Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Omar Vizquel

Editor’s note: Please welcome the latest from Alex Putterman.

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Claim to fame: Today marks Omar Vizquel’s 45th birthday, and when better to discuss the Hall of Fame credentials of the second oldest player in Major League Baseball?

Vizquel has certainly been around awhile. A Mariners rookie in 1989, the shortstop is now a Blue Jay, having ventured north of the border in 2012 to join his fourth team in five years and sixth overall in his 24-year Major League career. During the near-quarter century at baseball’s highest level, Vizquel has collected 2,842 hits, 451 doubles, and 401 stolen bases, all while hitting for a respectable .272 batting average (all stats as of 4/20). Generally a singles hitter, an anemic .353 slugging percentage bogs down his career .690 OPS and 82 OPS+.

But it was Vizquel’s glove that made him one of the game’s most exciting players during his prime. The Venezuelan’s 11 gold gloves are second only to Ozzie Smith all-time among shortstops, and he’s fifth among shortstops in Total Zone Runs Above Average according to baseball-reference.com. Vizquel’s 13.3 career dWAR (again per baseball-reference) is tied for 33rd at any position and tied for ninth among shortstops. Had he retired after the 2009 season, before a recent slide in defensive production, he would stand tied for 25th overall in dWAR and seventh among shortstops. He’s also the all-time leader in fielding percentage at shortstop and holds the MLB record for most double plays turned at the position.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Once Vizquel retires, which should be soon given his age and diminished skill set, he will wait five years before appearing on the BBWAA ballot for the first of what could potentially be many times.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Any conversation about the Hall of Fame worthiness of a slick-fielding, average-hitting shortstop inevitably comes back to Ozzie Smith, the defensive maestro enshrined in Cooperstown in 2002 despite relatively meek offensive numbers.

But Vizquel falls short of Smith in all facets of the game. While Vizquel’s batting statistics looks superior at first glance, adjustment for era (Vizquel’s prime aligned with the most favorable offensive environment in baseball history) diminishes his numbers and gives Smith a slight advantage in OPS+, 87 to 82. Ozzie’s value was further enhanced by the dearth of quality shortstops during his career, especially relative to the middle-infield boom of the 1990s, when Vizquel competed with Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra, and Alex Rodriguez among others. Because of these changes in the game and at the shortstop position, a shortstop with a .280 batting average and .715 OPS was worth more in 1985 than in 1997, a phenomenon perhaps best illustrated by the difference in All-Star appearances between Smith and Vizquel, Smith having been selected to the Mid-Summer Classic 15 times and Vizquel only thrice.

And while Vizquel was certainly terrific with the glove, he was by no measure on Smith’s level, trailing The Wizard in Gold Gloves (if you view that as a valid measure of defensive ability) as well as dWAR and Ultimate Zone Rating (if you don’t). Baseball-reference gives Smith 8.3 more defensive wins above replacement over the course of his career, a reflection of his 239-130 advantage in Total Zone Runs Above Average.

Just for good measure, Smith was a better base-runner than Vizquel as well, stealing 179 more bases while being caught 17 fewer times. It’s safe to say that at the plate, on the bases, and in the field, Omar Vizquel was no Ozzie Smith.

But is Vizquel a Hall of Famer despite his inferiority to the player with whom he is most often compared? While Phil Rizzuto, Rabbit Maranville, and Luis Aparicio have reached Cooperstown with similar profiles – good shortstop defense but not much production at the plate – Vizquel would, if inducted, tie Maranville and Aparicio for lowest OPS+ in the Hall. If being better than (or equal to) the worst enshrined players were a legitimate argument for a player’s Hall of Fame credentials, we’d be debating the merits of Chuck Knoblauch, Jason Kendall, and Eric Chavez. Producing like Ozzie Smith would have earned Vizquel Hall of Fame consideration. Producing like Rabbit Maranville, however, should not.

If Vizquel manages another 158 hits we’ll face quite the dilemma: a player with 3,000 hits, otherwise unqualified player for the Hall. Should he reach that milestone he’ll almost surely assume a place in Cooperstown, but he still won’t deserve it.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a regular feature here.

Others in this series: Adrian BeltreAl OliverAlan TrammellAlbert BelleAlbert PujolsAllie ReynoldsAndy PettitteBarry BondsBarry LarkinBert BlylevenBill KingBilly MartinBobby GrichCecil TravisChipper JonesClosersCraig BiggioCurt FloodDan QuisenberryDarrell EvansDave ParkerDick AllenDon MattinglyDon Newcombe,Dwight EvansGeorge SteinbrennerGeorge Van HaltrenGus GreenleeHarold BainesHarry DaltonJack MorrisJeff BagwellJeff KentJim EdmondsJoe CarterJoe PosnanskiJohn SmoltzJohnny MurphyJose CansecoJuan GonzalezKeith HernandezKen CaminitiKevin BrownLarry WalkerManny RamirezMaury WillsMel HarderMoises AlouPete BrowningPhil CavarrettaRafael PalmeiroRoberto AlomarRocky Colavito,Roger MarisRon CeyRon GuidryRon SantoSammy Sosa, Sean FormanSmoky Joe WoodSteve Garvey,Ted SimmonsThurman MunsonTim RainesTony OlivaVince ColemanWill Clark

0 thoughts on “Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Omar Vizquel”

  1. Vizquel is a nice player. I like him a lot. But Omar Vizquel for the Hall of Fame is absolute crazy talk.

    I actually just published a post today that talks about Vizquel’s WAR. I ran the numbers for Vizquel’s pre-2010 career (just because I needed to work from Sean Smith’s indispensable but slightly out of date spreadsheets). He had 43.2 WAR at that point (it has since gone down). WAR, of course, measures a player compared to replacement level. Since Vizquel has played a long time, much of his career WAR simply comes from hanging around in between the “replacement” and “average” levels.

