Much attention has been given to David Ortiz's batting woes, and as the slugger was benched through the Mariners series as he attempts to regain his swing everyone wonders when his homerless streak will end. With the recent revelation of Manny Ramirez's steroid use some are starting to wonder if perhaps Manny and his good buddy Big Papi were juicing together. This question is a biproduct of what is now called the steroid era, but Ortiz has never been suspected of PED use. In Boston, the question has been asked, but its also been dismissed. In this article about Ortiz's batting problems it uses the example of Jim Rice and Morgan Ensberg as players who hit for power and then lost it. As the article states:
"But players can lose it all of a sudden. It happens to the best of them. Jim Rice's production dropped precipitously at age 34, though he was able to hang on until 36. You also have players like Morgan Ensberg, who hit 36 homers and knocked in 101 runs for Houston in 2005, dropped to 23 homers and 58 RBIs the following year, then fell off the face of the Earth.
'Ensberg is a great example of a player who had it going and then lost it without explanation,' said a former member of the Astros' front office. 'Usually there's a reason. I've got to believe with Ortiz it's a combination of the injuries, some mechanical thing in his swing. Sometimes you're off by a tick and you're messed up for a long time.'"
The only problem is that these are not equal comparisons. Ensberg's really had one good season, and then began to decline. He did not have a sudden drop off after many good seasons. Though Rice did fall off, it was not as sudden as the article would lead you to believe. From 1980 - 1988, he hit 24, 17, 24, 39, 28, 27, 20, 13, and 15 homeruns. He actually hit more doubles than usual in 1986 when his homers dropped from 27 to 20, and between 1987 - 1988 he averaged about 445 at bats. This is more of a steady decline with the exception of the sudden spike of 39 homeruns in 1983.
Now moving to the case of Ortiz. Ortiz was always a curious player because he was such a non-threat in the 6 seasons he played with the Twins. His last season in Minnesota was his best, hitting a career high 20 homeruns, and driving in 75 RBI's. Then he came to Boston, and his production increased even more. He batted career highs in average, homeruns, doubles, and RBI's with a .288 average, 31 homeruns, 39 doubles and 101 RBI's. This would not be out of the norm for a player that is finally breaking out, but one thing bothers me. He did this while playing half his games at Fenway, which is notoriously tough on left handed hitters. For comparison, the Metrodome had rightfield dimensions of 327 feet at its closest and 367 as it nears centerfield. Ortiz hit 5 homeruns in the Metrodome in 2002, 2 of which were over 380 feet. When he moved to Boston in 2003, 17 of his 31 homeruns were hit in Fenway park, 13 of which were over 380 feet. From there on out, he only got better. Manny was already on the team when he joined, so the pieces are certainly there, but its unfair to speculate like this. Players have had breakout seasons before, and some players have been late bloomers. What makes Ortiz stand out is that his power came when he showed up at Fenway, and seemingly left when Manny did. In this era that's enough to raise suspicion, but its still not fair. Without a positive drug test, there's no way to know, and you could probably look at the numbers of power hitters from the past and find someone whose numbers compare to Ortiz's. The thing that sucks about this era is that all you can do is wonder, and never know for sure. But that is the product of the steroid era, the "loosey-goosey" era, the Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Jose Canseco, Alex Rodriguez, and now Manny Ramirez era. Now, we're left in the suspicious era, which will probably last until the last of this eras sluggers retire.