Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Respect the Pronk
By Ben Valentine

When people talk about the best designated hitter in baseball, one name immediately comes to mind; David Ortiz. It’s so much of a slam dunk, most people wouldn’t even have to think about it. It’s like a reflex now with everyone and everything telling you how great Ortiz is, some even exhaling him to Hall of Fame proportions.

The problem is that for a while now, there’s been a quiet but very legitimate argument that Ortiz is in fact overrated, stemming from the fact he isn’t even the best hitter on his own team. And now he's not not even the best player at his "position" anymore.

Well to all those like Bill Simmons who swear Ortiz is the second coming, please stop what you’re doing, get up and respect another DH by the name of Travis Hafner. The man who is known as Pronk is, believe it or not, the best designated hitter in baseball. Yes better than even the god-man Ortiz.

Why wouldn’t most people say that? Because most people don’t actually know how good Hafner is. Since he plays for a mediocre Indians team and not in a huge market like Boston, ESPN and others like them just doesn’t have time to cover him. In fact despite clubbing six grand slams this year (tying a major league record), he’s probably still the best player people don’t know about. How else can one justify the fact he’s been left off the All Star roster in the past two years while being a legitimate MVP candidate in both? Yes, Hafner was a candidate last year, in fact, just as worthy as Ortiz. Sacrilege, I know. But first, let’s start with the basics; their overall numbers from 2006.

Hafner: .303/.428/.640/1.068, 35 Hr, 104 RBI, 86 Runs, 28 2B, 84/97 BB/K

Ortiz: .285/.397/.621/.1.018, 41 Hr, 110 RBI, 86 Runs, 22 2B, 80/93 BB/K

Now this isn’t a blowout by any stretch of the imagination, but Hafter has a better average, better on base and better slugging than Ortiz. He has less homeruns but that’s lessened by his average and extra doubles, thus computing out to a higher slugging percentage than Big Papi. So, it’s hard to argue against Hafner based off these numbers. But wait, I can hear it now:

“Ortiz is clutch! Do you know how many big home runs he hits? Do you know how many walk off jobs he has?”

Of course, those same people probably didn’t bother to look at Travis Hafner’s numbers with runners in scoring position this season. So far, Pronk’s OPS with RISP is 1.198 in 117 ABs. Ortiz has been excellent again, as his .993 mark with RISP (in 128 ABs) shows. But that does not compare to Hafner this year.

“You’re missing the point. Look at who’s better when the game’s on the line. It’s clearly Ortiz. Come on, I’ll take those clutch numbers over Hafner’s 50 point advantage in OPS any day of the week and twice on Sunday. You Moneyball stat freaks are all the same.”

Well in Ortiz’s 67 ABs in close and late spots this year, he’s pretty darn good. His OPS stands at 1.254. Hafner on the other hand is just horrible in his 51 ABs. His OPS is just 1.225 with an on base percentage of .500. You see, that’s what will happen when Manny Ramirez is not batting behind you. Hafner has walked 11 times in those spots while Ortiz, in 16 more ABs, has walked 10 times.

When pitchers fall behind Ortiz, they can’t simply walk the guy. They have to come in because of the Hall of Famer standing in the on deck circle. Victor Martinez is a good player, but he’s nowhere near Manny Ramirez. Forget their careers for a moment where it’s not even close. This season Ramirez is an MVP candidate, with an OPS just behind Hafner at 1.060. Victor Martinez is excellent for a catcher, but an .849 mark isn’t going to send shivers down a managers spine. So, who would you rather pitch to, Travis Hafner or Victor Martinez?

Yeah… I thought so.

And heck, who would you rather pitch to? Ortiz (1.018 OPS) or Ramirez (1.060 OPS)?

Speaking of “twice on Sunday” by the way, Hafner had the game winning hits in both ends of Cleveland’s doubleheader sweep of the Royals on Saturday. How’s that for clutch?

“Okay, this is a breakout season for Hafner. But Papi’s been doing this since 2003. You’ve got to give it to him based on consistency.”

