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Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.

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February 6, 2008 12:43 PM

Batista/Vidro and the offense

Posted by Geoff Baker



PHOTO COURTESY OF ELIZABETH MARTINEZ


Mariners pitcher Miguel Batista provides medical supplies to young flood victims in the Domican Republic.

While folks on seven continents wait for Erik Bedard to complete his physical in Seattle today (if it's not today, I give up), the debate amongst Mariners fans as to the value and merits of this deal will shift towards the offense. As it should.

Even Miguel Batista, who I spoke to last night, would like to see a little more pop imported before the season begins. And why wouldn't he? What pitcher doesn't want some bats behind him? I like Batista and the work he does with people less fortunate than him, which is why I want to get some photos on to the blog of how he's spent his winter before we get into another baseball debate.

Batista has spent his entire winter traveling to various countries to teach baseball to younger players, provide them with equipment and listen to their stories. He'll be helping flood victims in his Dominican homeland right up until he reports to Peoria for spring training on Feb. 13. This is a story that needs to be illustrated, so enjoy the photos as we now move on to a discussion about something close to our hearts (and apparently, Batista's as well) about hitting.



PHOTO COURTESY OF ELIZABETH MARTINEZ

Batista gives instruction to young baseball players in Panama back in early December.

The M's, while preventing runs with the additions of Bedard and Carlos Silva over Jeff Weaver and Horacio Ramirez, will have to score them as well. Much talk has centered around how Richie Sexson will need some type of bounceback season in order to help compensate for offense lost when Jose Guillen signed with the Kansas City Royals. We've already talked about how Brad Wilkerson can make up for some of that. Batista would like to see free agent Tony Clark come in as a backup/pinch hitter. That would be a start, since the switch-hitter is potent from the left side and clubbed 18 home runs in only 221 at-bats for Arizona last season. Now, that's power.

But for the regular, everyday guys, one player who will need to step it up is Jose Vidro.

I'm amazed by how the Vidro debate has sort of slipped through the cracks this winter. Perhaps folks are simply tired of it, since it occupied much of the final two months of the season.

But a big part of keeping this offense at the same level it reached last season -- and let's face it, maintaining it is about the best that can be hoped for -- will depend greatly on Vidro. Other than Sexson, he is the guy who has the most room for improvement.

Vidro's park adjusted OPS+ of 109 last season was actually his best total since 2003 with the Montreal Expos. Here is the big reason Vidro is saddled with the image of an underachiever:

First half OPS: .698
Second half OPS: .867

Remember, OPS calculates on-base and slugging percentage. A DH has to have at least an .800 OPS to be working out for a team. A top DH like David Ortiz consistently produces well over .900. Anything below .700 is a miserable output and a serious power drain on a club. Now, Vidro is not a home run hitter. But he can put up some doubles, as evidenced by the 16 he produced in 247 second-half ABs. That translates to about 35 over a full season and the M's will gladly take that over the 26 Vidro actually put up in 2007. Vidro is no speed demon, so those doubles were legit. This isn't a guy strictly padding his numbers via blooped singles. But when you manage only 12 extra base hits over the first three months of a season as Vidro did in 2007, your image takes a beating. That image will not be repaired overnight, or by putting some doubles together the final three months of 2007.

Vidro's pricetag of $6 million per year also makes him a target. Not saying he shouldn't be, just stating the obvious. A DH with a sub-.800 OPS for the season should not be making that much money. But I've told you, it isn't my money, so I'm not going to lose sleep over it. What will cause me to lie awake an extra 30 seconds or so at night is whether or not the "real" Vidro was more like the first half or second half.

If he posts an .860 OPS over an entire season, the Vidro debate vanishes like the team's executives during a losing streak.

But I'll suggest that even an OPS in the .820 range would have the M's dancing with delight. It would be a substantial improvement over last year.

Do I feel this can happen? Yes, I do.

Vidro says it took him a while to get comfortable with the transition to a role of everyday DH. The transition threw his timing off more than anything else. If true, that would help explain his plethora of early infield hits and double-play grounders -- coupled with an absolute lack of power. He just wasn't putting his best swings on balls. Instead of line drives, he was mis-hitting.

