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March 3, 2007 at 8:27 AM

Today’s lineup and observations

Got the lineup for today’s game, once again another noon (PST) tilt against — who else? — the San Diego Padres. Feels like Groundhog Day, minus the snow and groundhogs. Maybe a roadrunner or two, like we had in the parking lot here last week.
Here is the lineup:
CF Ichiro
2B Rey Ordonez
3B Adrian Beltre
1B Richie Sexson
DH Jose Guillen
LF Ben Broussard
C Kenji Johjima
RF Jeremy Reed
SS Yuniesky Betancourt
And the pitchers with their scheduled innings:
Jarrod Washburn — 2
Aaron Small — 2
Sean White — 2
Jesse Foppert — 1
Matt Perisho –1
Cesar Jimenez — 1
Note that Beltre is hitting third today, which ought to please quite a few of you. Remember, this is spring training. Time for experiments. Johjima hitting No. 7 is something I have a hunch we’ll be seeing once the season begins. Can he move up in the order as the season progresses? Most definitely, especially if he can drive in runs the way he did through much of last season. But I like him in the No. 7 spot for now. He’s got plenty on his plate. His big concern in the early season will be in becoming a better defensive catcher and getting to know another batch of new pitchers. He isn’t on the same page with everyone just yet and will have to spend the spring working that out because there is little time for this team to be making such adjustments once the regular season begins.
As for the No. 3 spot, I’d like to tell “Steve” who posted about Jose Vidro yesterday that, yes, I agree with you that OPS (on-base-plus-slugging percentage) is typically the better stat to evaluate hitters in power positions. I am also well aware of the stat and enjoy using it as a quick-reference evaluator. But in this case, it makes generally the same point about Vidro. That is, the team has to be sure of what it is getting. Is it Vidro from 2004, or Vidro from 2006?
I don’t want the 2006 Vidro anywhere near the top or middle of the order if we’re going strictly by the numbers, not allowing for the small sample size. His OPS hitting third last season was .674. That’s terrible. Typically, teams want hitters with an OPS well beyond .800 in the power roles. Anything less than that and there has to be significant compensation from other parts of the order for the overall plan to work. I look at Vidro’s OPS in the No. 3 spot from 2004 and I see it at .858 with a significant (more than 300) number of at-bats. That’s good enough. Vidro wasn’t brought here to be Vladimir Guerrero. The team has other bats with that responsibility. An OPS in the mid-800s, or even the low 800s, would suit the Mariners just fine.
The reason I focused on on-base percentage, rather than OPS, in this case was that I don’t believe pure power is what will impact the team’s decision on where to place Vidro. He wasn’t brought here to hit home runs. He was brought here to hit line drives that find the spacious gaps at Safeco Field. That won’t always translate into a very high slugging percentage or a star-quality OPS. In fact, Vidro, as good a hitter as he was early on in his career, has only had one season with a slugging percentage higher than .500. Not so coincidentally, that 2000 season was his only one in which his OPS topped .900.
I think the team can live quite comfortably with Vidro if he collects 40 doubles. He’s topped 50 once before and had 26 last season while playing with all the aches and pains that come with regular infield duty. That won’t give him a .500 slugging percentage that teams hope for from a good DH. But the plan can still work if Vidro gets his on-base percentage up to his .363 career average. That boosts his OPS well beyond .800 and gives the team a productive option it could use higher in the order.
What won’t work for this team is a singles and doubles DH with an on-base percentage of .303 in the No. 3 spot. The last thing this team needs is another all-or-nothing type when nobody knows how Beltre or Sexson will look early on. I’m not saying Vidro is an ideal No. 3 hitter, or that his career stats make him a great DH candidate.
But it’s futile to argue that DH bit any further. Vidro is here, Chris Snelling is gone, and fans just have to accept it. They don’t have to like it. But it’s not going to change. Vidro is the DH. The thing now is to figure out how the team sees him and where he is best-suited in the lineup. If the plan blows up, there will be plenty of time to worry about who to blame. If he does bat third and hits the way the team envisions, the Mariners will have at least two of the top-three guys in the order getting on base for big boppers Ibanez and Sexson.
Is that a typical lineup? No. Could it work? It could. But the only thing I know is, without a better on-base percentage than .303 from Vidro, it’s a plan doomed to failure.



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