from 29 to 33 (could happen though) or 31 to 35 (if you believe the Simmons). Those trends especially don’t happen for someone his size. Rather, guys like that just simply break down. Rice lost it all of a sudden at 34. Mo Vaughn was old at 34. Cecil Fielder was done at 33. Even Ken Phelps was done at 34! The big guys who last longer are usually the very athletic to begin with – Winfield, Thomas.
These things happen. It’s sad. But they happen.
It seems like the only choice for the Sox is to DL Ortiz and give him time. I can’t see how anything they’re doing now is helping. Give him some time to find his swing or the quiet space to walk away.

Agree, IH, even if he is older than his player card says, that doesn’t account for a such a steep drop. It’s far from the most plausible explanation.

I think it’s all but certain Ortiz goes on the DL THIS WEEK if he doesn’t start improving. Kotsay is coming back, which gives us a little more depth than we otherwise have. Sending Ortiz to the DL and then letting him work his way through the minors allows him to save face, as opposed to just sending him to the minors outright.
A shame Lars isn’t progressing quicker. We sure could use him right about now.

The simplest explanation for Ortiz’ steep drop is that there’s not just one cause: it’s probably a combination of a few things. Keep in mind that going into the season he did not think he would do well without Manny’s bat protecting him in the lineup. His wrist probably isn’t 100% either, and when you combine those two things you have a recipe for disaster.

How again does such a sharp drop point to steroid usage? When you really think about it, it just doesn’t make sense.
Has any player immediately stopped producing after getting off the juice? Have any of the other sluggers about whom there’s actually a shred of evidence seen a drop off anywhere close to what Ortiz has evidenced? PEDs are not some magic elixir that renders your muscles weak and useless immediately upon ceasing use.
The fact is we should have seen the signs in 2007, when Ortiz 1. traded 20 home runs for doubles, and 2. shattered his career high in walks. These were obscured because Ortiz still hit a decent number of home runs and because his walks totals had been increasing each year. What’s the first sign a hitter is about to tank? When he begins taking a lot more walks than usual, laying off close pitches out of the zone because he can no longer catch up or recognize them like he used to. Then pitchers adjust and stop throwing balls because they realize he’s not as big a power threat and the numbers start to tank.
This is an established pattern for all sluggers, PEDs or not. Ortiz’s is more extreme, yes, but it’s hard to figure how steroids would necessarily be the immediate suspected cause, over say his age or injury or declining eyesight (related to his age).

Put into persepcctive, here are the declines of soome notable big men (who people have described as “losing it fast”) from their age 30 season on, listed by OPS and OPS+
Mo Vaughn:
Age 34 – Retired after an injury shortened season
Cecil Fielder:
Retired after Age 37 season
Jim Rice:
Retired following age 36 season
.570-46 (2009)
TBH, those declines seem a bit accelerated, but nothing even close to the Big Papi one.

Oh and I’m not accusing Papi of PED use. I’ve said before on this board that it has to be considered given the context of career, and you know what? It does. But that’s not an accusation.
What I’m saying is the idea that he might be two or even three years older than we thought does not really explain THAT decline curve.

Papi’s decline is SUCH an outlier that I don’t think ascribing it to any one thing makes any sense at all. Seems like a perfect storm, perhaps: age, injury, psyche, downward spiral. Even if he did do PEDs, how would that sufficiently explain what has happened?
This is a pretty historic dropoff, and I think that hyperbolic drop off is the reason that the Sox are giving him so much rope: they won’t believe in this kind of anomaly, statistically, so they are waiting for it to normalize a bit. But what if it never normalizes and Papi IS that outlier?!

SSS disclaimer.
A couple of guys for comparison, known PED users who had spikes.
Ken Caminiti –
Though Caminiti got hurt, his decline was nothing like Papi’s.
Brady Anderson –
Anderson had that one huge year, and never another like it, but his decline was also, like Caminiti’s, gradual, very slow.
Other PED users, sluggers, who don’t show the decline that Papi had: Bonds, McGwire, Sheffield.
All this to say that the “wink wink, he was probably doing drugs” stuff (that’s you, IH) serves no purpose and is insubstantial without serious analysis and corroborative evidence that PED use leads, without doubt, to precipitous decline in skills and production such as that which has befallen Ortiz.