In the second half, the double-play grounders lessened, the infield hits slowed and the doubles total climbed. A lucky streak? Perhaps. But perhaps Vidro knows himself better than the rest of us do. Perhaps he now knows what he has to do to get ready for four or five plate appearances per night and nothing else.

We'll find out because the M's have him for another year. If Vidro gets that OPS beyond .800, this deal won't seem as bad as it did back in June of last year. Not like the guys he was traded for, Chris Snelling and Emiliano Fruto, are lighting up the majors. If Vidro has another sub-.700 first half, or is stuck with a .775 OPS at year's end, then I'd say the M's are spending too much.

But seriously, this guy has some image repair to do.

I saw an online comparison made yesterday between Vidro and Sean Casey that described them as the "exact same player" -- a damning argument if it was true, since Casey just received $700,000 to be a bench player with the Boston Red Sox. A far cry from $12 million over two years.

But they are not the same player.

Vidro had nearly 100 at-bats more than Casey and made it well beyond the 500-mark. That's big, because getting to 500 at-bats is not automatic for players in their 30s. Fatigue, injuries and other things can set in over a long season (especially in Seattle) and conspire to limit at-bats. Just ask Wilkerson.

For all his struggles, as I mentioned, Vidro had a park-adjusted OPS of 109, meaning he was nine percent above league average. Casey's OPS+ was 96, meaning four percent below league average. So, one guy was an above average hitter (remember, not an above average DH, just hitter) with 100 more at-bats while the other guy was below average.

Vidro is also a switch hitter and his numbers were just about identical from both sides of the plate. Casey hits from the left side only and had a huge platoon split of .929/.716 in OPS. That's a .200-point gap. He actually put up the .929 against southpaw pitchers, meaning he was only a .716 OPS hitter against righties -- or 80 percent of the time. Vidro, as I mentioned was up in the higher .700s against both types of pitchers (.779 against righties and .762 versus lefties -- a big consideration when you've got to decide late in a ballgame who you want up at the plate. The guy with a .716 OPS most of the time, or .779?) Easy call there.

What else? Well, while Vidro's power picked up as the season moved along, Casey's declined in the second half. Maybe that's why Casey came so cheap? Again, they were not the exact same hitter.

I've seen it suggested that Vidro finished with 24 more points in on-base percentage than Casey (a pretty significant difference for two "exact same" guys) almost exclusively because of all the infield hits Vidro piled up. Well, if we're going to make that argument, I can suggest that the only reason it wasn't a 50-point gap was because of how Casey padded his stats against lefties the few times he got to face them.

I hate being put in the position of having to defend a Bill Bavasi trade. I was all over him for the Ramirez-Soriano deal, as you know. But I don't think he can be raked over the coals because a declining hitter like Casey just got paid $700,000. Is Vidro worth $6 million? Not based on his 2007 numbers. But he also is arguably worth well over $700,000.

My feeling is, at the end of Vidro's stint in Seattle, we will likely conclude he was overpaid. But again, it's not our money and the team keeps spending. What I care about is having a DH with an OPS of more than .800. If Vidro can do that, this offense stands a good chance of repeating what it did last year and adding some wins with the help of a Bedard-infused pitching staff.

Based on what I saw the final three months of last season, there is a good chance of this happening. A good chance Vidro can repair some of his tattered image. I'm not cheerleading for him, just calling it as I see it. Those are the things I care about. Not penny-pinching for a "lightning in a bottle" type as my DH. I just want guys who can hit. Vidro showed he can do it for three months. Now, he's got to work on six.



PHOTO COURTESY OF ELIZABETH MARTINEZ

Batista poses with team of doctors he has traveled throughout the Dominican Republic with, supplying medication to flood victims.

ADDITIONAL COMMENT (1:35 p.m.): This is for Carson, in the comments section, who suggested the online comparison between Vidro and Casey was made because they are close enough as hitters for the money difference to be outrageous. I don't think a guy who puts up a .716 OPS against the majority of pitchers he faces (Casey) can be compared to a guy who -- even with a miserable first half -- put up a .779 OPS against righthanded pitchers.

