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The Hidden Truth About Jose Vidro

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Talk to any analyst about this trade and they'll all tell you the same thing - it's stupid to trade a cheap, young, productive hitter along with a talented arm for an expensive, old, and declining hitter in return. I should know; I did. And it's a difficult point to argue when presented with the following:

  1. .293 EqA
  2. .278
  3. .271
  4. .263
That has the look of a guy who's not long for this league anymore. And to pay him so much for so long while giving up value in exchange? Stupid. That's a precipitous dropoff for a 32 year old, and declines generally don't slow down as players age.

I don't think EqA really tells the right story in this case, though. Check out the following numbers:

'00-'04, Home: .338/.400/.519
'00-'04, Road: .292/.358/.464
'05-'06, Home: .254/.326/.354
'05-'06, Road: .308/.361/.450

Look how close the road splits are. Now look at the home numbers. For five years he's Bobby Abreu at home, but then he hits his 30th birthday and turns into Jeremy Reed.

The reason, of course, is environment. Pretty much Jose Vidro's entire career has been defined by his home ballpark; in the hitter-friendly confines of Olympic Stadium/Hiram Bithorn he looked like an underrated star on an unknown team, but moving to the cavernous RFK transformed him into an albatross that Bowden couldn't give away (until, y'know). Perception wasn't reality, though, as Vidro was a remarkably similar hitter once he stepped out into normal stadiums across all six years. There are slight differences, but nothing even approaching the magnitude suggested by EqA. Jose Vidro was never as good as his peak raw numbers looked, but at the same time he wasn't as bad in Washington as many would have you believe. Myself included (prior to your reading this right now).

More illuminating than Vidro's split batting lines, though, might be his split ball-in-play data. Observe (Fangraphs only goes back to 2002):

'02-'04, Home: 1.65 GB/FB, 22.3% LD, 12.1% HR/FB, 33.9% XBH
'02-'04, Road: 1.78 GB/FB, 19.3% LD, 12.1% HR/FB, 31.7% XBH
'05-'06, Home: 0.97 GB/FB, 25.2% LD, 4.3% HR/FB, 25.8% XBH
'05-'06, Road: 1.90 GB/FB, 21.2% LD, 8.6% HR/FB, 31.5% XBH

The thing that stands out to me the most? Where Vidro has typically been a fairly extreme groundball hitter, RFK completely altered his approach. For some completely counter-intuitive reason he went to Washington and kept trying to lift the ball. His line drives were up, which is cool, but all those fly balls were getting eaten alive by the enormous outfield, and his numbers suffered as a result. Maybe it was a mental thing, like Mike Cameron with Safeco. I can't say. All I know for sure is that RFK changed more than Jose Vidro's numbers; it changed his batting style.

But it didn't carry over. The minute he stepped foot into another ballpark he was remarkably similar to the guy he was years earlier, putting the ball on the ground and finding enough holes to post a .300+ batting average. So whatever RFK did to Jose Vidro's brain, he was able to block it out "81" times a year (with 81 being in quotes because never in anyone's wildest dreams would Jose Vidro be healthy enough to appear in every road game of the season). That's encouraging, because it means he won't be bringing any baggage to Seattle. In theory, it should be like RFK never happened.

Of course, there are still a few problems:

(1) If Vidro was spooked by RFK's spacious dimensions, Safeco won't be much of a break. It's a better hitting environment, particularly when he's up against righties, but it's still huge, so we might see a relapse.

(2) A .308/.361/.450 batting line (equivalent to his '05/'06 road splits, not accounting for Safeco) is substandard for a DH. Chris Snelling himself posted a .360 OBP in limited time last year, and he's going to cost one-gazillionth as much. If you're going to pay a lot of money for two or three years of a positionless bat, you should probably make sure said positionless bat is good. For a DH, Vidro isn't.

(3) He's 32 and trending poorly. Again, Vidro's EqA overstates his decline, but he is walking less and hitting for less power than he used to. On top of that, I question how well a groundball hitter is going to age when he basically doesn't even have knees anymore. Ichiro makes it work, but then Ichiro runs like the wind, whereas Vidro runs like a suitcase.

If Jose Vidro somehow manages to stay completely healthy and staves off further decline for the next three years, he's a slightly below-average DH getting paid something like $6m a season. That makes this look like a stupid trade.

If Jose Vidro gets hurt, gets worse, gets spooked by Safeco, or any combination of the three, he's a godawful DH getting paid something like $6m a season. That makes this look like an unthinkably retarded trade.

If nothing else, though, at least the former has better odds of happening than I gave it credit for after first hearing about the deal. I thought Vidro's decline was worse than it really was; for as long as he's been in the Majors he's been a reasonably productive bat in average ballparks. So at least there's that.

Short of a failed physical (DEAR GOD PLEASE), there's no salvaging this deal. The point will always remain that you don't trade talented cheap players for old second basemen to serve as DH. You can only evaluate trades based on the information you have at the time, and at the time this looks unforgivable. All we can do at this point is root for Jose Vidro to be the best damn baseball player he can be for as long as he's a Mariner. And based on the splits, he should be a little better than his recent raw numbers would suggest.

So, ignoring every last shred of context, at least Jose Vidro's going to provide a bunch more runs from the DH slot than the three-headed monster we ran out there in 2006. That's one thing to be a little happy about. It's also the only thing to be a little happy about, and the effect is diminished since we could've said the same thing for Snelling, Broussard, or Morse, but using last year as a benchmark, I suppose we could've done worse.

I feel queasy.