Jim Rice beware
Two things that I already believed were reinforced heavily during yesterdays game.
1. Felix Hernandez is awesome.
2. Jose Vidro is ridiculously slow.
I’m not sure what else to say about Felix, so let’s talk about Vidro for a second. During his first at bat, I made the following observation in the game thread after Vidro’s ground ball up the middle turned into a 4-3 putout.
I like how Ellis planted in the hole and got ready to rush an off balance throw, then noticed Vidro was 20 steps from the bag, slowed down, and tossed it across to still get him by 8 feet.
If you go back and watch the replay, it’s really remarkable just how long it took Vidro to get up the line on this play. Ellis took several steps into the hole, planted off his back foot, loaded up to make a hope-it-gets-there heave, and then stopped, because Vidro wasn’t anywhere close to the bag. So, instead, he takes a step forward and lobs the ball to first and it’s still not a close play. I’m pretty sure the scouts in the stands were using sand timers to clock Vidro’s home-to-first time.
During spring training, when all this Vidro-as-#3-hitter stuff started to sprout, I began to think that there was one issue in this whole line-up construction thing that was getting overlooked – Jose Vidro is probably the last person on the team you want hitting with a runner on first base. His combination of heavy groundball tendencies and glacier-like speed is a recipe for a double play.
In 2006, Vidro had a 46.4% Ground Ball percentage. From 2002-2006, his total was 48.6%. Basically, half of his balls in play are worm burners, making him a heavy groundball hitter. A huge majority of the guys who hit that many groundballs are no-power speedsters, and the GB% leaderboard matches up pretty well with the SB leaderboards, as both are populated with the likes of Willy Taveras, Scott Podsednik, Juan Pierre, Carl Crawford, Dave Roberts, and Luis Castillo. Of course, all those guys could run a lap around the outfield before Vidro could make his way down the first base line, and most of them hit at the top of the batting order.
Among heavy groundball hitters, there are a couple who aren’t particularly fast and hit 3rd or 4th ine their respective line-ups. Miguel Tejada had a 51% ground ball rate last year, continuing his career trend of hitting the ball on the ground or over the wall. Joe Mauer had a 49.4% ground ball rate, Lyle Overbay had a 45.8% ground ball rate, and Victor Martinez had a 44% ground ball rate. These guys are all middle of the order hitters, being counted on to drive in runs and sustain rallies, while also being heavy groundball hitters and not running particularly well.
You know who ranked #1 in the the majors in grounding into double plays last year? Miguel Tejada. #2? Victor Martinez. Joe Mauer tied for the #6 spot, while Overbay checked in all the way down at a tie for 14th place. These guys are all varying degrees of good hitter, but their combination of hitting 3rd, having strong groundball tendencies, and being slow runners lead to a lot of double plays.
If Vidro hits 3rd all season against both RHP and LHP, and stays healthy, he should get approximately 150 opportunities to ground into a double play. Ibanez had 144 such opportunities last year, while guys like Mauer and Tejada were up in the 170 range. Ballparking 150 GIDP opportunities should put us within 10 chances or so.
So, let’s see if we can project how many double plays he’ll ground into this year, using his ball in play patterns.
First, let’s remove the plate appearances that have no chance of being a GIDP – walks, strikeouts, and home runs. I’m projecting about a 9% walk rate and a 10% strikeout rate, so we can remove 24 plate appearances right off the top. Given his likely power output, I’ll give him four home runs in double play chances, bringing our total chances down to 122.
That’s 122 balls in play with the double play in order for a guy who is going to put the ball on the ground half the time. Using a 47% groundball rate, that’s 57 ground balls in double play situations. 57!
The major league record for double plays grounded into is 36, set by Jim Rice in 1984. Teams would have to convert 63% of Vidro’s groundballs in double play situations to match that record. That sounds high, at least until you watch Vidro shimmy up the line.
I’m not saying he’s going to break the all-time GIDP record, but if you’re going to bet on a guy to lead the league, he’s the Barbaro of this race. It will be one of those things that doesn’t show up in his OBP or SLG, but will affect the team’s run production. When a guy is this slow and has strong groundball tendencies, he needs to hit the ball over the wall 30 times a year to have any business hitting in the middle of the order. Vidro, obviously, won’t come anywhere near that.
You might want to prepare yourself now, because Jose Vidro is likely to frustrate the hell out of you this year.