Thank you, SF, for providing the backup to what I was saying (andd didn’t have time to look up). The reason to suspect Ortiz of steroid use has always been and remains simply that he’s a big guy who hits home runs. This dropoff does not make PED usage more — or less — likely.

I combine steep increase in performance from MN to Boston with steep decline now to suggest that old age is not a sufficient explanation for the latter – and not the “most likely” one in my view. That’s all.
Unprecedented historic slugging and HR-record-breaking in the 90s is attributed to PEDs. But the historic and rather unprecedented drop-off of a guy whose offensive stats soared for 5 years in Boston while PED-use was rampant in the sport and are now being (partially) tested for should never even be opined as being related to PEDs. OK.
Sorry but that makes no sense at all. Much of what happens in the steroid and now partial-testing era when it comes to sluggers and guys performing well into their late 30s and 40s has been and will be unprecedented. When those unprecedented things happen, only a complete adoring fan of the player in question would categorically rule out PEDs as a likely explanation for that unprecedented occurrence given the era the sport is in right now.
As an aside, given that what we say here is not recorded for the purposes of use in court SF I’ll ignore the guidelines you’d like to set on what I believe to be a likely cause of both Ortiz’s stats bonanza and sudden drop-off. I’m not perjuring myself on a witness stand here – I’m telling you what I believe about Ortiz’s performance. You don’t agree – fine. But no one here needs to present “corroborative evidence” “without a doubt” to voice an opinion. It frankly sounds pretty pompous.
I think Atheose is probably right that the decline is likely due to a combination of factors. But I also think that ruling out likely PED-use as Simmons is admittedly eager to do in favor of another explanation is understandable for a diehard – and therefore willfully blinkered – fan of Ortiz but likely not for many others.
You say that there is no evidence that stopping PED usage leads to steep declines. Frankly, there is not enough information about who did what from when to when for us to say much of anything about its effects on performance other than it is probably harmful to performance when you go off them. Esp with no good testing for HGH yet in place, who knows who among those found to have been using one thing are not still on something else that is undetectable and therefore masking the drop-offs that should otherwise occur? This goes for everyone you cite as having used previously and ostensibly now stopped (why you think they stopped in the absence of HGH testing I don’t know since they’ve proven to have cheated before) and this includes A-Rod as well.
It’s safe to say that stopping PED-usage leads to some drop-off, increase in injuries, decrease in bat speed, etc. And if that’s the case, then it is entirely reasonable for me to consider PEDs as a likely factor in both Ortiz’s stats-surge in ’03 -’06 and his decline now since they both coincided with a surge of illicit activity in the sport that gave many other players similar boosts.

I think that you are perhaps missing my point. I have not and will not say that I think Papi is innocent of PED use. I do not know if he used PEDs, it is that simple. I also do not know nearly enough to make a substantive argument that his decline is related to PED usage. Nor do I know if the decline is related to a wrist injury, or a case of baseball’s yips.
I made no judgment on Simmons’ thought that this is just age-based decline. I don’t agree with it. I think Papi is hurt. I think he is aging (who knows/cares if he is older than he says – that, like PED use, is speculative and unknown). I think his head is screwed up. And the wild card is PED usage, and whether any of the above factors have been impacted by speculated PED usage. I honestly have NO IDEA how PED usage, if it occurred, would impact Papi, an injury, his head, or how his age would have impacted the effects of speculated PED usage. So therefore I don’t really think that winking while saying “yeah, we all KNOW this isn’t just his wrist” is at all useful, or prudent, or thoughtful even.
I don’t begrudge you your honest and sincere opinion that Ortiz used drugs, but I also don’t see how that as an argument makes any more sense than anything else, but you yourself give it privileged position, it seems – please correct me if this isn’t the case. As for me, I refuse to privilege PED use as a factor. That’s not to say I exclude it in my own head. I have no clue, literally, and therefore I don’t see the use in giving it primacy over any of the other possibilities.

