The sabermetricist line on Ortiz is that he’s an average pitcher who gives up too many walks and homers but who was disguised as an ace by a home park that makes it tough for everyone who isn’t Barry Bonds to hit homers. There’s some truth to this; he was stronger at home in recent years. But the difference isn’t that great; 3.41 at home versus 3.77 on the road last year. And his batting average against was actually better on the road. However, he gave up 12 homers in road games versus 3 at home. In 2000 and 2001, the splits were much greater.
The case for Russ Ortiz is as follows: He’s made progress in the last few years. His walk totals have come down in the last two years, and he’s one of the tougher pitchers in the league to get hits off of. He doesn’t have to make a big jump to become a top pitcher; he just needs to get his control in check, and that’s one thing that the Braves’ pitching brain trust has been good at getting pitchers to do. And most good pitchers will pitch to their park. If he can get by giving up lots of fly balls to right field, he’ll throw pitches that lead to fly balls to right field.
I don’t know that Ortiz will be good this year. But I’m cautiously optimistic. I think that the Braves’ defense, particularly in the outfield — and Ortiz is a fly ball pitcher — is superior to the Giants’. This isn’t a rehab case, but someone who, as I said above, can make a few adjustments to make a step forward. Bobby and Leo won’t easily tolerate a pitcher who isn’t aggressive and works behind the hitters, and that’s his biggest problem.
All that being said, I think acquiring Ortiz was a mistake, the primary mistake in the chain of events that led to the Millwood debacle. Ortiz will make something like $5 million a year more than Damian Moss, the man he was traded for. If the Braves had held on to Moss instead, Kevin Millwood would very likely be in a Braves uniform yet.
I’ve always kind of liked Ortiz and I think the Braves are an ideal situation for him. He’s in a good flyball pitcher’s park and he’s away from “Burn ‘Em Up” Dusty Baker. I’d still rather have Millwood, though.