JAWS and the 2022 Hall of Fame Ballot: David Ortiz

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2022 Hall of Fame ballot. It was initially written for The Cooperstown Casebook, published in 2017 by Thomas Dunne Books and has been updated for FanGraphs. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

“Papi is even more famous than he is great, occupying his own space in baseball’s cultural catalog with the likes of Mickey Mantle, Dizzy Dean, Satchel Paige, and others who layered personality upon skill in outsized measures. October has much to do with that space.” — Tom Verducci, Sports Illustrated David Ortiz Special Retirement Tribute, October 2016
In December 2002, the Twins released David Ortiz, which is to say that they looked at the bulky, oft-injured 27-year-old slugger coming off his first 20-homer season, considered the possibility of doubling or tripling his $950,000 salary in his first year of arbitration eligibility and thought, “Nope.” Five weeks later, and two months into his new job, Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein signed Ortiz on the cheap as one of several potential first base and designated hitter options.
The rest is history. Ortiz became one of the most important and beloved players in the history of the Red Sox, homering more times than any Boston player besides Ted Williams and serving as the common thread and offensive centerpiece of the franchise’s 2004, ’07 and ’13 World Series winners. In addition to producing some of the most dominant postseason performances of any hitter in any era, “Big Papi” became an icon throughout the sport, a mentor to younger players, and an ambassador for the city in the wake of the horrific Boston Marathon bombing.
Such was Ortiz’s status that he received a retirement tour on par with the sendoffs of first-ballot Hall of Famers Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken Jr., Chipper Jones, Mariano Rivera, and Derek Jeter. Yet a berth in Cooperstown circa 2022 or beyond is hardly guaranteed, as Ortiz will have to overcome a few obstacles. First, he took 88% of his career plate appearances as a designated hitter, considerably higher than Edgar Martinez (72%), Frank Thomas (57%), or Paul Molitor (44%), all elected by the BBWAA in part for what they did while DHing. For voters mindful of WAR and JAWS, he does not fare tremendously well when compared to enshrined first baseman (DH candidates are compared at the fielding position where they accrued the most value, which for Ortiz is first base). Finally, he’s been connected to performance-enhancing drugs via his reportedly having failed the supposedly anonymous 2003 survey test.

With regards to the advanced stats, it must be acknowledged that JAWS doesn’t capture Ortiz’s postseason portfolio or his unique spot in baseball history, and that regardless of the metrics, many voters will see the 2019 election of Martinez as paving the way for that of Ortiz. As for the drugs, commissioner Rob Manfred issued an important caveat regarding that survey test result near the end of Ortiz’s career. While the opposition to his candidacy shouldn’t be taken for granted, neither should his fame.

2022 BBWAA Candidate: David Ortiz
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
David Ortiz 55.3 35.2 45.3
Avg HOF 1B  66.0 42.4 54.2
2,472 541 .286/.380/.552 141
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Ortiz was born on November 18, 1975 in the baseball hotbed of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. The oldest of four children of Enrique Ortiz — a former semipro player who turned to selling auto parts when he needed to support his family — and Angela Rosa Arias, he starred in basketball at Estudia Espallat High School as well as baseball. After his 1992 graduation, the Mariners signed the tall, powerful 17-year-old, who took his mother’s maiden name upon turning pro.
After spending 1993 in the Dominican Summer League, Arias came stateside and struggled so mightily in the Rookie-level Arizona League that the Mariners had him repeat the level, hardly a sign of future stardom. He got his career back on track, making the All-Star teams of the Arizona League in 1995 and the Midwest League in ’96. Just prior to the August 31 trading deadline, the Mariners bolstered their infield by acquiring Twins third baseman Dave Hollins for a player to be named later. Two weeks later, Arias was sent to Minnesota, and by the time he debuted for the organization in 1997, he was David Ortiz again — literally the player to be named later.
The 6-foot-4, 230-pound lefty tore through three minor league stops in 1997, hitting a combined .317/.372/.568 with 31 homers before making a 15-game cameo with the Twins. Baseball America rated him as Minnesota’s number two prospect heading into 1998, and he opened the season as their starting first baseman. Though he started strongly, a broken right wrist cost him two months and sapped his power. He finished at .277/.371/.446 (111 OPS+) with nine homers in 86 games, a solid showing for a 22-year-old rookie.
The Twins were not enamored. Manager Tom Kelly, who had a reputation for being particularly hard on younger players, often sat Ortiz against lefties or lifted him late in games for pinch-hitters or defensive replacements. As Ortiz later wrote about Kelly in Papi: My Story, “It didn’t take me long to figure out he was the kind of guy who could make your life miserable if he didn’t like you. It also didn’t take me long to figure out he didn’t like me. At all.”