I guess the big question under the “stopped using PEDs” scenario is: Why?
We know the following:
1. Baseball started testing in 2004.
2. Ortiz was either:
a. Using PEDs and not caught during his best seasons, 2004-07, or
b. Not using PEDs.
If he was using PEDs and stopped, which is IH’s (and others’) theory, why? Maybe baseball added his substance to the list, a la Manny Ramirez. Ok. But if Ortiz was using this substance, then it’s probable other players were, too. Yet no one has had the dropoff Ortiz did. Maybe this substance affects players differently (probably so), but it would be an amazing substance to have such a tremendous effect in such a short period of time.
We have to conjure up a strange, increasingly unlikely series of propositions to support the idea that Ortiz is tanking because he’s no longer taking PEDs while ignoring the fact that Ortiz never tested positive during his best seasons, which were all post-testing. Again, he could easily have been taking something that wasn’t part of the regimen or was not detectable; I’m not naive. But wouldn’t you think, particularly given the slow start he’s had the last two seasons, that he’d have found himself another undetectable or untestable drug by now?

SF, I could have written and would agree with every word of what you postulate as an explanation for Ortiz’s struggles, except where you write “I think Papi is hurt. I think he is older. I think his head is screwed up”, I add “I think he probably used PEDs”.
You’re right that none of us knows EXACTLY what the impact of using or going off them would be. Though given what PEDs stands for, I think it is safe to say that performance would likely decline when you cycle off. In his case, perfomance has declined and I put forward my hypothesis which is based in part on two additional factors without which I would be less suspect:
1. It isn’t just the rapidity and extent of his decline. It is the rapidity and extent of his mid-career surge. Neither of you has addressed this, maybe because you find his having more AB’s, Manny Ramirez in the line-up, and the Green Monster to be sufficient explanations. I don’t. The guy went from having an OK eye and being a so-so hitter never considered for any honors to being one of the 2-3 most feared sluggers in the game and a perennial MVP candidate and all-star. In the blink of an eye. Age, injury, etc. can all account for a decline. They don’t account for a surge. Unless he was injured for the first 6 yrs of his career.
2. The rather historic nature of the drop-off. Paul, you cite Ortiz’s unparalleled drop-off to support the point that he probably wasn’t using because others who used didn’t have such pronounced drop-offs. And I guess I can see that perspective. But I cite the same fact to support the point that when something that rarely or never happened before happens during the PEDs and semi-testing-for-PEDs-era, it is likely to have something to do with a player either going on or coming off them. I have sadly become a little cynical – and I frankly hate it. Seriously. But things that are historic and unprecedented in baseball over the past 20 years (esp. when it comes to performance-in-old-age; imperviousness-to-injury; slugging; or increases in skull-size so pronounced that they are visible to the naked eye as well as the sudden reversal of any of these) make me immediately suspect of PEDs.
I’ll take my holy grail as an example: if Mariano had gone the route of Gagne and suddenly lost mph and been racked with injuries in the ’07 season and beyond, I’d never be the one to say it, but I’d brace myself for those who would start questioning him as well. His consistency and lack of injuries probably has plenty of people speculating already. It’s the nature of unprecedented accomplishments or crazy peaks and valleys in an era of PEDs.
Do I have any certainty of his use? Of course not. I’m not trying to assert certainty. And I can’t answer your question Paul re: why – if he were using something that got banned a la Manny – wouldn’t he just move to some other undetectable drug. Maybe he doesn’t like the others, maybe his source moved to LA (sorry), or maybe I’m just wrong and he never used. But for the reasons above, I suspect him (not accuse – suspect) of using.
Just for the record SF – I have put some “thought” into this, though admittedly not as much as I would if this were intended to be anything more than just a blog for fun trading of opinion and debate.

