The month of April was far from kind to the one they call Big Papi. He managed just a Melkyian .233 wOBA with far more strikeouts (21) than times on base (15) during the season’s first month, and all hope looked lost. As a 34-year-old DH doing this for the second time in as many seasons, baseball fans dug in with their forks and considered him done. The .390 wOBA and 27 homers he put up after June 5th last year were considered his last hurrah.
But then something strange happened. The calender turned to May, and all of a sudden Ortiz started hitting again. Quite literally too, he hit two homers on May 1st and hasn’t looked back since. In 46 plate appearances this month, he’s sporting a .477 wOBA with six homers and 14 RBI, all three of which rank among the ten best in the game during that time. Papi’s back, right? Errr, maybe.
Ortiz’ May resurgence isn’t without luck. His .417 BABIP is completely unsustainable, especially for a guy whose speed is measured on the Molina scale. More than 37% of his fly balls are leaving the park this month, and that’s sure to come down. Even in his heyday fewer than one-fourth of his fly balls were landing in the people. He’s also hitting more balls in the air in general, 53.3% compared to his career mark of 45.5%. These will all regress at some point.
The one thing Ortiz has done better this month than last is pull the ball. Courtesy of the great TexasLeaguers.com, here’s his spray chart for April and May…
Right away you can see that Papi’s hooked way more balls into rightfield in May than he did in April. As Jack showed before the season, when you pull the ball, you’re going to hit for more power. It’s that simple. Whether being able to pull the ball has stemmed from Ortiz regaining some of that lost bat speed or just cheating like crazy on fastballs is a question for people far smarter than I. Either way, it’s a good sign for Sox fans and fantasy owners alike.
The Red Sox have a .350 team OBP and some really, really good hitters at the top of their lineup, so the RBI opportunities will be there for Ortiz. ZiPS rest of the season projections call for a .378 wOBA with 22 homers and 54 RBI, which seems a tad optimistic on the surface. Even if he settles in as a .355ish wOBA hitter with 17% HR/FB or so the rest of the way, he’s definitely worth a roster spot. That’s basically Luke Scott circa 2009, just with more men on base in front of him.
Ortiz has managed to retain 1B eligibility in Yahoo! leagues despite playing a grand total of 39 innings at the position over the last two seasons. Don’t ask me. I don’t make the rules, I just benefit from them. He’s owned in 33% of leagues, and that rate has steadily climbed over the last two weeks or so. Ortiz isn’t going to maintain his torrid May pace over the rest of the season, but he’s showing signs of life and is rebuilding some fantasy value. If you’re in an AL-only or a particularly deep mixed league, chances are he’s an upgrade over whoever you’re currently stashing in the UTIL spot or on your bench. Just make sure you keep him glued to the bench against southpaws.