Despite Ortiz’s power potential, his poor conditioning and awkwardness around first base opened the door for slick-fielding, light-hitting Doug Mientkiewicz. Rather than shift Ortiz to the DH spot opened by Molitor’s retirement, the Twins sent him back to Triple-A Salt Lake City, where he languished despite mashing. He went 0-for-20 in an overdue September call-up; Mienkiewicz hit a grim .229/.324/.330.
Ortiz regained his roster spot and spent the next three seasons DHing, hitting a combined .265/.344/.473 for a 109 OPS+, showing glimpses of his awesome power but battling injuries. He homered 10 times in 130 games in 2000, and 18 in 89 games in ’01, missing time due to another fracture in his right wrist. His .272/.339/.500 showing with the career-high 20 homers in 2002 came in just 125 games, as he missed over three weeks due to surgery to remove bone chips in his left knee. Still, the Twins remained fixated on his shortcomings. Though his pull-happy approach provided plenty of pop, he drove Kelly crazy by refusing to focus on hitting to the opposite field. As he told the Boston Globe’s Jackie MacMullan in 2004, “Something with my swing was not right in Minnesota. I could never hit for power. Whenever I took a big swing, they’d say to me, ‘Hey, hey, what are you doing?’ So I said, ‘You want me to hit like a little bitch then I will.'”

By then, Ortiz had enough service time to qualify for arbitration, but the budget-minded Twins, who had ranked 26th out of 30 teams in 2002 payroll — yet still won 94 games and the AL Central — were unwilling to multiply the salary of a player with so many limitations, particularly given a farm system booming with inexpensive alternatives. General manager Terry Ryan spent two months trying to trade Ortiz. “Not one team made an offer,” he told Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci in 2006. Needing a roster spot after picking in the Rule 5 draft, Ryan designated Ortiz for assignment on December 16, 2002, four days ahead of the non-tender deadline. “I made a bad baseball decision,” he told Verducci.
Forces conspired to bring Ortiz to Boston. For one, fellow Dominican Pedro Martinez, by that point already a three-time Cy Young winner, ran into the sullen, just-released Ortiz in Santo Domingo, and recalled the slugger homering off him. “I threw you a cutter last season, high and inside. I threw it perfect — 92 miles an hour, jam-city. And you smashed it into the upper deck… You’re the only one who’s ever hit a home run off that pitch. You’re coming with me to Boston, homie.” Martinez put in his good word in a voicemail for Epstein.
Sox scout Dave Jauss, who had managed Ortiz in the Dominican Winter League, also recommended him to Epstein. Jauss had seen Ortiz beat up left-handed pitching and believed that the incentive of taking aim at Fenway Park’s 37-foot Green Monster in left field (just 310 feet down the line, and 379 feet in left-center) could help him thrive as an all-fields hitter, as lefties Mo Vaughn and Trot Nixon had done in Boston. The GM asked Jauss to work him out, hitting him an endless supply of groundballs “like he was a 16-year-old free agent.”
The Sox signed Ortiz to a one-year, $1.25 million deal, but he had to fight for playing time until corner infielder Shea Hillenbrand was traded to Arizona in late May. Thanks to tweaks to his swing from hitting coach Ron Jackson, who told him to “load up” (draw his arms back) and wait as long as possible to swing, Ortiz settled into the lineup’s fifth spot behind Nomar Garciaparra and Manny Ramirez and bashed 31 homers while hitting .288/.369/.592 (144 OPS+). The Red Sox, who had missed the playoffs in the previous three seasons, won 95 games and claimed the AL Wild Card. After beating the A’s in the Division Series, they pushed the Yankees to extra innings in Game 7 of a thrilling AL Championship Series. Ortiz powered Boston to victory with a two-run homer off Mike Mussina in Game 1, drove in three runs in a Game 6 win, then hit a solo shot that gave the team a 5-2 lead in the top of the eighth in Game 7, just before the Yankees mounted a comeback capped by Aaron Boone’s 11th inning walk-off home run.
Under new manager Terry Francona, Boston did even better in 2004, boosting their win total to 98. “Big Papi” had become a fixture in the lineup and clubhouse; a raise to $4.6 million was soon accompanied by a two-year, $12.5 million extension covering 2005-06. Picking up the slack for the injured-and-then-traded Garciaparra, he made his first All-Star team while hitting .301/.380/.603 with 41 homers and 139 RBIs; the last three numbers all ranked second in the AL, as did his 351 total bases, while his 145 OPS+ ranked fifth. The Wild Card-winning Sox swept the Angels, with Ortiz’s 10th-inning walk-off homer off Jarrod Washburn in Game 3 sealing the deal.
In their ALCS rematch against the Yankees, the Red Sox fell behind three games to none, a deficit that had never been surmounted in any postseason series in baseball history. Despite Ortiz’s two-run single off Orlando Hernandez, they trailed 4-3 in the ninth inning of Game 4 against Mariano Rivera before scratching out a run thanks in large part to pinch-runner Dave Roberts‘ steal of second base. Ortiz ended the five-hour epic in the 12th inning with a walk-off two-run homer off Paul Quantrill.

