Thursday, January 9, 2014

David Ortiz is Not Frank Thomas

Frank Thomas was elected to the Hall of Fame on Wednesday and for some it meant an omen that David Ortiz will one day be elected.

This article states that the election of longtime DH Frank Thomas paves the way for Ortiz.

This left me scratching my head. I never really consider Frank Thomas as a longtime DH. I know he played DH but to me I think of Frank Thomas in his prime, winning MVPs, playing first base and for a time being the right handed Ted Williams.

I decided to head over to Baseball Reference to do a little research and here is what I came up with:

Frank Thomas was in fact a DH longer than I thought he was. 58% of his career was made up of him being the DH. This did surprise me. Over the course of his career, Frank Thomas had six seasons where he played first base more than 81 games. Two of those seasons he logged over 150 games at first base. He would end up playing 971 games at first base in his career.

Thomas was a DH more than I originally thought but he still played first base for a large chunk of his career, especially during his prime. I have a hard time considering him a DH or going into the Hall of Fame as a DH.

David Ortiz has yet to play one season of 81 games or more at a position other than DH. Ortiz has 13 seasons where he has played more than 81 games at DH. Ortiz is probably the best DH of all time. Ortiz was a full time DH in his prime and as I write this. Frank Thomas became a DH as his prime was ending, which is the normal transition and really why the DH exists. They are very much apples and oranges when it comes to the Hall of Fame and that is just with the the position they played.

I wrote about my 2014 Hall of Fame Ballot the other day and explained why I was not voting for Edgar Martinez. I feel a DH can be a Hall of Famer but their numbers really need to be extraordinary. Martinez has very good numbers and if he had played his career as a position player he is a Hall of Famer in my opinion.

There is also the argument that Frank Thomas was awful defensively so why give him credit for playing first base and being a liability? This is valid. There is no doubt that Frank Thomas is a Hall of Famer because of his offense. However, playing in the field does make a difference. David Ortiz has played a pretty good first base when he has been called on to do so in World Series and interleague games. In fact, he has shown to be a better defensive first baseman than Frank Thomas. Keep in mind, Ortiz has a very small sample  size and being a better defensive first baseman than Frank Thomas isn't exactly something to brag about.

So what difference does it make? I think Ortiz said it best when talking about playing first base for the handful of times during the season. He explained that it takes a toll on his body. Ortiz complained of his back flaring up after some interleague games the past couple of years. First base is not the most demanding position and for years it has been used as a place for the aging ballplayer in the NL and before there was a DH in the AL. However, it is much more demanding than sitting in the dugout.

Playing in the field does take a toll on the body which can lead to more games missed, less productivity at the plate and shortening a career. This is why I feel a DH needs to have extraordinary numbers in order to be considered for the Hall of Fame.

Big Papi is no Big Hurt when it comes to the DH/1B argument but also when it comes to production and value. Thomas has a career WAR of 73.6 with a 7-year peak WAR of 45.3. Ortiz has a career WAR 44.2 with a 7-year peak WAR of 33.4.  It is not close.

I love David Ortiz. I think the Red Sox need to retire his number the day he retires and start working on a statue in his honor. He has been the driving force for three World Championship teams. Think about that. He has been the most clutch player in the history of the Red Sox. He deserves standing ovations from the Fenway faithful from now until the end of time. He is not Frank Thomas though and he is not a Hall of Famer.


  1. Frank Thomas WAS an awful first baseman, and he hurt his team every time he stepped on the field with a glove, and for a number of years, he hurt his team by selfishly insisting on playing first base even though the White Sox had better defensive first basemen on their roster who were relegated to the DH role because of Thomas' insistence. None of that should keep him out of the Hall of Fame--he belongs there anyway--but he absolutely deserves no credit for playing in the field. He was the worst first baseman I ever saw between Dave Kingman and Adam Dunn.

    I don't think it's fair to hold it against Ortiz that he said his back flared up after playing first base the last couple of years, either. He's at an age now where he would probably be a DH even if he hadn't played there for most of his career. Frank Thomas probably would have said the same things if he'd been put back on first base when he was 37.

    If you don't think Ortiz has done enough statistically to make the Hall of Fame, that's a legitimate argument to make. He is very marginal as a HOF candidate, although I am certain that a great deal of the case for him is made based on his enormous contributions to championship teams. The 2004, 2007 and 2013 champion Red Sox all benefitted from three of his best years, he was the 2004 ALCS MVP and the 2013 Series MVP, and he has a .962 OPS in 82 career postseason games. If he gets in the Hall of Fame, those numbers are going to be a big part of what gets him there.

    1. Great points John. The other John could use you as a comment posting role model. I view Papi like I do Schilling when it comes to the HOF. They have marginal career HOF numbers but historic postseason numbers

  2. Papi will also have to deal with the steroid issue. I might be biased but I feel he has distanced himself from it. There is a lot of questions about what he failed for in 2003 and given he has not been linked to anything since then I give him the benefit of the doubt. Will the voters though? A career DH with steroid speculation? It is going to be tough