David Ortiz’ last two seasons have been considered disappointments, there’s no way to spin his plummeting OPS numbers. 2008 and 2009 were Ortiz’ worst seasons since his final days in Minnesota, when he started to look more like a “never-will”, rather than a burgeoning talent.

Interestingly enough, I found something in his baseball-reference page that made me do a double take. David Ortiz’ Hall Of Fame Monitor is extremely close to the range of “likely” Hall Of Famers. Not what I expected.

Papi I never quite considered David Ortiz a Hall of Fame candidate. For as happy as I was for Jim Rice, undoubtedly one of my childhood baseball heroes, I was never convinced he was should wear a Hall of Fame baseball cap (actually, I’d still pick Dewey over him). I personally tend of have very high Hall of Fame standards, especially when a body of work without much domination is propped up by “Fear” or some other random reason. When I saw Ortiz’ HOF Monitor score was a 92 (likely HOFers are 100+), I decided I wanted to investigate this further and wanted a player with similar Hall of Fame credentials to use as a comparison. The perfect player? Don Mattingly.

Don Mattingly is widely known as a player who “wasn’t great long enough” to warrant a Hall of Fame enshrinement. He’s similar to Ortiz in many ways.

He was loved universally by the New York fan base, and criticisms of him are met with vitriol and harsh emotion. Much the same happens here with Ortiz, as his playoff heroics almost act as a free pass, especially with the recent poor seasons, and specter of steroid allegations.

His elite years were short lived. Mattingly had a short amount of elite seasons(both offensively and in the field) wasted by a poor supporting cast. He then had 7 years of mediocrtiy, only slightly above league average offensively. Ortiz has quickly fallen from grace, can no longer reliably play the field, and is suddenly not regarded by other pitchers as a threat.

Now, why else choose Mattingly? Recently, Donnie Baseball has been garnering additional support for the Hall after his first slump since grabbing 28% of the vote. I’m starting to believe that like Jim Rice, Mattingly might have a real shot at eventually limping his way into the Hall. If Mattingly is still getting enough support to stay in the hunt, why shouldn’t Ortiz?

Ortiz has 5 seasons with an OPS+ of 144 or higher. Mattingly had 4. Ortiz’ 171 OPS+ in 2007 was the best of all their seasons combined, and tied for the 310th best season overall. Rice, by comparison, only had 3 seasons with an OPS+ of 144 or higher and his best wasn’t as good as Ortiz or Mattingly!

I like to use OPS+ in order to try and compare players across eras, focusing not on their raw statistics, but how much better they performed than their peers. Ortiz’ career high OPS+ of 171 is extremely impressive.

Mattingly was a superb defender; I believe that ultimately is what has kept him in the conversation while only being a truly elite offensive force for 4 years over his short 14 seasons. Ortiz still has at least 3-6 years ahead of him if he continues to DH, possibly lasting as long as Edgar Martinez if his health doesn’t become a factor.

If Ortiz can bounce back the next couple seasons and repeat his mid-2000s production levels, can we really start to consider him as a Hall of Fame candidate? If not, does David just become Boston’s Davey Beisbol? Loved by Red Sox Nation, but just shy of being considered great by all. I think in order to put himself in a favorable position, Ortiz’ 2010 needs to mimic the second half of 2009, and continue to chug along for another few seasons.

If not, at least he’ll never have to shell out cash for a drink in this town. That might be a decent enough consolation prize.

*The “baseball cap” link was compensated for.