Ortiz then summoned even more heroics in Game 5, which began roughly 17 hours after the end of Game 4 and stretched even longer: 14 innings and five hours and 49 minutes. After collecting an RBI single and a solo homer, he delivered the winning hit in the 14th via a bloop single off Esteban Loaiza.

While he went hitless in Game 6, Ortiz’s two-run first-inning homer off Kevin Brown keyed a 10-3 rout in Game 7. Ortiz won ALCS MVP honors for his .387/.457/.742 performance and record-setting 11 RBIs. He then hit a three-run homer in the first inning of the World Series opener against the Cardinals. Boston swept the series and ended their 86-year championship drought, while Ortiz finished October hitting .400/.515/.764 with five homers and a record-tying 19 RBIs.
Over the next three seasons, Ortiz continued to put up monster numbers, hitting a combined .306/.418/.620 for a 163 OPS+. In 2005, he led the league with 148 RBIs and ranked second with 47 homers, an astonishing 20 of which either tied the game or gave Boston the lead. In gratitude, Sox owner John Henry presented Ortiz with a plaque in September 2005 that proclaimed him “The Greatest Clutch Hitter In The History Of The Boston Red Sox.” In 2006, he led the AL in homers (a franchise-record 54), RBIs (137) and walks (119), including 23 intentional passes. Shortly after the season opened, the Sox extended him again, this time for four years (through 2010) and $52 million.

