Editor’s note: Please welcome the latest from Alex Putterman.
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 Beltre, Al Oliver, Alan Trammell, Albert Belle, Albert Pujols, Allie Reynolds, Andy Pettitte, Barry Bonds, Barry Larkin, Bert Blyleven, Bill King, Billy Martin, Bobby Grich, Cecil Travis, Chipper Jones, Closers, Craig Biggio, Curt Flood, Dan Quisenberry, Darrell Evans, Dave Parker, Dick Allen, Don Mattingly, Don Newcombe,Dwight Evans, George Steinbrenner, George Van Haltren, Gus Greenlee, Harold Baines, Harry Dalton, Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell, Jeff Kent, Jim Edmonds, Joe Carter, Joe Posnanski, John Smoltz, Johnny Murphy, Jose Canseco, Juan Gonzalez, Keith Hernandez, Ken Caminiti, Kevin Brown, Larry Walker, Manny Ramirez, Maury Wills, Mel Harder, Moises Alou, Pete Browning, Phil Cavarretta, Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, Rocky Colavito,Roger Maris, Ron Cey, Ron Guidry, Ron Santo, Sammy Sosa, Sean Forman, Smoky Joe Wood, Steve Garvey,Ted Simmons, Thurman Munson, Tim Raines, Tony Oliva, Vince Coleman, Will Clark