David Ortiz undoubtedly celebrating a spectacular hit. (Photo credit)
The year 1973 was a very important one for comedic television. It was the year Dave Chappelle, Seth MacFarlane, Neil Patrick Harris, and Jim Parsons were born. Without them, television as we know it would be a duller place. But another improvement was also born that year that would impact the future of television; It was the year that the designated hitter was introduced to the American League.
This meant that instead of watching a pitcher try not to strike out, baseball fans, in one league at least, could watch an invasion of home runs with the addition of another power bat to the lineup. Edgar Martinez is usually celebrated as the best DH of all time. His eighteen-year career with the Mariners was spectacular, no doubt, but I say that David Ortiz is better.
Ortiz has become a Boston legend during his tenure with the Red Sox. The argument about who is the best DH of all time, in most cases, comes down to these two sluggers.
The argument for Edgar Martinez is greatly bolstered by the credibility of Sports Illustrated, which recently ranked him as the best designated hitter. He defined consistency, batting over .300 eleven times in 18 years. He hit more than 25 home runs five times and was always someone Mariners fans could rely on. And, in an age when performance-enhancing drugs were rampant, Martinez was not much of a traditional power hitter, hitting over 30 home runs once (37 in 2000). He was more of an average guy, winning the batting title in both 1992 and 1995.
But is that what you want out of your DH? You can find high average hitters who play the field. The DH is supposed to be a guy who can drive in runs, which Martinez could, but other DHs do it at a higher rate. The DH is supposed to be the scary guy who can clear bases with a single stroke and instantly change the game. Enter Ortiz.
Ortiz has had an awkward career. He suffered a great deal of injuries and was inconsistent at the plate during his early career with the Twins. But, when the Red Sox signed him in 2003, he made a giant impact on the Boston offensive attack. He has hit over 30 home runs six times and has hit over .300 five times, as well. For comparison’s sake, I have looked at each player’s eight prime seasons.
Martinez’s prime was between 1995 and 2003, omitting his 2002 campaign based on a lack of at-bats. His average numbers: 27 home runs, 108 RBIs, and a .324 average. These numbers are definitely impressive.
Ortiz’s prime was between 2003 and 2011 subtracting his 2008 season due to a lack of at-bats, as well. His statistics: 37 home runs, 117 RBI’s, and a .293 average. I assumed Martinez would dominate the statistics, but that is not the case.
During both players’ primes, Ortiz averages 10 more home runs a season -- the difference between an average power hitter and an elite one.
One of the most important stats for a hitter batting in the heart of a lineup is RBI because that is how you win the game. An offense’s job is to score runs and Ortiz accounted for more runs than Martinez did, hands down.
Martinez does have a significant advantage in batting average over Ortiz, but again, how monumental is that stat compared to home runs and RBI when considering where both hitters batted in the order?
And we haven’t even gotten to the most important factor: David Ortiz is a team leader. No hitter has come closer to single-handedly winning a series more than David Ortiz in the ’04 ALCS. He hit five home runs with 23 RBI, while batting a scorching .409. That is all not including his two walk-off hits.
Ortiz is a two-time World Champion and was a major factor for both titles. Martinez never made it out of the ALCS and although he hit a clutch double in the 1995 ALDS, he will never be able to compare to the playoff success of Ortiz. Ortiz is on a top-ten list of all-time hitters you would want up with the game on the line. Martinez would not make that list.
The best way to look at any debate like this is to ask which player would you want to build a team around. Both qualify as quality character guys and solid leaders, but how can you deny the performances of Ortiz in the playoffs? You want that guy on your team, not a hitter who hit over 30 home runs once in his eighteen-year career.
Look at the Hall of Fame voting for Edgar Martinez. First eligible in 2010, he received 36.2 percent of the vote and that number has not increased much in the following years. It was 36.5 percent in 2012. In contrast, it’s hard to see a scenario where David Ortiz is not a first ballot Hall of Famer.
To be fair, one hitter has been overlooked in this debate. Frank Thomas may have better number than both guys. His peak seasons from 1993 to 2000 make an impressive case. He averaged 35 home runs, 118 RBIs, and a .321 average. His home run and RBI total compare to Ortiz’s and his average compares to Martinez’s.
I would take Ortiz over Thomas, though, with the game or season on the line. Thomas only played in one ALCS. When talking about the best player ever in a position, I think he needs to have made such an impact that his team won a World Series. But with Thomas’ numbers, how could you possibly justify calling Martinez a better hitter?
I know that the best DH every season is awarded the Edgar Martinez Outstanding Designated Hitter Award, but that does not make him the best DH of all time. Honestly, it doesn’t even make him the second best DH of all time.
By: Matt Levine