The U Files # 76: Hopping Hidalgo

Career .280 Hitter

The Mets have played surprisingly well this season on the strength of a probably overachieving pitching staff. However they remain limited by an offense that does more damage to the Shea faithful than to the opposition. An obvious target has been the cobbled-together right fielder Sharim Spencia. Recently it has been reported that the Mets have indeed upgraded the corner. (Free Preview of Premium Content)

Reports had been leaking out of Houston of unrest growing in the neighborhood of outfielder Richard Hidalgo. The talented outfielder has been mired in a prolonged and profound batting slump since May and has fallen out of favor with the manager, Jimy Williams. Not long after reports circulated that the Mets were chatting with the Houston Astros it had been reported that the Mets have completed a deal with the Astros for the troubled Hidalgo.

The trade as reported has the Mets shipping reliever David Weathers and minor league pitcher Jeremy Griffiths to the Astros for Hidalgo and $4 million. On balance the Mets would add $1 million to the payroll, plus the Mets would be responsible for the $2 million buyout on Hidalgo's 2005 ($15 million) option, since Hidalgo is not a player you pay $15 million for in this market.

Now on to the meat of this article: I do what I do for this website and provide analysis. This is an excellent deal for the Mets. Jim Duquette acquired a high-upside hitter for a small loss. David Weathers is a fine reliever, but at 34 years of age and in a down year he's not something it kills the Mets to lose. The Mets will have Scott Strickland back from the disabled list soon, plus the loss of Weathers allows the Mets to give more work to the young and talented Orber Moreno, who's quietly been having an excellent year. Griffiths is no more than a middle of the rotation prospect at best and has not been pitching particularly well at class AAA Norfolk.

Thus the deal works out as a low risk-high reward trade. If Hidalgo does not start hitting like Richard Hidalgo again, the Mets haven't lost much and the Mets lineup isn't much worse off anyway. If it does work out, it's highway robbery. To put it another way, it's pretty hard to dream up a trade in which the Mets get as much upside for as little cost. Even if Hidalgo does not hit, he is still a defensive upgrade in right field, where he gets to as many balls as any corner OF in the league and has a legitimate cannon. Hidalgo is also a capable center fielder.

Hidalgo has proven that he can hit. 2000 was a banner year for Hidalgo, when he hit .314/.391/.636 (BA/OBP/SLG) and sent 44 balls into the blue. His OPS was 47 percent better than average. After two disappointing years, Hidalgo came back with a strong .309/.385/.572 effort in 2003. Though his home run output dropped to 28, he pounded the gaps with relative impunity for 43 doubles.

Hidalgo also has an unfortunate history of injury. His 2002 line (.235/.319/.415) was affected by a hip problem to which he eventually lost the final weeks of the season (he logged 388 AB). It is notable that while Hidalgo's batting average obviously suffered, his peripherals remained strong. His isolated discipline (OBP-BA) was 84 points, which is close to his career mark (a bit higher, actually) and his isolated power (SLG-BA, equivalent to extra bases divided by AB) was quite respectable at .180. It is not likely that Hidalgo is a genuine .235 hitter. His career batting average is .280.

David Weathers was coming off a run of five consecutive good years coming into 2004. Going back to 1999, the first year Baseball Prospectus tracks their reliever evaluation tools, Weathers had been rated in the plus each year, reaching a high of 24.4 runs saved and totaling 55.6 runs saved over those five years. For the Mets he saved 18.6 runs in the two full years he pitched for them. These tools consider runners inherited and runners left on base for the next pitcher to pick up, plus the runs a pitcher is solely responsible for in calculating runs saved or cost. To this point in 2004, however, Weathers' forecast has been stormier. He has run up 4.9 runs in the negative for the Mets before the trade.

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