No one's been better than Ortiz

Originally Published: September 23, 2005
By Sean McAdam | Special to ESPN.com

Since the designated hitter was introduced in 1973, there has never been a full-time DH chosen as the American League's Most Valuable Player.

Voters have shown a bias -- or at least an obvious inclination against -- those players who have no defensive responsibilities.

David Ortiz
Designated hitter
Boston Red Sox
Profile
2005 SEASON STATISTICS
GM BA HR RBI OBP SLG
149 .300 46 140 .396 .616
But that should change this fall. Regardless of job title, it's impossible to imagine that anyone could be more valuable to his team than David Ortiz is to the Boston Red Sox.

First, the obvious -- and compelling -- evidence:

Ortiz leads the American League in homers and RBI, which would be impressive enough. He also leads the American League in total bases, runs scored, slugging percentage, extra-base hits, home-run ratio and RBI ratio.

Heck, if the lumbering Ortiz had any speed, he might be a threat to win the Triple Crown.

But it isn't so much what he's done as much as when he's done it.

And in Ortiz's case, he's done it seemingly whenever the Red Sox need help the most.

"What's he done kind of speaks for itself," says Red Sox manager Terry Francona, "but the timing of what he's done has taken it to another level."

He's hitting .345 with runners in scoring position, and when there are two outs, that's elevates to an incredible .370.

This season alone, Ortiz has two walk-off homers and two others in extra innings of road games. With a decent chance to become the first Red Sox hitter in almost 70 years to hit 50 homers, almost half (19) of his 46 homers have either tied the game or put the Red Sox ahead. Eight of those have come after the seventh inning.

Recently, as the Sox tangle with the Yankees for the AL East lead, Ortiz hit three game-deciding homers in the span of nine days.

As the playoff race has intensified, Ortiz's production has reflected the urgency. Over the last 26 games, he has 15 homers. In September alone, he's belted 10.

" Look at the history of the MVP. Players win it for what they do offensively. ... And what this guy is doing offensively makes him, in my opinion, the MVP. We could run him out there to first base, but that doesn't make us a better club."
Sox manager Terry Francona on David Ortiz

"All the things we talked about Vladimir [Guerrero, 2004 AL MVP] last September," says Francona, "this guy has done, and done for a longer period of time."

Of course, if Ortiz had put up those kind of eye-popping numbers as a first baseman, he'd be the heavy favorite to win the AL MVP. But because he's limited to DH duties, his candidacy is somehow given short shrift by some.

That's not only illogical, it's unfair.

Certainly, a strong case could be made for Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees. Rodriguez has nearly as many homers (45 to Ortiz's 46), a higher batting average (.318 to Ortiz's .300) and ranks just behind him in both slugging percentage and total bases.

Additionally, Rodriguez is, despite some spurts of inconsistency, a plus defender at third base, while Ortiz seldom puts a glove on.

But should the fact that Ortiz does not play the field automatically consign him to a second-place -- or lower -- finish when the ballots are counted? Hardly.

"Look at the history of the MVP," advises Francona. "Players win it for what they do offensively -- Frank Thomas [twice], Jose Canseco. And what this guy is doing offensively makes him, in my opinion, the MVP. We could run him out there to first base, but that doesn't make us a better club."

Instead, the Sox platoon Kevin Millar and John Olerud at the position, while Ortiz spends his time in between at-bats reviewing video, turning the DH position "almost into an art form," according to Francona.

Defense has never been much of a factor in MVP voting. If it were, Ozzie Smith, Mark Belanger and Bill Mazeroski would have been serious contenders. They weren't.

As Francona correctly points out, some recent winners -- Thomas, Canseco, Jason Giambi -- have been de facto DHs. Even Barry Bonds, the most intimidating offensive player of his generation, has become a subpar outfielder in recent years. But it hasn't hurt him in the voting.

Could Ortiz play 130 or so games at first base? Sure. Would he be helping his team much with his glove work? Of course not.

For the most part, the edge should go to the position players who contribute offensively and defensively. But as is the case with starting pitchers, about once a decade or two, there comes a season so dominant, so irrefutable, so valuable that it's impossible to overlook.

This is one of those seasons.

Sean McAdam of The Providence (R.I.) Journal covers baseball for ESPN.com.