Sneak Peeks: Ramiro Mendoza, David Ortiz, and the art of guessing a player’s age

June 26th, 2006 → 9:34 pm @ // One Comment

This is the second in an occasional series of Sneak Peeks from Feeding the Monster. In the section below, which takes place in January 2003, the Red Sox debate whether to offer David Ortiz, recently released by the Minnesota Twins, a one-year contract. This excerpt is in honor of Ortiz’s walk-off single in the 12th inning of today’s Red Sox-Phillies game, Ortiz’s second walk-off hit in as many games and his 13th game-winner (10th in the regular season) since signing with the Sox.

At the beginning of the offseason, the team had compiled a list of about 15 first basemen and designated hitters who might be available for a discount. They’d gotten Jeremy Giambi and still hoped to get Kevin Millar. As a backup, they had pursued options like free agents Brad Fullmer, Greg Colbrunn, and Travis Lee. Another name on the list belonged to a burly 27-year-old Dominican left-handed hitter: David Ortiz. …

Within the Red Sox, Ortiz intrigued virtually everyone involved in the discussions. One of the scouts loved his swing–it was, he said, a thing of beauty. After looking over his hit location charts, Theo Epstein’s crew thought he was likely the type of player who would be able to take advantage of the left field wall in Fenway. Bill James liked the fact that, while he hit only .234 in 2001, his secondary average was almost .400. (“That’s my kind of player,” James says.) Dave Jauss, a scout who was down in the Dominican Republic for the winter, reported that in the winter-ball leagues on the island, Ortiz was a superstar, as big as Manny Ramirez or the Montreal Expos’ Vladimir Guerrero. Finally, Epstein was consciously trying to find players who could help make the Red Sox clubhouse a more positive place to be, and Ortiz, like Millar, had a reputation for being both outgoing and upbeat, which Epstein felt was crucial at that moment in the team’s history. …

That’s not to say the Red Sox didn’t have reservations. Most pressing were their concerns about Ortiz’s age–foreign-born players are known to claim to be younger than they really are so it will seem as if their peak years are still ahead of them, and Ortiz had given his age as 17 when he broke into professional baseball in the States a decade earlier. Instead of simply throwing up his hands, Epstein asked James to see if he could find a way to determine anything further about Ortiz’s likely age. “I did a study of his career progression up to that point, identifying historical players who had very similar career paths up to that point in time, and concluded that, on average, they were exactly the age that David claimed to be,” says James. “That was a fun little study. I had never done anything like that before.” With that settled, Epstein made his move, acquiring the player that would change both Epstein’s and the Red Sox’s futures. On January 22, 2003, the Red Sox signed David Ortiz to a one-year, $1.25 million deal.

“We knew he had breakout potential,” says Epstein. … Still, not long before the Sox signed Ortiz they inked former Yankees pitcher Ramiro Mendoza to a two-year deal worth $6.5 million and, as Bill James notes, “We weren’t any more excited about the one than we were about the other.”

There are many more exclusive details about the acquisition of David Ortiz, the work of Bill James, and the formation of the Best Hitting Team Ever Assembled in Feeding the Monster, out July 11 from Simon & Schuster.


Post Categories: Bill James & David Ortiz & Feeding the Monster Sneak Peeks & Red Sox & Theo Epstein

One Comment → “Sneak Peeks: Ramiro Mendoza, David Ortiz, and the art of guessing a player’s age”


  1. yerfatma

    11 years ago

    I think Ortiz will prove to be a good signing.

    Reply

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