In 2007, though Ortiz’s homer total dipped to 35, he led the league with a .445 OBP and set a career high with a 171 OPS+ despite playing through a torn meniscus in his right knee. The 96-win Sox won the AL East, and Ortiz continued to blaze a trail through October, hitting a combined 370/.508/.696 with three homers and 10 RBIs in 63 PA as the Sox swept the Angels (who walked him six times when he wasn’t going 5-for-7), downed the Indians in a seven-game ALCS and then swept the Rockies in the World Series.
A partially-torn tendon sheath in his left wrist cost Ortiz 45 games in 2008, the start of a three-year dip across which he averaged “only” 28 homers while batting a combined .257/.356/.498 for a 120 OPS+ and struck out with increasing frequency — 24% of all plate appearances in 2010. Though hardly a pushover, the 34-year-old slugger looked to have entered the decline phase of his career.
On July 30, 2009, the New York Times reported that both Ortiz and Ramirez (by then a Dodger) were among the 104 major leaguers who tested positive for PEDs via the 2003 survey testing that triggered the implementation of a bona fide testing-and-penalty program. Records of the test were supposed to have been destroyed, but before they could be, the government subpoenaed and then seized them as part of a larger investigation into the distribution of PEDs. The list of positives was placed under a court seal, and a month later, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that in seizing records and urine samples from testing facilities, federal agents had far exceeded the limits of a search warrant that gave them access to the records of only 10 players linked to BALCO. By that point, several names had been leaked to the media, including those of Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa, Jason Grimsley and David Segui.
Though he had been notified in 2004 that he was on the list, Ortiz described himself as “blindsided” by the news. Soon afterwards, he admitted that he had been “careless” in taking over-the-counter nutritional supplements, an explanation that actually left him some wiggle room. More on that below.
A cynic might be tempted to draw a link between Ortiz’s survey positive and his post-2010 resurgence, but it’s important to note that he did not test positive once MLB began issuing suspensions for PEDs starting in ’04, nor was he named in the ’07 Mitchell Report. Against the odds, he cut his strikeout rate back to a mere 14% in 2011, kicking off a six-year stretch across which he hit .296/.386/.567 for a 154 OPS+, nearly on par with his 2003-07 run (156 OPS+). With four All-Star teams in that span, he ran his career total to 10, and averaged 32 homers despite missing Boston’s final 71 games in 2012 due to a right Achilles tendon strain. The injury was part of a deluge that helped turn a near-miss 2011 team — eliminated on the last day of the regular season — into a 93-loss disasterpiece.
Still battling Achilles inflammation, Ortiz would miss the first 15 games of the 2013 season as well. By the time he took the field, his folk-hero status throughout New England had grown. On the afternoon of April 15, two pressure cooker bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three spectators and injuring an estimated 264 others. The Red Sox had just left town for Cleveland; their return to Fenway Park on Friday, April 19 was postponed while the city shut down as police continued a manhunt for the suspects. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured later that night. The following afternoon, Ortiz gave a brief, rousing speech during a pregame ceremony to honor the victims of the attacks and pay tribute to law enforcement officials, first responders and race participants:

“This jersey that we wear today, it doesn’t say Red Sox. It says Boston. We want to thank you Mayor Menino, Governor Patrick the whole police department for the great job they did this past week. This is our fucking city and nobody is going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong.”

The catharsis provided by that speech resonated throughout the Red Sox’s 97-win season. Making up for lost time, Ortiz bopped 30 homers in 137 games and finished with a 159 OPS+, his highest since 2007, then went on yet another remarkable postseason run. In 68 PA against the Rays, Tigers and Cardinals, he hit a combined .353/.500/.706 with five homers and 13 RBIs, not to mention 16 walks. Highlights from the first two rounds included a two-homer Game 2 against Tampa Bay in the Division Series, and a game-tying grand slam in the eighth inning of Game 2 of the ALCS while Detroit’s Torii Hunter tumbled over the wall into the Boston bullpen.

Ortiz then went 11-for-16 with eight walks (four intentional) in the World Series as the Cardinals desperately tried to avoid engaging him. He reached base multiple times in all six games, led all players in runs (seven) and RBIs (six) as well as hits and walks and even drew credit for helping to turn the series via an impromptu pep talk in the dugout during Game 4, just before the Sox turned a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 lead.
As the Sox won their third World Series in a decade, Ortiz secured Series MVP honors and kindled talk of Cooperstown. “This month, David Ortiz has probably become the first player in history to get over the hump and into the Hall of Fame by the margin of his spectacular postseason play,” wrote the Washington Post‘s Thomas Boswell. “At 37, Ortiz remains the game’s best designated hitter and has played himself into at least a conversation about his Hall of Fame viability,” wrote the New York Post’s Ken Davidoff.
The Sox slipped back to last place in the AL East in both 2014 and ’15, though Ortiz continued to defy his age. His 614 PA in the latter year represented his highest total since 2009 and vested a $16 million option for ’16, while his 37 homers were his most since ’06. On September 12, he hit the 500th of his career off the Rays’ Matt Moore in Tampa Bay, becoming the 27th player to reach that milestone.