Fair argument, but Hafner’s been doing it since 2004. And remember Ortiz is one year older. In fact, their careers look quite similar in terms of the arch with Pronk reaching the level of "superstardom" (at least numbers wise) a year earlier age wise. Ortiz had an OPS of .983 in 2004, Hafner .993. In 2005, a year where many feel Papi had the MVP crown stolen by Alex Rodriguez, the Red Sox DH had an OPS of 1.001. Hafner’s mark was 1.003, which essentially makes their production last year equivalent. Of course Hafner had less RBI last year, but that had more to do with the number of opportunities each player got. Hafner had 138 ABs with RISP in 2005, Ortiz 162, and Hafner even out OPSed Ortiz in those spots 1.071 to 1.042.

Where Ortiz does have it over Hafner is close and late last year, where he OPSed 1.293 in 78 ABs, which is sick. Hafner’s mark was only 1.001 in 70 ABs. Interestingly enough however, Hafner’s OBP was .444, 144 points higher than his batting average. Ortiz was .447, 101 points higher than his batting average. Since the two have pretty similar batting eyes, this suggests Hafner was seeing far less to hit than Ortiz. Once again the “Manny Ramirez factor” rears its head.

So to review, this season Travis Hafner is as good as or better than Ortiz in pretty much every category. Last season, Hafner was as good as or better than Ortiz in almost every category. (And to those who scream about RBI, I refer you to the RISP numbers once again.) Forget what your mind or memory tells you, the truth says otherwise.

Travis Hafner should be the most feared designated hitter in the American League. Big Papi shouldn’t feel bad. There’s no shame in being second. Meanwhile it’s time people realized how good Hafner really is. I know, Bill Simmons can claim he’s Roy Hobbs-esque!

Maybe then he’ll actually be able to make an All Star team.

15 Comments:

Blogger Chris said...

GREAT stuff! I've been waiting for someone to do something like this.

11:32 AM  
Blogger June said...

Of course Hafner had less RBI last year, but that had more to do with the number of opportunities each player got.
it makes me sad that in this day and age people still have to ACTUALLY SAY THIS... even leaving aside the protection/next-batter issue, the thing I always think of when it comes to the inter-team relativity of "RBI" is: in 2003 (I think it was), Aubrey Huff hit .311/34/107. ONE HUNDRED AND SEVEN RBI on the FREAKING DEVIL RAYS. putting aside the mathematical implausibility of that happening on that team, how can anyone look at me with a straight face and tell me that - based on RBI - he was only EQUALLY productive or useful as a theoretical someone who hit 4th or 5th all year for the yankees and happened to have exactly the same # of RBI? and yet...

anyway. extremely fine piece as usual. I offer an abbreviated version, which needs only a headline:

Hafner Demonstrably Better Than Ortiz But Remains Unknown Because Not On the Team ESPN Is Contractually Required to Fellate Nightly

People get pissed off when I say that, but I 'm gonna keep saying it til it stops being true.

10:00 PM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

Right on June- Huff had a .938 OPS with RISP last year, which while not being Ortiz, is still pretty good. Another good example of this is Jason Bay, who went .306/.402/.559/.961 with 32 homers last year, yet drove in just 101 runs! He even had an OPS with RISP of 1.074 (better than Ortiz). But one figures he often got pitched around; he had a .462 OBP because of 37 walks.

It is a classic case of big and small market. I know I root for a big market team, but I'm realisic. If Travis Hafner played 1st base/DH for the Mets, Yankees, Red Sox or Dodgers he'd be in the talk for best player in the game.

And just to show I'm fair, I'll give an example of it with the Mets. David Wright is a great young player, but there's no way he deserves MVP talk when Miguel Cabrera, in the same division on a team with far less talent, has better numbers. If Cabrera were on the Mets, he'd be in the MVP discussion.

11:32 PM  
Blogger Shaun aka "The ATM" said...

