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David Ortiz not quite a Hall of Famer

David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox celebrates

David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox celebrates a home run in the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays during Game 2 of the American League Division Series at Fenway Park. (Oct. 5, 2013) Credit: Getty Images

It was a predictable reaction.

As David Ortiz's one-out, two-run home run cleared the Green Monster at Fenway Park during the sixth inning of Thursday's Game 2 of the World Series, the tweets proclaiming the October hero a Hall of Famer appeared fast and furious.

A two-time World Series champion -- and a key member of those teams -- Ortiz is bidding this year for the hat trick. A superb regular season performer even at age 37, the Hall of Fame question is getting to be oft asked. And it's a legitimate debate.

But Ortiz will probably miss the grade.

There are three key facets of Ortiz's game to examine: regular season, playoffs and "distractions." We'll get to them each in order.

Perhaps the best way to view Ortiz's chance is through the prism of that other great designated hitter, Edgar Martinez. Martinez, a staple for the Mariners from 1987-2004, has been eligible for the Hall for four years and has never received more than 36.5 percent of the vote (2012). Martinez got 35.9 percent of the vote this year. Players need at least 75 percent of voters to write their name down to earn election.

The two hitters have very comparable regular season numbers.

  David Ortiz Edgar Martinez
Seasons 17 18
Batting average .287 .312
On-base percentage .381 .418
Slugging percentage .549 .515
On-base plus slugging percentage .930 .933
Home runs 431 309
Hits 2,023 2,247
Extra-base hits 969 838
bWAR 44.2 68.3

Ortiz and Martinez are separated by just three points in OPS, with Ortiz being the better slugger and Martinez displaying superior patience. Ortiz bests Martinez in home runs and extra-base hits, but Martinez has a better Wins Above Replacement (as calculated by Baseball-Reference).

When it comes to the playoffs, Ortiz has certainly been a superlative performer. He has a .929 postseason OPS, meaning he's performed roughly the same as he has during the regular season. Of course, he has those two rings and has hit plenty of big home runs. That reputation for being a "clutch" performer should help him. Ortiz has jacked 17 homers in 285 playoff at-bats (an average of once every 16.7 at-bats) and 38 extra-base hits (average of once per 7.5 at-bats).

But Martinez was no postseason flop himself. His teams never advanced past the American League Championship Series, but it hardly seems fair to grade him for a team failure. What we can measure is his hitting. Martinez had eight playoff home runs in 128 at-bats (once every 16 at-bats) and 15 extra-base hits (once every 8.5 at-bats). His rate of postseason homers is actually better than Ortiz.

Then there's that third category, which we've called "distractions." Ortiz has himself confirmed that his name appears on the supposedly-secret 2003 list of players that tested positive for a performance-enhancer. To be fair, Ortiz has steadfastly denied using an illegal substance and blames the result on then-legal supplements or vitamins.

This is not about convicting or vindicating Ortiz, though. This is about examining patterns. And the patters aren't good for Big Papi.

Consider that Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell, two of the greatest hitters of their era, were denied election to the Hall of Fame this year, their first on the ballot. It's widely assumed that the reason they aren't enshrined in Cooperstown right now is because enough voters suspected that maybe, possibly, perhaps the sluggers were using. Essentially, they're guilty by association in the minds of some, simply because they played during an era which saw its fair share of PED abuse and the two hit a lot of home runs.

Greater evidence and insinuations existed against Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, who both posted all-time great numbers, and the pair was also excluded (along with everyone else from the 2013 ballot -- no one was elected).

But Piazza, Bagwell, Clemens or Bonds never were reported to have failed a test, never mind outright admitted to failing one.

Martinez was never suspected of using and even he can't come close to the threshold for election.

So what chance does Ortiz have for the Hall?

Likely, not a good one.


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