On November 18, Ortiz’s 40th birthday, he announced via a two-and-a-half minute video on The Players Tribune that the 2016 season would be his last. He did more than just show up to the tributes; he put together the greatest farewell season of any hitter by several measures including home runs (38), RBI (an AL-best 127) and WAR (5.2). He hit .315/.401/.620, leading the league in slugging percentage and doubles (48) and helping the Red Sox back into the postseason. Still, he remained firm in his decision to retire given the lengthy pregame preparation to manage the pain associated with his Achilles injury.

Ortiz ended his career with 10 All-Star appearances, eight Edgar Martinez Awards (prior to 2004, known as the Designated Hitter of the Year Award) and three championship rings. Along those lines, he retired as the career leader among DHs in key categories such as plate appearances (8,861), hits (2,191), homers (485), runs (1,254), and RBI (1,569). Via the Hall of Fame Monitor, his portfolio of accomplishments gives him a 171 score, beyond “a virtual cinch.” Indeed, of the 19 other eligible players within 10 points of that score, 16 are enshrined, including Joe Morgan, Reggie Jackson and Ernie Banks, all within one point of Ortiz. Only current candidate Todd Helton (175) and the PED-connected Rafael Palmeiro (178) and Mark McGwire (170) are outside.
In any other era, Ortiz 541 home runs alone — good for 17th all-time — would have made him a lock for Cooperstown, but the doubling of that club’s size from 14 players through Mike Schmidt in 1987 to 28 players today, has lessened that milestone’s prestige, not only because of its rapid growth but because eight newcomers including Ortiz have been linked to PEDs. Of the six that reached the ballot before this year — Sosa, McGwire, Palmeiro, Ramirez, Bonds, and Gary Sheffield — none has made it, with McGwire falling off the ballot after 10 years, Bonds and Sosa about to do the same, Palmeiro slipping below 5% after four years, and Ramirez and Sheffield getting nowhere near the support such sluggers used to receive, though the latter did reach 40.6% last year, the highest share for any such candidate besides Bonds (61.8%). Rodriguez, like Ortiz, is eligible for the first time this year, but as the first player to miss an entire season for a PED infraction, he’s not getting in anytime soon despite his 696 homers and 3,115 hits.
Like Sosa, Ortiz is linked to PEDs only by the 2003 survey test; he didn’t turn up in the Mitchell Report or any other investigation. “In the eyes of baseball… Ortiz is a zero-time offender. He never has failed a test that featured individual discipline, and he never has been charged with a non-analytical positive,” wrote Davidoff in 2013.
Beyond the survey test’s intended anonymity — which is to say the violation of players’ privacy rights via the leak — there’s that wiggle room mentioned above with regards to supplements. “Because neither Major League Baseball nor the Players Association is believed to know the substances for which the players tested positive during that survey testing year — only the government has those results — if a player thinks he tested positive for a supplement, he might have a reasonable case,” wrote the New York Daily News‘ Christian Red and Teri Thompson shortly after the leak. “The supplement 19-norandrostenedione was legal in 2003 and contained the steroid nandrolone, a hard-core performance-enhancing drug used to build muscle.”
As Red and Thompson, MLBPA executive director Michael Weiner, and even the league itself pointed out, there was a discrepancy between MLB’s count of positives (96) and the number of samples seized by the government (104). The union planned to contest some of the 96 positive survey tests but never did because the threshold to trigger mandatory testing for 2004 had already been exceeded. Said MLB in a statement, “Given the uncertainties inherent in the list, we urge the press and the public to use caution in reaching conclusions based on leaks of names, particularly from sources whose identities are not revealed.”

With an eye towards Ortiz’s eventual Hall of Fame eligibility, commissioner Rob Manfred reiterated that point in late 2016:

“If there were test results like that today on a player, and we tried to discipline, there would be a big grievance over it. It would be fully aired, vetted, tried, resolved… Even if Rob Manfred’s name was on that list, he might have been one of those 10 or 15 where there was probably, or possibly, a very legitimate explanation that did not involve the use of a banned substance. I think it’s really unfortunate that anybody’s name was ever released publicly.”

