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April 23, 2008 at 8:28 AM

Stayin’ Alive

We all spent a couple of days over the winter waging computer battle over the relative merits/problems with keeping Jose Vidro as the team’s everyday DH. At the time, I laid out the reasons why I felt Vidro was still a useful part of the club. There are still reasons why he is. We saw it last night, when he delivered a two-run single off Jeremy Guthrie (yes, I goofed, inititally, Dennis Sarfate came on to face Richie Sexson after Vidro’s hit) to deliver a Seattle victory.
There is real value in having a switch hitter who is almost equally proficient from both sides of the plate. Vidro can hit lefties even better than he does righthanders, which is why you did not see the Orioles try to turn him around to the right side by pulling a tiring Guthrie to bring in lefty Jamie Walker. Over the last few seasons, even with his body not what it used to be healthwise, Vidro has put together a .291 batting average against right handed pitchers and a .311 average versus southpaws. When all you need is a single in any given situation, he’s the guy you’d like to have up there. His versatility from both sides of the plate negates the strategy that managers could employ by bringing in a new pitcher. Those splits don’t make for the sexiest of stats, but combine them with Vidro’s patient eye — you saw how he didn’t go up swinging at Guthrie’s opening gas, out of the zone (despite the umpire’s expanded definition of what constitutes a called strike) — and they’re a useful, if somewhat hidden, weapon to have.
In fact, Vidro was everything this team needs. In a pinch-hitter.

Trouble is, and we touched on this all winter long, Vidro has yet to deliver the minimal production the club needs out of a DH. It’s only three weeks in. But as we’ve mentioned since December or January, the club can’t afford to wait three months this time. Maybe half as long. So, let’s refresh the memories a bit.
What was written here, was that Vidro’s ability to hit .300 in the No. 2 spot could not be overlooked. Well, he isn’t the No. 2 hitter anymore, with Jose Lopez filling that role well. So, that’s out. More concerning to me is that Vidro has yet to hit .300. He’s at .211 after last night’s game. When he’s hitting .300, it’s not, despite much ink spilled on this subject, because of flukey infield hits. Every hitter gets a degree of those and while Vidro did pile up a bunch of them early last year, the main reason he remained a .300 hitter in the second half was because of line drives. Some of those fell into the gaps for doubles. When the M’s traded for Vidro, they expected a doubles gap hitter whose lack of home run power would be offset by a respectable OPS.
His OPS in July, August and September of last year was .829, .901, .767. Spread that production over six months and Vidro finishes with an OPS roughly around what Jose Guillen had last season. In other words, decent production and not a catastrophe at DH. With Lopez getting his game untracked and Richie Sexson flashing his power again, you don’t need Vidro to be David Ortiz. Just the line drive, gaps doubles hitter we’ve talked about. That ball Vidro hit last night was a solid line drive single. No bloop or flukey infield stuff involved.
But it hasn’t happened enough. If Vidro is going to hit two homers a month — which would lead to double the six he had last year — he’s still going to have to seriously improve on his doubles totals. I believe that anywhere from six to seven doubles a month would be a good place to start. In his second half run last year, Vidro had six doubles in July and seven in September. He had only four in August, but also generated three home runs.
This is the minimal power Vidro must supply to make him worth it as a DH.
He finished with 26 doubles last year. Six or seven per month gives him 36 to 42 doubles on the season. Combine that with a .300 batting average and Vidro becomes a useful part of this daily lineup.
So far, in April, he has a grand total of two doubles. His average is closer to .200 than it is to .250. That’s not going to cut it. He knows it. I know it. You all know it. As I said, it’s only been three weeks. But the clock is ticking. He’s got to show that last year’s second half was not a “fluke” as many people have called it. If Frank Thomas were to come in here (don’t ask me, I don’t know how close that is to happening), then Vidro’s chances to prove himself will be greatly diminished. But for now, he’s still got time. If Thomas does not sign here, Vidro might have a lot more time. Perhaps even all the way through May. I don’t make the calls for this team. But he has to get it going.
So far, we’re seeing the first half Vidro from last year and that wasn’t good enough. If he wants to keep Stayin’ Alive as the DH, he needs to deliver more line drives like we saw last night and have some of them find the gaps. That’s it, that’s all. It’s no more complicated than that.
Catch my Talkin’ Baseball segment at 8:35 a.m. today on the Mitch in the Morning Show on KJR 950 AM. Coming up in seven minutes.
ADDITIONAL COMMENT (9:25 a.m.): For David in the comments thread, from what I know of the Liberty Mutual purchase of Safeco Insurance this morning, the deal won’t be completed until the end of September, so Safeco Field’s name is safe for 2008. Also, the deal calls for Safeco to retain its brand name as a subsidiary of Liberty Mutual. That would suggest to me the new owners would be willing to keep the field’s name the same. But it would be up to Liberty Mutual. I’m sure it’s not their prime concern in a $6.12-billion deal. But a good question by you.



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