If you're going to make a stretch in comparing folks, why not contrast Vidro with Brad Wilkerson? Their season OPS totals are practically identical. Yes, Wilkerson plays the outfield (not all that well, mind you) but Vidro delivers 200 more at-bats per season and is a switch hitter who hits equally well from both sides of the plate. And while Wilkerson produces more power in those at-bats, Vidro blows him away in on-base percentage. Wilkerson is getting $3 million in base salary (which, this is for you, Librocrat, Boston was apparently going to pay him) with incentives up to $5 million if he gets into the at-bat numbers Vidro puts up.

So, what's the money difference there? $1 million more for Vidro? Of course, the M's are banking on Wilkerson having a big power upside if he can log more ABs. And no, it's not OK for Vidro to stay at his current OPS output. If he does, he won't be worth it. If he produces an OPS more like his second half of 2007? Well then, I'd suggest the difference between his $6 million and the possible $5 million Wilkerson could make next season won't be worth worrying about. In any event, it's a more reasonable comparison than putting him next to a $750,000 scrap heap acquisition whose numbers were heading downward.

BTW, we're trying to confirm that Bedard is indeed, still back in Canada. If that's the case, then no physical until tomorrow at the earliest and no announcement before Friday. Like I said earlier, I give up. No mas! On the positive side, we won't be squeezed trying to get to the M's Blog Event tomorrow night.

UPDATE (4:40 p.m.): To answer some more questions, again, no one is saying Jose Vidro was the optimal DH. What I'm saying is, he needs to be much closer to his second-half output. His power in the first three months of the season was freakishly low. That said, to reply to COL Fan's comments, his overall numbers, compared to the 10 DH's with at least 300 ABs last season, saw him place:

5th in on-base-percentage
5th in runs scored
4th in doubles
2nd in hits
6th in walks
1st at not striking out
1st in sac flies (see above)

Does he lack slugging percentage? Yes, he does and that's important. He has to get his slugging up from his overall .394 to something in the .425-.450 range -- which he did from July onward last season. He does that by keeping up the line drive and doubles pace he maintained over the final three months of the season. That brings his slugging and OPS more in line with that of an average DH.

But Vidro, as I've shown above, also isn't terrible at a lot of things that are important to a ballclub. He draws at least a walk for every 10 ABs, something virtually unheard of with these M's (and there aren't many intentional walks in there). He avoids the whiffs. Yes, as I already mentioned, he hit into too many DPs in the first half. But that stopped. The point has been addressed, so repeating it doesn't further your case that he's a $750,000 player.

And he does hit the ball. Had more hits than any other DH not named Ortiz. Take away Vidro's infield singles and he'd still have more hits than any DH outside of Ortiz. That does mean something.

And this was all in a season in which Vidro had a miserable first half. So, no, this is not a $750,000 player by any stretch. This is a guy who needs to hit more line drives and more doubles over a full season, as he began doing in July, to be an acceptable DH. Not a superstar DH, which Vidro will never be, because he is not a home run guy. But an acceptable one on a team that needs the bulk of its home run power to come from its $14-million first baseman and its $12-million third baseman.

Here's another thing I don't see mentioned often -- the value of the prototypical DH some of you want Vidro to be. Let's look at what other DH's currently under contract, with at least 300 ABs and six years of MLB service time, will earn next season in salary and signing bonuses:

Thome -- $14 million
Sheffield -- $14 million
Ortiz -- $12.5 million
Thomas -- $12.5 million
Huff -- $8 million

So, there's another list Vidro finishes dead last on. Seattle is only on-the-hook for $6 million of his salary, with the Nationals picking up the rest. You get what you pay for, I suppose. But I don't see any $750,000 guys on that list. So, yes, to conclude, Vidro needs to produce more than he did last season and get his OPS up over .800 (preferably by lifting his slugging to the .425-.450 range). Do that and his production will be a lot closer to his payckeck.

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