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A record-breaking season
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Author:  Wabberjocky [ Thu Apr 05, 2007 12:43 pm ]
Post subject:  A record-breaking season

Who cares about Barry Bonds' morally empty pursuit of 755 home runs?

No, the record to follow this year is Seattle Mariner Jose Vidro's promising bid to shatter the mark for double plays hit into in one season, set at 36 by Jim Rice in 1984.

Here's why it's likely to happen:

1. Vidro is a "professional hitter" in the eyes of M's brass, and he's being paid $7.5 million this year to be that. He's going to play every day.

2. Vidro is 33, coming off several leg and knee surgeries, and is overweight. He used to be a good second baseman but is now considered unable to play the field at all and has been installed at DH. I'm not sure he could beat Frank Thomas in a footrace.

3. Vidro has been installed as the No. 3 hitter in the Seattle lineup.

4. Of Vidro's balls in play, 46.4 percent were ground balls last year. His career percentage is 48.4.

5. According to the USS Mariner Web site, among heavy groundball hitters, there are a couple who aren’t particularly fast and hit third or fourth in their respective lineups. Miguel Tejada had a 51 percent 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 percent ground ball rate, Lyle Overbay had a 45.8 percent ground ball rate, and Victor Martinez had a 44 percent 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 third 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.

6. 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, remove the plate appearances that have no chance of being a GIDP — walks, strikeouts, and home runs. I’m projecting about a 9 percent walk rate and a 10 percent strikeout rate, based on his career norms and trends, 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 percent groundball rate, that’s 57 ground balls in double play situations.

Okay, okay, I know a lot of you don't care about this stat-geek stuff. But I think this is fascinating — a perfect storm of front-office ignorance and player ineptitude that will combine to obliterate a 23-year-old baseball record.

Trust me, you'll want to remember where you were and what you were doing when Vidro breaks the Rice record.

By the way, in 12 plate appearances through Wednesday night, Vidro had grounded in two double plays. He's already the leader in Major League Baseball in this category.

Fun stuff, I'm telling you.

Author:  onceahack [ Thu Apr 05, 2007 5:45 pm ]
Post subject: 

You might be right, Wabber.

Add to it that he's a switch hitter, so most of the time he should be facing a righty and therefore batting left. If my hunches are right, that would mean that few of his grounders will be to the left of short, which should mean that most of them will be to spots where it's easier for the defense to complete the DP exchanges quickly.

What's his time going from the batter's box to first on a ground ball?

If we knew what percentage of double plays on balls hit to short or right of short take less than that much time (measured from batter's contact to the second out) and the number of times he is likely to be facing a righty, we could get a fairly precise estimate of how many times he will hit into a DP batting left-handed.

Then we could do the corresponding math for the times he bats right (using the percentage of DPs on balls hit to or left of the second baseman that are executed in less time than he goes from home to first) and predict his total DPs for the season on the nose.

Author:  Wabberjocky [ Thu Apr 05, 2007 5:49 pm ]
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I haven't clocked Vidro's speed, but it looks like it could be measured with a sand timer. Believe me, he is slow. His legs look shot ... and they look all the worse because he's seriously pudgy.

In Monday's opener against Oakland, Vidro hit a slow tapper toward the hole that was scooped up by second baseman Mark Ellis. He wheeled to make an off-balance throw ... and then stopped when he saw Vidro was about 25 feet from first base.

Ellis then planted and made a routine throw.

Author:  onceahack [ Fri Apr 06, 2007 9:01 am ]
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So, weighing all the factors, with 57 ground balls in double-play situations, the number of DPs ought to be pretty close to 57. Oh, wait, some of those will get through to the outfield, so the runner on base will advance safely. (If Vidro's still out at first, would he qualify for a sacrifice?)

That brings up another record Vidro might have in danger: Number of times thrown out at first on a ball hit to the outfield.

And, like you say, making $45-50K a game, he'll get the plate appearances.

Author:  Wabberjocky [ Fri Apr 06, 2007 11:47 am ]
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Yes, us Mariner fans are hoping Vidro will get thrown out at first on a ball hit to the outfield. We're thinking that might be the only thing that wakes up the front office to the fact that Vidro can't really play a key offensive role (or, really, any role) any longer. Sometimes, careers just drop off a cliff very abruptly, and we need to accept it rather than live in the player's past and bleat about how "he hit .290 just three seasons ago" or some such nonsense.

Ask Travis Lee. A former first-round pick who had several good seasons, Lee is just 31. But he can't play any longer. And I give him kudos for recognizing this in spring training and walking away from a guaranteed $1 million contract.

Author:  onceahack [ Fri Apr 06, 2007 12:59 pm ]
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As an Astro fan, I know the agony well. I wish Jeff Bagwell had had the courage to face the music a couple of seasons before he did.

Back around 1970, I remember seeing John Edwards, then a catcher for the 'Stros, beat out a single on a hit that almost any other player would have legged into a triple. ("Beat out" is a little bit of an exaggeration---no play was made to first, but the ball was headed back to the infield before Edwards reached.) The press guide boasted that his slugging percentage was, I don't know, .500 or .675 or something that seemed to redeem his batting average of .220ish, until I came to realize that it basically meant that he did hit a few out, but everything else would be a single.

At some point, I also saw Cesar Cedeno throw a runner out at first on a one-bouncer to center... but that wasn't a slow runner---it was a combination of a rocket shot off the bat, Cedeno's having properly positioned himself fairly shallow for that particular batter, and his clean fielding and firing to first. (Good thing the first baseman was also on the ball.) I know the play isn't unheard of, but that particular one was a thing of beauty.

Author:  Wabberjocky [ Fri Apr 06, 2007 1:38 pm ]
Post subject: 

Cedeno is another one who had a hard time accepting reality toward the end of his career. I'm sure so many people were so certain that he would be a first-ballot Hall of Famer that it turned out to be an apocalyptic shock to him that he turned out to be something quite a bit less than that.

For all that, he had a good career, in that Luis Gonzalez-Steve Finley-Moises Alou sort of way.

Author:  Wayne Countryman [ Fri Apr 06, 2007 2:25 pm ]
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One of the most amazing plays I've seen occurred in an American Legion game half a mile from my house. (I was in the stands--where I belonged.)

Runners on first and second, one out. Pitcher is tiring. Hard sinking liner hit right over pitcher's head. Centerfielder (the best pitcher on team) charges a few steps, then barehands ball on first hop. Throws perfect strike to plate, nearly hitting pitcher. Catcher hangs on when runner crushes him. Saved the game.
Centerfielder was also a center in basketball and an end in football--had big hands. His throw--on the line--was not most impressive part of the play. Second-best was catcher's. Best was barehand grab.

Once saw an American Legion LEFTfielder throw a guy out at first. He too was team's best pitcher, though little interested when he didn't pitch.
Nobody on, hard liner to left. Runner prepares to make big turn at first, not dreaming anyone would risk shortstop's or pitcher's lives by gunning ball across diamond like that. Runner might have beaten throw by a hair, but umpire was as stunned as everyone else. Good deke by first baseman helped.

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