8-13 with 6 HR's...Hafners stats with the bases loaded this year...thats what happens when a pitcher is forced to pitch to him

3:38 PM  
Blogger June said...

that is downright terrifying

8:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

he has FEWER home runs.

8:41 PM  
Blogger Aaron G. said...

The real question is (and no one in Cleveland could answer this when I asked), why PRONK? Where does the nickname come from?

7:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

An excellent comparison between these two very good hitters. I agree with vertually everything you say, and I'm in absolutely no way a Red Sox fan, but I know what their fans will say:

It's worth more when it means more.

As soon as Hafner does it when it counts, and lets be honest he hasn't had to yet, then he'll get the same respect.

Boston is in the thick of a pennant race, and always is, so clutch game-winning hits mean more than when you drive in the winning runs against KC and your team is 10 games under 500.

8:26 PM  
Blogger June said...

i know the "ONK" part is for DONKEY and I think "PR" is for PROJECT... that doesn't make any sense, but that's what I remember

8:31 PM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

June is correct Aaron. It stands for "half project, half donkey." I'm not sure where the project comes from, but I sort of do see the donkey in Hafner. (There's a link included in the post that explains the nickname)

Boston fans will say that but that doesn't mean they're right. The idea of "clutch" is overrated. Give me the best players over the "clutch" ones everytime. (Btw, usually they're one and the same) I've said this before and I'll say it again, just like any Yankee fan would be nuts to want Jeter up in a big spot over A-Rod, a Red Sox fan would be nuts to want Ortiz up over Manny. Overall, if we're talking about player I want up in a big spot it goes in this order:

1. Pujols 2. Ramirez 3. Hafner 4. A-Rod 5. Miguel Cabrera

Those are in my opinion the best hitters in the game. "Clutchness" be damned.

11:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You really didn't list Ortiz in the top 5... I am officially quitting the internet

4:36 PM  
Blogger June said...

w/e- don't let the cord hit you on the ass on the way out

5:21 PM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

I don't mind anonymous comments, but if you're going to make a statement like that, back it up with something. So you're going to quit the internet? Why?

Because I "insulted" Ortiz by saying I'd rather have a 23 year old who's got a .997 OPS in the best pitcher's park in baseball and is surrounded in a lineup by guys younger than I am. (And I'm 23).

And by taking the 2005 MVP who arguably is one of the top five position players of all time. (Look up the numbers. A-Rod is an all time great.)

And by taking a guy who's out OPS-ed Ortiz the last three years without having Manny behind him.

And by taking the best hitter on Ortiz's team.

And by taking the guy who is pretty much universally considered the best hitter in baseball.

Darn, I guess I really must have shortchanged Ortiz. Before you leave the internet forever, can you please tell me which of those five guys should be removed in favor of Ortiz and why?

1:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ben, I didn't say that Ortiz was better than Hafner because he produced when it counted, i said he got more respect becuase he did it then.

These guys don't hit in a vaccuum, surrounding pressure counts. You can break down the numbers all you want, and you do, but everyone will reserve judgement on Hafner until he's at the plate with the game on the line in the heat of a legitimate pennant race.

You can't use factors like the strength of the surrounding cast while ignoring the magnitude of the moment. Just because there isn't a quantifiable measurement of "pressure" doesn't mean it doesn't affect the situation.

I supect his numbers will still be great and we can put the entire discussion to bed, but like it or not, he has yet to do that.

Dave A

12:01 PM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

My argument lies in the idea that the best hitters have the greatest likelihood to perform no matter the situation. So I pose this to you. At their best, who would you take in a big spot:

Derek Jeter
David Ortiz
Barry Bonds
Carlos Beltran
Vlad Guerrero

The "clutch reputations" would put Jeter, Ortiz and Beltran first. But personally, I'd go in order of best players; Bonds, Guerrero, Ortiz/Beltran (they're pretty close) and Jeter last.

You might see things differently, which is why I'm curious to see who you'd put first.

4:09 PM  

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