The Sox’ DH/warrior-poet/philospher-king has previously said he’s going to retire after the 2016 season. That’s understandable. After all, he’s 40, he has three World Series rings, he’s likely headed to the Hall of Fame, and he’ll wind up earning more than $150 million in salary. Maybe the man wants to do other things.
So if this indeed turns out to be Ortiz’s last season, then it’s turning out to be one heck of a final act. Coming into the weekend series, Ortiz in 32 games this season is batting a robust and age-defying .319/.401/.672. Papi’s nine homers rank fifth in the AL, and his OPS+ of 184 is good for third (and if it holds up, it would be a career-high). Yes, it’s surprising to see a hitter who should be in his deep decline phase author those kinds of numbers, but bear in mind that Ortiz has long defied our notions of what aging hitters can do. After all, since his age-35 season, Ortiz has hit a combined .293/.383/.561 (153 OPS+). Suffice it to say, this isn’t your typical 40-year-old hitter who’s clinging to a roster spot out of an outgrown sense of ceremony. Rather, Ortiz in 2016 is a lineup fulcrum for a contender.
All of this raises the matter of the best final seasons in MLB history, as hitters go. The gold standard, of course, will probably always be Shoeless Joe Jackson’s 1920 campaign, when he put up OPS+ of 172 and WAR of 7.6. Jackson of course was suspended and later banned for life for his alleged role in the Black Sox Scandal. Next on the list of great final seasons is probably Jackson’s teammate Happy Felsch, who batted .338/.384/.540 while manning center field for those 1920 White Sox. His career met the same fate as Jackson’s.
The Baseball-Reference Play Index tells us that 20 position players have put up a WAR of at least 3.0 in their final seasons. The list is dotted with such luminaries as Roberto Clemente (4.8 WAR), Jackie Robinson (4.5 WAR), Barry Bonds (who of course may have been informally blacklisted … 3.4 WAR), Hank Greenberg (3.4 WAR), Kirby Puckett (3.1 WAR), and Ted Williams (3.0 WAR in just 390 plate appearances).
As for Big Papi, he’s already at 1.5 WAR, so he’s halfway to our list with barely 20 percent of the season in the books. If he manages to maintain this pace, then he’s going to wind up with almost 7.0 WAR — i.e., just shy of Shoeless Joe’s heap-topping mark. To be sure, Ortiz isn’t likely to continue producing at such a level, but he’s already banked a lot of value. Even with a substantial level of decline over the remainder of the season, he’s going wind up with one of the best last hitter seasons ever. That said, the intact skills (his hard-hit rate is up this year, and he ranks fifth in MLB in average exit velocity off the bat) and recent history all suggest he’s more than capable of running a .900 or greater OPS the rest of the way. In other words, absent injury go ahead and put Papi on this list of great final seasons.
As he’d surely agree, though, the more important matter is that he’s a core producer for a team with legit designs on the postseason. Not bad for a 40-year-old on the cusp of retirement. And who’s to say the man can’t change his mind?
With Coors back on the slate and only one great pitcher, Friday night figures to be a wild one.
I would anticipate pitcher ownership being extremely low across the board for the most owned pitchers. Multi-entry tournaments will be filled with similar lineups built around multiple cheap pitching options. One of my favorites to attack a night like this is to play the best expensive bats that aren’t at Coors Field. There are a bunch of them tonight.
The prospects are coming! The prospects are coming!
Relax. It’s a bunch of chumps.
OK, so that’s not totally fair, especially with regard to Gary Sanchez. Jose Peraza, Steven Moya and Tommy Joseph also have things they do well and could go on to have productive major-league careers (they wouldn’t have made it this far otherwise), but as prospects go, they’re decidedly second-tier. I might even argue third-tier for Moya and Joseph.