    If we strip all that out and just show Vizquel’s wins above average, it tells a different story. By the metric, he has just 7.8 wins above average. Ozzie Smith, by comparison, has 35.6. Rabbit Maranville, who I view as Omar’s #1 comp, has 8.9.

    Bill Dahlen has 44.9.

    Alan Trammell? 39.1.

    Let’s worry about those guys first.

  2. Alex,
    Great profile of an interesting player. If Vizquel does reach 3000 hits (a remote possibility in my view), he will present not a dilemma, but an opportunity. I don’t know that the writers as a group are looking for the opportunity to push back against the tradition of automatic enshrinement for reaching the arbitrary milestone of 3000 hits, but if they are, Vizquel is someone they can feel comfortable rejecting, for all of the reasons you cite. (So far the writers have rejected Rafael Palmeiro, too, but his case is really not a referendum on the Hall-worthiness of 3000 hits.) The other two players who could be test cases for 3000 hits not triggering automatic enshrinement (Craig Biggio, retired with more than 3000 hits, and Johnny Damon, active and approaching the mark) are each more legitimate Hall candidates than Vizquel, and will therefore be more difficult for the writers to ignore.

  3. Interesting—the idea that while hanging on to reach a milestone may improve your traditional stats, it hurts your advanced stats.

    I’ve been thinking a bit about how different views at the time can alter how a player approached the game and therefore can hurt his saber value. For example, if Lou Brock knew we wanted him to walk, maybe he would have walked.

  4. This is another article from another sabermetric fool who never looks with his own eyes to see what is in front of them. I watched Omar paly as much as I could through out his career. Omar has a better fielding percentage than anyone, including Ozzie. He has a higher batting average, more hits, more games played, more double plays turned, etc. Than Ozzie. He also played in the steriod era, so his stats are being deminished by being compared to all of those who did do steriods. Hopefully, you do not get to vote on the HOF.

  5. Thanks for the comment Bob. I find it curious that you criticized my use of statistics but then cited different statistics suggesting that Vizquel should be a Hall of Famer. All sabermetrics are are more sophisticated (and rational) versions of the same stats baseball has used for decades. Going by the vague and unarguable eye test is one thing, but claiming that that’s your approach and then throwing out stats that only paint half the picture seems hypocrtitical.

  6. While I agree with some of your arguments, others do not hold water. To use All Star appearances as a criteria is ridiculous for the obvious reason; it’s a fan vote and Ozzie was a fan favorite, not to mention being from maybe the best baseball city there is. Omar was every bit as spectacular a fielder as Ozzie, he just didn’t do it with as much flair and pizazz. Had there been a little bit more space between their careers, Omar surely would be remembered more highly. As far as 3000 hits being a criteria, there should be no question; anybody who lasts long enough and hit well enough to garner that many base knocks belongs in the Hall, so if he gets another 100 and some odd hits, (doubt it though) he should be in. Remember also that Ozzie played most of his career on turf where many base hits would have been ground ball outs on grass like Omar played on so his average probably would have been even lower.
    If Omar makes it in I’d be happy, but if not, there are far more egregious examples of players who DON’T belong

  7. Ron, All-star starting line-ups are voted by fans, the rest of the rosters are not. Managers and players left Vizquel off the all-star team, not just fans. This is largely because his numbers weren’t that impressive relative to his shortstop-playing peers.

    As for the 3,000 hits argument, which of the following careers is more impressive:

    3,000 hits, 1,000 walks, .272/.337/.353?

    Or

    2,600 hits, 1,400 walks, .294/.385/.425?

    I’ll take the second guy any day. Vizquel shouldn’t be a Hall of Famer because he hung around for years as a below-average player to collect a few more hits at a painfully slow rate.

  8. I’m not much of a stats guy, and being a fellow countryman I have to admit some bias or hope for Omar. For me it does come down to defensive numbers as he is a defensive player. I hate it when defensive playes don’t get the credit they deserve while for offensive players the defensive numbers are overlooked. I understand the importance of offense, but would like to see pure defensive players get their due in the hall of fame. For me, the gold glove numbers are what’s important in Omar’s case. He would have actually tied Ozzie If it weren’t for Alex Rodriguez during his steroid induced seasons as a short stop, when he won the golden glove with lower defensive numbers. Finally, the ultimate test are the words of Ozzie himself, who said Omar is the best SS he has ever seen. Need to say more?

  9. Honestly… 11 gold gloves, best SS fielding percentage ever… almost 3000 hits.. this guy should be in the HOF. He´s an example of discipline, perseverance and talent. Not sure what´s to discuss…

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