Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
David Ortiz spent the last three months of 2012 and the first two-and-a-half weeks of this season hobbled by a foot injury.
Now, Papi's back and he's making up for lost time.
Despite appearing in just nine games, Ortiz has already catapulted himself into the MVP discussion with three homers, 15 RBI and a mesmerizing .500 batting average. He's also helped guide the Red Sox to a two-game lead in the American League East, arguably baseball's toughest division this year.
Half of Papi's hits this season have gone for extra bases, a pretty astounding feat considering that Ortiz has always had below-average speed. He carries a career-high 21-game hitting streak into Wednesday night's game against Toronto.
Though he hasn't logged enough at bats to qualify yet, Ortiz's .917 slugging percentage this season would easily be the best in the major leagues. The same goes for his absurdly high OPS (1.429).
The hitting spree has included seven multi-hit games (including five in his last six outings), and eight games with at least one RBI. If Ortiz keeps hitting at this impossible rate, he'll finish the season with 48 homers, 242 RBI, 129 runs and a major-league record 290 base hits.
Even if he produces half of that stat line (and keep in mind that Boston still has 136 games left on its schedule), it would be difficult to overlook Ortiz in the MVP balloting. No DH has won that award since Don Baylor in 1979, and no batter over the age of 36 (Papi is 37) has earned the honor since Barry Bonds in 2004.
Not to take anything away from Ortiz, but he has certainly benefited from playing eight of his first nine games at Fenway Park. Papi holds a .316 average in 726 career games at Fenway, compared to a .266 clip in 3,946 at bats outside the friendly confines of Yawkey Way.
He hasn't exactly faced top-tier pitching, either. Three of Boston's last four opponents (Kansas City being the exception) have had team ERA's higher than four. Ortiz's recent health issues and the fact that he's only eligible at one position in fantasy (DH) are also red flags.
Despite these minor shortcomings, fantasy owners should be holding onto Papi for dear life. Unlike most other left-handed hitters, Ortiz has been dominant against left-handed pitching. Since 2011, Ortiz is hitting .324 against southpaws with 17 HR and 55 RBI in 309 at bats. That's actually better than he's hit versus right-handers over that same duration (.318, 38 HR, 114 RBI in 576 at bats).
Here's another trait that separates Papi from your typical left-handed power hitter: he loves to go to the opposite field. Five of Ortiz's 18 hits this season have fallen into left field. That's the same number he's hit to right.
That 27.8 percent ratio compares favorably to other left-handed sluggers such as the Angels' Josh Hamilton (18.2 percent) and pull-hitting Detroit first baseman Prince Fielder (14.3 percent of his hits go to left field). Ortiz's ability to hit to all fields makes it pointless for teams to use the shift against him.
Ortiz's impact isn't limited to just the fantasy world. He's also affecting the American League standings.
The 18 wins Boston produced in April were tied for the most in team history. Seven of those victories came with Papi in the lineup, and the Sox have averaged 6.22 runs per game with Ortiz hitting cleanup. They've only averaged 4.65 runs per game in the 17 contests he's been absent for.
It's probably lost amid his other eye-popping stats, but the more astute fantasy owners might notice that Ortiz has only drawn two walks this season. That puts him on pace for roughly 32 free passes, which would be the lowest amount he's had since 1999, when he spent most of the year with Triple-A Salt Lake.
That could be a warning sign for some. To me, it's a symbol of Ortiz's triumphant return to fantasy relevance. Instead of going through the motions, Ortiz is being confident and aggressive. Ortiz knows exactly what he's looking for at the plate and most of the time, he's getting a bat on it.
Ortiz is on a mission to solidify his case for Cooperstown and he's taking no prisoners. It's time for fantasy owners to follow Papi to freedom.
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