For the record: I don’t think Ortiz was on steroids, but at this point I don’t think you can seriously rule it out. After Manny I wouldn’t be surprised by anyone, though Ortiz would really crush me.
Also, don’t steroids cause increased muscle deterioration late in use? I thought I read somewhere that there are only a finite number of muscle fibres that can be activated, and when they are all activated quickly by steroids there are none available to repair or maintain muscle mass. I read this maybe two years ago, so I have exactly zero sources.

Ortiz’s explanation for his surge in power is that in Minnesota he was discouraged from pulling the ball or swinging for power, while once he moved to Boston they saw what he was doing and quickly told him to stop it and be the power hitter they thought he could be.
Plausible? Sure. At this point, Ortiz has been more than candid about his own possibly inadvertant usage and very expressive about his denials of intentional usage. I give him a large benefit of the doubt while acknowledging that he, like any other ballplayer, might have used PEDs. I just don’t find this dropoff as evidence for that usage at all.

Just for the record SF – I have put some “thought” into this, though admittedly not as much as I would if this were intended to be anything more than just a blog for fun trading of opinion and debate.
Didn’t mean to insinuate that you hadn’t, clearly you have. Hope you didn’t read my comment as an accusation that you hadn’t thought about things, apologies if it came off that way. But I do think, in general, that there is an immediate and reflexive sentiment that Ortiz’ fall-off is due to steroid use, when in fact that may be only one of several factors, and perhaps even a non-influential factor. We just can’t know.
Regarding his dropoff: there is almost no precedent for what Ortiz is going through. That is why I have a hard time pointing to a somewhat generic accusation (“Ortiz probably used PEDs”) as a cause. I just cannot possibly do that with any authority. But to be clear: that is completely and utterly separate from any personal suspicions I may have about Ortiz as a potential PED user. That is the most important distinction for me, rhetorically.

For the record IH, Ortiz always had a good eye: his career OBP in the minors was .383.

It’s interesting that Papi’s last great season was, value-wise, his best. If not for A-Rod’s historic season, he would have been MVP.

ignoring the fact that Ortiz never tested positive during his best seasons
Just for the record, we still don’t know the other 102 names. Ortiz could easily be on that list. And if he is, that changes this sentiment dramatically.
I agree with the combination of factors, but who’s to say the fear of getting caught for a past offense isn’t among them? I don’t know if the guy used or didn’t use. But we can’t assume he didn’t fail a test.

That was a good article by Simmons. It’s actually getting painful for ME to watch. I ought to be enjoying this, but I can’t really. Maybe b/c my wife’s a Sox fan and hearing her groan in disappointment with each Papi K or weak groundout takes the fun out of it.

To be honest, if Derek Jeter had the slump that Ortiz was having, and you could see the look of helplessness and despair on his face, it would make me a little sad too.
What hurts most is hearing the chants of “steroids” in the crowd whenever he’s at bat, whether they’re unfounded or not.

What hurts most is hearing the chants of “steroids” in the crowd whenever he’s at bat, whether they’re unfounded or not.
If so, I could completely see Papi crushing under the weight, if he’s guilty. Here’s a guy beloved in a town where they’ve been very vocal about “cheaters”. How do you come clean under that pressure? And when all you want to do is hit well, the truth could be an unbearable weight preventing exactly that.
Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that he did use. He’s watched as all associated with PEDs, including many friends, have been vilified. 1) How does he live with himself while not coming clean? 2) How can he come clean in a city where he was Jeremy Giambi’s platoon partner when he arrived to become perhaps the most beloved Sox star of all-time?
The more I think about it, this may be another example of it not being the crime but the cover up that hurts the most.

I could see that as a plausible scenario. I don’t think it’s the reality, but I could definitely see it.

Yeah, it’s more than just seeing my wife’s reactions. I’ve felt bad just watching him on my own.
I want him to lose, but not like this… gone is the worth adversary. Getting him out isn’t even an accomplishment anymore. It’s more like beating up on the helpless.
I can’t believe I’m even typing these things. It’s amazing.

