David Ortiz: The Greatest Final Hitting Season Ever?

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Well, it’s official. Barring some sort of Brett Favre type comeback, David Ortiz has retired. After 20 seasons, Ortiz will be remembered not only for his 541 home runs and nearly 2500 hits, but for his flamboyant personality and his innate ability to deliver in the biggest moments.

While Ortiz’s final season didn’t go exactly as planned, as the Red Sox were swept out of the playoffs by the Cleveland Indians, it will certainly be remembered for something else: one of the greatest final hitting seasons in the history of baseball. But, was it the greatest?

Table 1 displays the top five final seasons ranked by OPS since the beginning of the expansion era. Looking strictly at OPS, David Ortiz has the best mark by far. However, it would be facile to declare this the greatest final hitting season ever based purely on that. OPS is an excellent stat for measuring offensive performance, but it has its flaws. For example, OPS gives on base percentage and slugging percentage equal weight.

The general consensus is on base percentage is worth at least twice as much as slugging. In Moneyball by Michael Lewis, it’s revealed that Paul DePodesta theorized that at the high end of the spectrum, on base percentage is worth three times as much as slugging. Based on the fact that one point of on base is worth more than a point of slugging, I’ve calculated two separate stats in table 1 (OBP*2+SLG and OBP*3+SLG), which give greater weight to OBP.



The only person who even comes close to touching Ortiz is Will Clark, whose 17 point OBP advantage gives him a boost under the alternate OPS calculations. However, even with the generous 3x weighting applied to his on base, Clark still falls short of Ortiz.

Another measurement we can use to compare offensive performance is oWAR (offensive Wins Above Replacement), which again puts Ortiz well ahead of the pack; he’s worth a full win more than Will Clark.

Now, although this article is about offense specifically, some might argue that while Ortiz presented considerable offensive value, his overall value was hindered because of his inability to play the field, whereas players like Will Clark and Kirby Puckett combined sound offense with the ability to play a position, or multiple in Puckett’s case. A sound argument on the surface, because these players would seemingly provide defensive value, Puckett, Clark and Belle actually negatively impacted their teams in the field. So, amongst the top five final seasons in OPS, it seems as though David Ortiz reigns supreme even if you factor in defense.

Congratulations, David, on the greatest final hitting season ever.

*oWAR =  Offensive Wins Above Replacement

Measures how many “wins” a player is worth on offense; a zero WAR is “replacement level”.

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