None of this entirely clears Ortiz’s name, but it does confirm that his explanation was at least plausible.
Beyond that obstacle is the voters’ handling of designated hitters. Molitor’s 2004 election made him the first player with a plurality of plate appearances as a DH to gain entry, though his 3,319 hits virtually guaranteed his election. Thomas’ 2014 election made him the first honoree with a majority of his plate appearances as a DH, but his 521 homers and reputation as one of the era’s few players to speak out against PEDs made him a lock as well. Martinez, who played a more-than-passable third base for over 500 games before moving to DH, took until 2017, his eighth year of eligibility, to top 50% of the vote, likely aided by the head-to-head comparisons with Ortiz as the latter’s career wound down.
Ortiz is Martinez’s only rival for the title of the position’s greatest, and owns the advantage in counting stats, but his .288/.380/.552 batting line, assembled largely while calling Fenway Park home, is not the equal of Martinez’s .314/.428/.532 in the more pitcher-friendly environments of the Kingdome and Safeco Field. Adjusting for park and era and including their offensive performances at other positions, Martinez holds a 147-141 edge in OPS+ and a 532-455 edge in batting runs (the offensive component of WAR).
Martinez does not have Ortiz’s lengthy postseason resumé, but his biggest October hit probably saved baseball in Seattle, and he does have significant edges in WAR (68.4 to 55.3) and JAWS (56.0 to 45.3). Defensive value is built into WAR, both via a comparison of the player’s fielding work to that of the average player and via a positional adjustment that rewards those at harder positions on the right of the defensive spectrum and penalizes those at the easier ones on the left. A full-time DH, playing 150 games a year, is assessed a positional adjustment of -15 runs via Baseball Reference’s version, 5.5 fewer than the same amount of time at first base, and 17 fewer than the same time at third (which pertains to Martinez’s case). Here it’s worth noting that FanGraphs’ version uses -17.5 runs for DH, and +2.5 for third base, so Edgar has a slightly bigger edge on Big Papi in WAR, 65.5 to 51.0.
Because of that significant positional penalty, Ortiz only cracked the league’s top 10 in WAR in 2005 (5.2 WAR, eighth), ’06 (5.8 WAR, sixth) and ’07 (6.4 WAR, sixth); meanwhile, he placed second, third and fourth in the MVP voting in those years, respectively. He had three other seasons worth at least 4.0 WAR, the championship seasons of 2004 (4.3) and ’13 (4.4) plus his swan song (5.2).
As with Molitor, Martinez and other candidates who spent substantial time at DH, in my JAWS evaluations I have compared each at the positions where they accrued the most value. Ortiz, who played 278 games at first base and was 16 runs below average while doing so, doesn’t measure up resoundingly well among first basemen. His 55.3 career WAR is 26th, his 35.2 peak WAR is 34th, and his 45.3 JAWS is 30th, 8.9 points below the standard; he outranks just four of 22 non-Negro Leagues enshrinees in JAWS.
Those metrics don’t capture the value of Ortiz’s postseason accomplishments, however, and there’s no magically correct answer as to how to weight them. Even taken at face value, they are impressive, starting with Ortiz’s .455/.576/.795 line in 59 World Series plate appearances. One has to drop the threshold to 30 PA — half the playing time — to find players with better rate stats; only Bonds (.471/.700/1.294 in 30 PA) beats him across the board.
Considering the entire body of postseason work, which also includes nine Division Series, his .289/.404/.543 line beats his regular season numbers, over the course of 369 PA, roughly two-thirds of a year, against the pitching of top-shelf teams. With the caveat that here he’s largely competing with contemporaries from the Wild Card era, he’s fourth in doubles (22) and RBIs (61), sixth in total bases (165), and seventh in walks (59), though he’s slipped to 11th in homers (17) and hits (88) thanks to Jose Altuve and friends. It’s still an impressive collection, if not quite a dominant one. In terms of Win Probability Added, a context-sensitive measure that can help to quantify his big moments, his career mark of 3.16 is the highest of any position player, but it’s in part a product of opportunity, as he’s 10th in PA. His 63.3 Championship WPA (cWPA) — which factors in both the increment by which he changed a team’s probability of winning a game, and then by the difference in the team’s chances of winning the World Series given a win or a loss — ranks ninth:

Postseason cWPA Leaders
Player PA cWPA
David Freese 230 87.2
Mickey Mantle 273 83.5
Lance Berkman 224 82.4
Pete Rose 301 79.0
George Springer 292 69.2
Tris Speaker 83 65.2
Lou Gehrig 150 64.0
Hal Smith 8 63.7
David Ortiz 369 63.3
Reggie Jackson 318 63.2
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Of course, a high postseason WPA or cWPA can only do so much to capture the significance of a player’s most indelible moments, and I don’t know that this standing is especially prescriptive for election; it didn’t work for Berkman, who finished with a 144 OPS+, 52.0 WAR, and a .317/.417/.532 postseason line in 224 PA (and .410/.520/.564 in 50 World Series PA) but received just 1.2% on the 2019 ballot.

