Monday, October 29, 2007

A-Rod is great, so is ... ?

First things first, I have to make good on a threat made yesterday where I said I’d post my recent articles on A-Rod’s opt out. I have actually written six (three very recently, and three over the last year), and I doubt I’ll stop there. Anyway, from most recent on down:

As a writer, I love Alex Rodriguez and Scott Boras--there’s never writer’s block when these two are in the news.

Anyway …

This is another rant about hard-core stat guys.

Bill James once wrote that as time passes a player’s stats would define his legacy. There’s some wisdom in that to be sure. After all, we know about how some players are overrated and others underrated. With the perspective time brings, we can get a better bead on who was truly talented and who just sucked up/were nasty to the media.

Fair enough.

However, when it comes time to assess a player’s Hall-of-Fame case many point to the numbers and say “This guy has HOF stats” and “this guy doesn’t have HOF stats.” One argument is “Yes, he had a great peak, but his counting numbers aren’t HOF calibre” while another is “He has HOF counting numbers but he wasn’t really dominant.” If a guy could mash, but was a DH, then he doesn’t belong, on the other hand, if he was an all-time great defensively but was a slightly above average hitter, then he’s out.

Obviously you want terrific all around players in Cooperstown but it hasn’t worked like that--ever. Harmon Killebrew is a no-questions-asked HOFer but was a menace with the glove; had he been a full-time career DH and not costing his teams runs with his defense, well it’s a tougher sell since he didn’t play in the field. It seems that costing your team runs defensively has more merit than being a DH and costing your club nothing with the leather. Ozzie Smith was a good hitter for a shortstop of his era and was one of the greatest glovemen ever, yet he doesn’t hit like A-Rod, Derek Jeter or Cal Ripken so now he’s suspect. Those privileged to watch “Killer” or “The Wizard of Oz” generally feel they both belong.

The stats tell us one thing, but not everything. Cooperstown is about greatness, not achieving certain statistical milestones. After the passage of time, we may look back at the numbers--since that’s all that is left to examine his case--and say “Those are pretty good numbers but not good enough for the Hall.”

There's a guy who at the present time is a beast with the lumber; a feared player, a key cog on a great team, the go-to-guy when a big hit is needed and usually comes through. For those who watched his career live, there were no doubts that he has been great. Before we proceed further, I am not saying this player is of this moment, a qualified Hall of Famer... but he is a lot closer, in my opinion, than most people think. What he has done over the last five years is display a greatness that is characteristic of bona fide Hall of Fame players. He has many years to still add to the traditional numbers but make no mistake--his play has been epic.

I know it’s going to be a little odd to use stats in an article about how it’s not always about the numbers however it shows the level he has played it is worthy of a developing great. His reputation is based on merit--not hype.

With the Boston Red Sox having won their second World Series in four years--something unthinkable after losing game seven of the 2003 ALCS in extra innings. Aaron Boone’s blast reinforced every bit of bad karma folks felt resided at Fenway Park. Since then a big part of the Red Sox success has come from David Ortiz--a player released unconditionally from the Minnesota Twins in 2002. The Red Sox took a flyer on him and including his previous three seasons in the Twin Cities has improved every year. Ortiz’s OPS+ over the last seven seasons are 101 (2000), 106 (2001), 120 (2002), 144 (2003), 145 (2004), 158 (2005), 161 (2006), 171 (2007).

He enjoyed a solid first year in Boston and while he was an unremarkable hitter in the playoffs in the early part of his career the 2003 ALCS, despite the crushing loss to their arch rivals, gave a demonstration of what was to come (.269/.367/.538; 2 HR 6 RBI).

His aggregate totals of his five-year stint at Fenway are superb (.302/.403/.612) and despite being a DH is probably looking at his fifth straight top-5 finish in MVP voting. In helping the Red Sox win two Fall Classics, Ortiz in his last 31 post-season games mashed like Barry Bonds on steroids (.381/.500/.735--.321/.441/.571 in the World Series) with 9 HR, 31 runs scored and 30 RBI in just 113 AB. To put that into some kind of context, over a full ‘David Ortiz’ season he’s scored 155 runs, hit 45 HR with 150 RBI. In reality, when October rolls around, his bat morphs into Alex Rodriguez circa 2007 regular season.

Two rings, a post-season legend, a monster in the 162 with a career 266 HR at age 31. Yes, A-Rod has almost doubled that at the same age. With his opt out from his Yankee contract Rodriguez will be known simply as a mercenary despite his magnificent career and nobody knows which team’s logo he’ll wear on his Hall of Fame plaque. Over time, when folks are looking at the numbers, Alex Rodriguez will seem like a slam-dunk while folks debate whether Big Papi has the counting stats or a long enough peak and his DH-ing will be held against him.

For those of us who were around in 2007 we’ll remember these five years…

Regular season (2003-2007)

David Ortiz: .302 .403 .612 208
Alex Rodriguez: .302 .391 .578 220

Post season (2004-2007)

David Ortiz: .381 .500 .735 9
Alex Rodriguez: .245 .343 .380 4

World Series (2004-2007)

David Ortiz: .321 .441 .571 1
Alex Rodriguez: .000 .000 .000 0

…and wonder if the right guy got the $30 million a year contract and why one is an inner-circle Hall of Famer and the other a prolonged debate whether he even deserves consideration.

Best Regards


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