David Ortiz vs. Fred McGriff: A Hall of Fame comparison

21 Feb 1998: Fred McGriff #29 of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Spring Training at the Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, Florida. Mandatory Credit: Rick Stewart /Allsport
21 Feb 1998: Fred McGriff #29 of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Spring Training at the Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, Florida. Mandatory Credit: Rick Stewart /Allsport /

What do you suppose Fred McGriff is thinking about the election of David Ortiz to the Baseball Hall of Fame?

Because McGriff is that kind of guy, he’s probably feeling gracious. Still, given the similarity in their numbers, you could hardly blame McGriff if he wondered why Ortiz is in the Hall and he still needs a ticket.

Ortiz was elected Tuesday in his first year of eligibility with 77.9 percent of the vote. McGriff, who played from 1986 through 2004, lasted a full decade on the ballot and, in his best year, got barely half that percentage. He peaked in 2019, his final year of eligibility, at just 39.8 percent.

Considering only the numbers, that’s just mystifying.

Here is a comparison of the career stat lines of Fred McGriff and David Ortiz

                                Hits        HR          BA       OBP        SLG       WAR

Ortiz                      2,472     541       .286      .380      .552        52.7

McGriff                 2,490     493       .284      .377      .509        52.6

Ortiz’s only statistical advantage of significance lies in his 48 additional home runs, the better slugging average being a byproduct of that.

McGriff actually had a few more hits, and the two players’ career batting and on base averages, as well as their career WARs, are virtually identical.

In fact, their stats are so similar that Baseball Reference lists McGriff as the second-most comparable player to Ortiz, and Ortiz as the fifth-most comparable to McGriff.

Let the record also show that while Ortiz made all but 180 of his 2,275 career starts as a DH, McGriff played 2,239 of his 2,382 games at a defensive position, first base.

Almost all of McGriff’s playing time unfolded prior to the development of modern statistical measures for judging defense. However, it’s worth noting that he was considered by peers a first-rate first baseman, with consistently above-average range factors and fielding averages.

In the run-up to the announcement of the 2022 voting results, many also cited Ortiz’s exceptional postseason numbers as supportive of his candidacy. There’s a reason for that: Ortiz was a career .289 October hitter. He batted .387 in the 2004 World Series and .688 in the 2013 World Series, when he was named MVP.

But McGriff could hold his own in the big moments. In five postseasons, he hit .303 with 10 home runs and 37 RBI with a .917 postseason OPS. He hit .300 in the 1996 World Series against the New York Yankees. That may not be up to Ortiz’ .947 career postseason OPS, but it’s pretty dang good.

An honest consideration of the difference between Ortiz’s 77 percent and McGriff’s 39 percent vote totals starts with one word: personality. Everybody loved the effusive Big Papi. McGriff was, by comparison, a monk. It’s not that he hated the media; he just didn’t express himself much.

In other words, voters penalized him for going about his business very, very well.

McGriff also managed something phenomenal for his time: he existed as a power hitter throughout the entire 1990s without once being tied to PEDs. You can’t say the same thing about Ortiz.

Next. Ortiz credits Red Sox teammates for his success on path to Hall of Fame. dark

You like David Ortiz for the Hall of Fame? Fine. But then don’t you have to like Fred McGriff as well?