The accolades for David Ortiz will pour in from all corners this season, his last in the majors.
And why not? Ortiz is among the most significant baseball players of our generation. A nine-time All-Star (tied with Bobby Doerr for third most in club history) and a record setting seven-time winner of the Edgar Martinez Outstanding Designated Hitter Award.
This year Ortiz enters his 14th straight season playing for the Red Sox, the player with the longest continuous tenure for his current MLB club. Papi is the only major leaguer with at least 20 home runs in each of the last 14 seasons, and the only player in Red Sox history to reach that mark in 13 straight seasons (2003-15). He is just one of 25 hitters with at least 400 HR for a single franchise, the only active player to do it.
We’ll have plenty of time to fête David Ortiz’ accomplishments in 2016, as well as speculate about how we’ll fill the void he leaves behind. For now, though, let’s focus on the feats he can surpass, if he stays healthy, in this final season.
Accomplishments in a last season
A final season can be traumatic enough for anyone. Combine that with the challenges for players over age 40 and it’s easy to see how difficult consistently strong performance might be. Still, Ortiz’ output these past three years can reasonably lead you to believe there is plenty of desire and gas in the tank to break some new records and further leave his mark on MLB.
RBI George Brett holds the RBI record for players over 40 in their final season. He collected 75 in 1993 (age 40). Ted Williams is next in that record book with 72 in 1960 (age 41), followed by Paul Molitor with 69 in 1998 (age 41). Ortiz has 105 RBI per season when averaged over the past three years.
Hits In 2014 Derek Jeter (age 40) matched Brett with 149 hits in his final season (both played in 145 games). Kenny Loften collected 145 hits in his final season of 2007 (age 40). For the past three seasons Ortiz has averaged 147 hits per year.
Doubles Brett and Craig Biggio (age 41 in 2007) stroked 31 doubles in their final seasons over 145 and 141 games, respectively. Molitor’s 29 doubles is next on the list. After a down year in 2014 where he hit just 27, Ortiz’ doubles production was up to 37 last year. For the past three seasons he’s averaged 34 per season.
Triples Not really part of his game, the triple has eluded Papi since 2013. Kenny Loften managed 6 in his final season. Only the Reds Jake Daubert can lay claim to more: he had nine at age 40 in his final season of 1924.
Home runs Ted Williams is the all-time leader for home runs among players aged 40 or above in their final season. He amassed 29 in his last year. Williams is followed by Barry Bonds, with 28 HRs in 2007 (age 40), and Brett, who collected 19. Big Papi can likely make his mark here having averaged 34 HRs in each of his last three seasons.
Batting Average Among senior players with at least 100 at-bats in their final season (this minimum threshold is used for OBP and SLG, too), the Pirates Jack Saltzgaver owns a best full season AVG of .325, which he earned in 1945 at age 42. Saltzgaver is followed by Tony Gwynn, who hit .324 in 2001 (age 41) and Ty Cobb at .323 in 1928 (age 41). Ortiz’ full season AVG hasn’t touched .300 since 2013, when he batted .309. In 2014-15, he finished at .263 and .273, respectively.
On-Base Percentage Fearsome at 42, Barry Bonds had a .480 OBP in his final season, followed by Ted Williams at .451, and the Rangers Brian Downing, who got to .407 in 1992 (age 41). Ortiz’ OBP has averaged .370 for the past three seasons.
Slugging Percentage Ted Williams slugged .645 in his final season, the best mark for our category. He’s followed by Barry Bonds (.565) and Jim Edmonds, who slugged .504 in 2010 (age 40). Ortiz’ SLG has averaged .545 for the past three seasons.
Isolated Power A measure we’ll spend more time on in 2016, ISO is a measure of power for extra bases. ISO is best measured over a longer period of time. At least 500 at-bats should be considered. For those with that many at-bats in their final season George Brett is, once again, the leader of a category. His .168 ISO comes in ahead of Biggio (.130) and Dave Parker, who had a .126 ISO in 1991 (age 40). Ortiz average ISO of .263 for the past three seasons makes it plausible he could re-write the record books for this key stat. Indeed, Papi has averaged 521 at-bats per season over these past three.
Leaving a mark
Of course, there’s little he can do in 2016 that will alter the view of Red Sox Nation on Big Papi’s contributions to our favorite team. So let’s set stats aside for a moment and consider the impact of this one towering figure.
For this correspondent, no stat is as impressive as the indelible image of his impromptu players’ meeting called right there in the dugout during Game 4 of the 2013 World Series.
Or his clutch late inning grand slam home run in Game 2 of the 2013 Championship Series (listen to Dave O’Brien’s radio call which still manages to give me chills) or the scene at Fenway and his memorable speech before the first game following the horrific Boston Marathon bombings.
We’re at the start of the new season. There will be plenty of time to remember these memories and others, to recount statistics, and to honor the club’s veteran slugger. Much will be said about who will replace Ortiz as Designated Hitter. More importantly, who will fill the leadership void for this team when he’s gone?