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Keep your eye on the ball

Tigers' sharp-eyed Ordonez quietly making MVP case

Posted: Thursday June 28, 2007 12:13PM; Updated: Thursday June 28, 2007 5:24PM
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Despite a power stroke that has produced more than 230 homers in 11 years, Magglio Ordonez has never struck out more than 87 times in a season.
Despite a power stroke that has produced more than 230 homers in 11 years, Magglio Ordonez has never struck out more than 87 times in a season.
Paul Jasienski/Getty Images
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Besides the styling 'do -- styling in a late 1980s, wildly mulleted kind of way -- and the crazy-high batting average, the thing that has to strike you about Tigers outfielder Magglio Ordonez is what has been so striking about him for years. The guy just doesn't strike out.

Some power hitters will whiff 100, 125, 135, 150 times or more a year and not even blush. Some wouldn't walk if you spotted them a 3-0 count every at-bat. When Ordonez steps to the plate, he's not swinging at everything close. He'll take his walks -- he's on pace for more than he's ever had -- but, mainly he's thinking contact. Not necessarily out-of-the-park kind of contact, but hard contact.

That mindset has shaped Ordonez into the American League's premier example of power, patience and bat control. The logic behind his hitting approach is simple and unassailable. "I think you've got a better chance to get a hit," Ordonez says, "when you hit the ball."

This has been a career-rebuilding first half for Ordonez, the team's 33-year-old cleanup hitter, no matter what fans finally do with his name in the All-Star balloting. (Ordonez, incredibly, considering the numbers he's putting up, is still fighting for a starting spot on the AL team.) If an award for the AL's first-half MVP existed, Ordonez would be wrestling with the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez for the trophy right now. He has more extra-base hits than any player in the league -- including Rodriguez -- and he's tied with Florida's Dan Uggla for the most in baseball (47).

Everything Ordonez hits these days seems to be hit hard. He has twice as many doubles (34, most in either league) as he does singles. And he has 13 home runs on top of that. He has the best batting average in the game, at .377, and no one but Barry Bonds has a better on-base percentage. (Bonds is at an otherworldly .504, Ordonez at .452).

In OPS, the combination of on-base and slugging percentages, only A-Rod is better, and even then only slightly (1.123 to 1.089). Ordonez has a better OPS than Bonds, David Ortiz, Prince Fielder ... all the big sluggers.

"It's like he's playing high school ball, or college ball, for a two-week period," says the Tigers' center fielder and leadoff man, Curtis Granderson, "except that two-week period has turned into a couple months."

The one aspect of Ordonez's offensive game that separates him from A-Rod and many other power hitters, though, is his aversion to striking out. From 2000 to '03, when he was supposedly at the peak of his game and at his healthiest, Ordonez struck out fewer times, for a power hitter, than anyone in the game. He and the Padres' Brian Giles are the only two players in that time frame to average at least 32 home runs with fewer than 75 strikeouts a year (among players with at least 2,600 plate appearances). This year, Ordonez has just 32 strikeouts in more than 300 plate appearances.

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