One postseason hero with a similarly low JAWS score comes to mind as an Ortiz comp is Willie Stargell, the powerful and magnetic seven-time All-Star who inherited the Pirates’ leadership mantle from the late Roberto Clemente and earned universal respect throughout the game. Said Joe Morgan, “When I played, there were 600 baseball players, and 599 of them loved Willie Stargell. He’s the only guy I could have said that about. He never made anybody look bad and he never said anything bad about anybody.”
In his 21-year career, the slugging left fielder/first baseman put up raw numbers that Ortiz eventually outdistanced, though in the lower scoring environment, he created more value:

Willie Stargell vs. David Ortiz
Player Career Peak JAWS H HR AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+
Willie Stargell 57.5 38.0 47.7 2,232 475 .282/.360/.529 147
Avg HOF LF 65.2 41.6 53.4
David Ortiz 55.3 35.2 45.3 2,472 541 .286/.380/.552 141
Avg HOF 1B  66.0 42.4 54.2

Like Ortiz, Stargell starred in the postseason, hitting a combined .278/.359/.511 with seven homers in 153 PA, including .315/.381/.574 with three homers in 63 PA in the Pittsburgh’s 1971 and ’79 World Series wins over Baltimore. In the latter, he drove in the winning runs in Game 7 and became the first player to run the table with the regular season, LCS and World Series MVP awards — at age 39, no less. To be fair, the regular season award, shared with Keith Hernandez in a season where Stargell was worth just 2.5 WAR, was weak on paper, relying heavily on his perceived leadership of the colorful cast for whom Sister Sledge’s disco hit “We Are Family” became an anthem.
From a sabermetric standpoint, Stargell’s value is held back by subpar defense (-70 runs) at both left field and first base. He’s short on all three WAR fronts when measured against left fielders, including 6.0 points short in JAWS — closer to the mark than Ortiz, albeit with a lower Monitor score (106) and postseason WPA (0.34) and cWPA (25.4). Still, both on the field and off — where he won the Roberto Clemente Award, for the player who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team,” in 1974, as Ortiz would do in 2011 — Stargell touches the bases in a similar manner to Ortiz, an outsized icon whose collection of accomplishments in the regular and postseason are more than enough to get elected.

While I’m lukewarm about Ortiz from a JAWS standpoint, and therefore about including him on my ballot — the construction of which is guided by my metric but not limited to it — I do believe he’ll be elected, if not in 2022 then soon enough. Yes, it’s going to be ridiculous that voters place him ahead of Bonds, who was never disciplined by MLB for PEDs and who was about 10 times the ballplayer Ortiz was in terms of all-around skills. I’ve been saying for years that voters will gerrymander their logic in some fashion to include Ortiz and not Bonds (the candidates who served suspensions are more easily dismissed), but it’s not as though I don’t understand the impulse to anoint the former. His candidacy has its flaws, but inarguably, he rates as one of his era’s most transcendent stars. The flags that fly over Fenway Park thanks to his contribution will outlive him, just as those from 1915, ’16 and ’18 outlive Babe Ruth. The people of Boston won’t forget that, and I suspect neither will the BBWAA voters.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky @jayjaffe.bsky.social.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
CC AFCmember
2 years ago

The real big question here is does he go in with a Twins hat or a Red Sox hat?

2 years ago
Reply to  CC AFC

Mariners clearly

2 years ago
Reply to  CC AFC

I was thinking Wisconsin Timber Rattlers for that home run derby against A-Rod & Griffey.

2 years ago
Reply to  CC AFC

Bellingham Baby Ms obviously