Here's Ortiz's case:
- 48.3 career bWAR. Hit .283/.377/.543
- Best 5 seasons by bWAR: 6.4, 5.7, 5.3, 4.4, 4.2
- 3 World Series rings, .295/.409/.553 in the postseason, lots of big clutch hits
- 273 career games at 1b. 1,837 at DH.
Very good player. By today's standard, not even close to a Hall of Fame player. Let's compare Ortiz to some contemporaries:
- 68.3 career bWAR. Hit .312/.418/.515
- Best 5 seasons by bWAR: 7.0, 6.5, 6.5, 6.2, 6.1
- 0 World Series rings. Hit .266/.365/.508 in limited postseason time, mostly late in his career
- 564 career games at 3b. 1403 at DH. Handful at 1b
- Comparison to Ortiz: More bWAR in fewer games. Twice as much time in the field. No postseason accomplishments.
- HOF Case: Probably should be in, but probably won't break 50% in the voting
- 72.9 career bWAR. Hit .276/.402/.515,
- Best 5 seasons by bWAR: 7.5, 7.4, 5.9, 5.6, 5.4
- 0 World Series rings. Hit .211/.312/.448
- 1106 career games at 1b. 493 at 3b. 818 at DH.
- Comparison to Ortiz: Much better overall player. Solidly in the HOF by bWAR. Played most of his career in the field. No postseason accomplishments
- HOF Case: Hits the ballot in 2018. We'll see, but I bet he gets in after several ballots.
- 79.8 career bWAR. Hit .301/.419/.555
- Best 5 seasons by bWAR: 7.3, 6.9, 6.9, 6.3, 6.2
- 0 World Series rings. Hit .224/.441/.429 in just 16 games
- 971 career games at 1b. 1,310 at DH
- Comparison to Ortiz: Probably the most comparable as far as playing primarily as a DH. Thomas was a far superior hitter. The White Sox were terrible though, so he basically has no postseason record.
- HOF Case: He's in.
- 50.4 bWAR. Hit .277/.399/.516
- Best 5 seasons by bWAR: 9.1, 7.7, 7.1, 5.9, 4.8
- 0 World Series rings. Hit .290/.425/.486 in 45 games, mostly with the Yankees
- 1307 career games at 1b. 595 at DH. 112 at LF. Handful at 3b.
- Comparison to Ortiz: Remarkably similar. Giambi was much better at his peak, but Ortiz was a little more consistent. Giambi wasn't on any of the WS-winning Yankee teams, but was very good in October.
- HOF Case: He's 5 years away from the ballot, but I bet he doesn't break 5%.
How Good Was Ortiz?
I could list some more contemporary 1b/DH types like Jeff Bagwell, Todd Helton, Carlos Delgado, etc as comparisons to Ortiz, but you get the point: David Ortiz just wasn't that special of a baseball player. Thome, Thomas, and Martinez are all much better baseball players. Here's where he ranks in pure offense since 1997 (the year he entered the league) among batters with more than 3,000 plate appearances:
- 137 wRC+, good for 21st overall.
- 353.5 offensive runs, good for 16th overall
Pretty good? Definitely. He's comparable in pure offense to players like Brian Giles, Matt Holliday, Carlos Delgado, Todd Helton, Bobby Abreu, and Vlad Guerrero. But here's the thing: All of those guys played the field. At times, some of them played the field quite well. And among the group, my guess is only Vlad Guerrero has any real shot at the Hall of Fame.
And that's just on pure offense. Designated hitters don't play defense. Defense is an important and valuable part of the game. Ortiz has played virtually all of his career as a designated hitter. The best way to think about a DH is they are the worst defensive player on the team, in the same way that a bad defensive shortstop is probably still a better defensive player than a really good defensive 1st baseman.
Ortiz, therefore, was one of the worst defensive players in baseball during his career. Fangraphs has him worth -227.2 runs on defense over his career, 3rd worst in the majors over that time frame. Now, you might want to make some bad argument about how David Ortiz maybe could have played 1st base, but that's ridiculous. Want to know who was the 2nd worst defensive player in baseball over the same time period? Manny Ramirez. If David Ortiz can play 1st base, maybe the Red Sox don't play the worst defensive left fielder in recent memory in the field.
Then, there's the postseason. Ortiz was legitimately great on October, especially in the 2013 World Series. But Ortiz also played on probably the 2nd or 3rd best team in baseball during his career. He got a lot of postseason opportunities. It's not Thome or Thomas's fault that their teams couldn't make the playoffs. In fact, since they were clearly better players than Ortiz, they did a lot more to get their teams there than he did. Maybe we should give some weight to Ortiz's postseason numbers. If he were a borderline HOF case, I might say the postseason puts him in. But we're talking about 85 games here.
Ortiz just doesn't have a case based on career numbers. He's not even close to Hall of Fame caliber. When you take a step back and look at his numbers, you see a guy with a relatively short career, negative defensive value, no particularly noteworthy peak seasons, and some pretty awesome postseason performances on a great team. Lots of similar contemporary 1b/DH-types were either clearly much better baseball players, consensus non-HOFers, or both.
And you know something? I think baseball agrees with me. Here's Ortiz's contract history with the Red Sox:
- January 2003, Age 27: Pre-All Star David Ortiz. Non-tendered by the Twins. Signed by Boston as a free agent for $1.25 million.
- May 2004, Age 28: Coming off strong 2003 season. Signed contract extension for 2005-2006, $12.5 million, plus a 2007 club option for $7.75 million.
- April 2006, Age 30: Coming off 3 strong seasons. Signed contract extension for $12.5 million for 2007-2010, club option for $12.5 million for 2011.
- December 2011, Age 35: Coming off Ortiz-like .309/.398/.554 2011 season. Boston offers Ortiz arbitration. Ortiz accepts. Signed for 1 year, $14.575 million.
- November 2012, Age 36: Only plays 90 games, but posts the best OPS+ of his career. Ortiz hits free agency. Signs for 2013-2014 for $13 million per year.
- March 2014, Age 38: Coming off a solid, but down, season. Signs contract extension for $16 million in 2015, plus two $10 million club options that can vest to $16 million based on playing time.
My point: Where is the big contract? In a world where declining Carlos Beltran can demand a 3-year, $45 million contract, mid-30s David Ortiz should be able to demand a much larger contract if baseball valued him all that highly. Now, he's an old, risky player, so I understand why he never signed a $200 million contract, but come on! Unless Ortiz is giving Boston a huge hometown discount, he's getting paid like the 3-5 win player was for most of his Red Sox career.
David Ortiz is a star. He is a charismatic player who represented baseball's darling (and probably best) big market team from 2003-present. But he's not a Hall of Famer.