Despite having no love for the Sox, I take no pleasure in seeing Ortiz (possibly) going out like this. I dreaded seeing him at the plate for years, and I am glad when he comes up now that I can be a bit more relaxed, but I could never bring myself to really dislike the guy. Sure, I’ve wanted someone on the feckless Yankee pitching staffs of the past 8 years or so to brush him off the plate aggressively given that he would practically sit on it before belting clutch HR after clutch HR, but that’s about the extent of ill will I ever had for him.
I haven’t been watching him other than via stat-reviews this year so I have a tough time not imagining he will break out of this. But with all the SFs who watch him daily seeming to indicate that he looks like he’s done, maybe he is. And yes Atheose, I do get how much it must suck for a diehard SF to watch. For what it’s worth, I am impressed with where Boston is in the standings given the black hole in the lineup that he has become. Youkilis continues to rise on my hate-o-meter and Bay is quickly taking Ortiz’s place as a guy I can’t really bring myself to hate, despite his strong performances.

I don’t know the answer, but I think to answer some of Paul’s questions…
What if he did stop in 2004 and his strength and speed (bat) have steadily declined? Maybe it takes this long to see such a sudden drop off. I am not a scientist, I have no idea, just throwing out some ideas.
What if Ortiz never used a detectable banned substance? To the best of my knowledge HGH is not detectable through the testing measures the MLB uses. Also according to the guy who wrote book on Balco, he said that HGH is almost impossible to detect unless you had just taken it prior to a test. Apparently it becomes almost leaves almost no trace even hours after. Is that true? No clue, but that’s what he said in a radio interview.
What about a conspiracy theory? Maybe HE DID fail a test and Bud and his boys decided it would be killer to the game to let his name out. Not likely I am sure, but with his popularity it really could kill the game. Kids love him, adults love him, he brings a lot of fans to the park and to the TV. Alex is popular, but he’s not loved like grande father.
All in all, we may never know, too much speculation. So as a baseball fan you can be saddened, but as a Yankees fan I can’t bring myself to feel bad, there’s a division to win.

>>What if he did stop in 2004 and his strength and speed (bat) have steadily declined?
I think this can be safely discounted, given Ortiz improved his home run numbers every year through 2006 and his overall production every year through 2007.
>>What if Ortiz never used a detectable banned substance?
I think that’s one of the more legitimate possibilities, which is why I ask about why he would have stopped now — and which substance contains such magical properties to have such amazingly dramatic effects once use is stopped? HGH is indeed undetectable; it’s also worthless, according to everything I’ve read. A lot of players have needlessly thrown away a lot of money and their reputations to make some illegitimate doctors wealthy.
>>What about a conspiracy theory?
Sure, but that’s right up there with the “wonder drug” theory I’ve been beinging up. It’s so far out there that if we’re resorting to it to come up with ways this drop off provides evidence of PED use, we’re actually providing evidence that PED use does NOT explain the drop off.
Regardless of the reason, I think we all agree: This isn’t Julio Lugo or Javier Lopez or Brad Penny. This is David Ortiz, arguably the most popular member of the Red Sox since Yaz, and his career is collapsing in front of our eyes. It sucks.

To the HGH topic…Maybe he is/was worried it would somehow be detectable. Again, Papi is an image driven guy. Fans adore him. Maybe he thought somehow, someway he’d be caught and he couldn’t live with that. Who knows, it’s just me thinking out loud.

Again, Papi is an image driven guy.
Exactly. What’s that image worth if he used – especially in 2004 and 2007. He just seems like a guy who would crush under that weight.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, Ortiz loved being loved. Now it’s almost if he knows he broke some cardinal sin and he’s completely disappearing. It is a shame what happening. But if he was any way involved in PEDs he needs to come clean – for his mental health and for the integrity of the game. He’s not a sociopath like Bonds or a doofus like Manny or a preener like A-Rod. He’s a likeable person. He owes it everyone to clear the air and put this behind him and hopefully hammer a final nail in the coffin of the era’s damage.

>> He owes it everyone to clear the air and put this behind him and hopefully hammer a final nail in the coffin of the era’s damage.
Unless, of course, he didn’t use. And so far there is no evidence (including this collapse) that he did.

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