David Ortiz claims all-time hits record for designated hitters
On Wednesday night, David Ortiz smashed a double to left-center field in the second inning against the Mariners in Seattle. The hit was Ortiz’s seventh in three games, and it led to Boston’s first run in a rout. In the grander scheme, it was the 37-year-old Red Sox slugger’s 1,689th hit as a designated hitter, enabling him to surpass Harold Baines as the all-time leader among DHs. Ortiz later added a homer and a sacrifice fly.
Here’s the MLB.com video of Ortiz’s hit, which came at the expense of Aaron Harang. After its significance was relayed, the Safeco Field crowd responded with a standing ovation:
Seattle fans are no strangers to quality designated hitters; while it’s Baines whom Ortiz surpassed on the hit list, it’s longtime Mariner Edgar Martinez who stands as the only other DH with a legitimate case as the position’s all-time best. Here’s the top 10 ranked by hit totals as DHs, not including Wednesday’s game, with data via STATS LLC, whose totals for this category differ slightly from those found on Baseball-Reference.com, thus leading to a crisis of faith similar to the one lampooned here:
Ortiz, who has about 10 percent more plate appearances in that role, has the advantage in counting stats, including a 1,206-1,003 lead in RBI, but Martinez carries a 25-point edge in batting average, a 43-point advantage in on-base percentage, and a 16-point advantage in OPS (960-944). Adjusting for Ortiz’s time in hitter-friendly Fenway Park, Martinez’s time in the Kingdome and Safeco, and the two players’ time spent at other positions (Ortiz was a first baseman, Martinez a third baseman), Martinez accumulated 68.3 career Wins Above Replacement, while Ortiz has just 42.4 WAR thus far.
Using my JAWS system, I’ve argued that Martinez, who has been on the Hall of Fame ballot for four years but never received more than 36.5 percent, is worthy of a plaque in Cooperstown. He finished his career with 2,247 hits, 309 homers, and a .312/.418/.515 line, with two batting titles and seven All-Star appearances to boot. Molitor, a member of the 3,000 hit club, is the only player who spent a plurality of his major-league career at DH in the Hall of Fame, though Thomas, who spent the majority of his career as DH and who will be on the ballot this winter, is likely to change that given his two MVP awards and 521 career home runs.
I’ve been asked several times if I think Ortiz is similarly worthy, but based upon WAR and JAWS, the answer thus far is no. Martinez has about a 26-win advantage for his career, and an 11.5-win gap for his JAWS peak score (best seven seasons), 43.5 to 32.0. Prior to Wednesday’s game, Ortiz had career totals of 1,905 hits, 419 homers, and a .287/.381/.550 line, with one home run title and eight All-Star appearances. Ortiz does make up some ground given a body of postseason work that includes a prominent role in Boston’s 2004 and 2007 world championships, but he also has been connected to performance-enhancing drugs via a leaked report that he tested positive during the supposedly anonymous 2003 survey test. Ortiz denied using PEDs, claiming that the positive came from over-the-counter supplements and vitamins.
Ortiz missed most of the second half of last season due to an Achilles strain in his right foot, and he missed the first 15 games of the year due to inflammation in both feet. Since returning, he has picked up where he’s left off, hitting .331/.413/.636 with 19 homers, ranking second in batting average and third in slugging percentage, and helping the Red Sox to the league’s best record at 55-37.