David Ortiz has done this before. The 35-year-old designated hitter has a .300/.371/.547 line after yesterday's pinch-hit home run and has a shot at reaching 30 homers and 100 RBI for the seventh time in his nine years with Boston.
Other DHs aren’t hitting nearly as much this year. Offense is down in general and DHs have contributed to the dropoff with a pedestrian .261/.338/.405 line (that's not counting National League DHs, who have just a .195/.256/.346 line). Designated hitters have combined for their lowest OPS of the 2000s, a Nick Punto-esque .743.
Ortiz, who repeatedly expressed interest in a multiyear commitment from the Red Sox last offseason, is earning $12MM this year and will hit free agency after the season. His numbers don’t compare to the ones he posted five or six years ago, but they seem especially strong when compared with those of other DHs on the brink of free agency.
Jack Cust has a single home run and a .325 slugging percentage; Hideki Matsui has three homers and a .346 slugging percentage; Jorge Posada has a .174/.292/.348 line and is one of the oldest players in the league; Jim Thome is even older than Posada and has spent time on the DL, though he has a respectable .792 OPS.
A few DHs are playing reasonably well this year. Jason Kubel has a solid .305/.350/.457 line with five homers; Johnny Damon has a .273/.315/.432 line with seven homers and Vladimir Guerrero has five homers with a .300/.325/.419 line. But Ortiz’s power numbers are far better; his 11 homers and .547 slugging percentage lead all DHs.
There’s a definite limit to how far Big Papi's 2011 success can carry him, since he turns 36 in November and only the 14 American League teams could work him into the lineup every day. Even if Ortiz continues hitting this well, it’s hard to imagine any team offering more than two guaranteed years.
But the season couldn’t be going much better for Ortiz, who has avoided his usual early-season slump and appears on track for another productive season. Meanwhile, DHs around the league are producing poorly and helping Ortiz’s chances of obtaining multiyear security in the process.