Top 100 Baseball Blog

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Baseball Hall of Fame Case of Omar Vizquel

The 2018 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot is loaded with a plethora of talented players. Some may seem like more sure things than others, while there are other cases that are certain to inspire furious debate. Continuing a series, we’re exploring some of these non-locks who are making their first appearance on the ballot and dissect their cases piece by piece. Let’s continue with shortstop Omar Vizquel.

The switch-hitting Venezuelan boasted one of the slickest gloves in the game during his playing career that spanned nearly a quarter of a century. He played for six teams between 1989 and 2012, appearing in a total of 2,968 games (12th all time). During that time he accumulated 2,877 hits, a .272 batting average, 80 home runs, 951 RBIs and 404 stolen bases. He also won 11 Gold Gloves and made three All star teams.

With such an impressive resume, one might think Vizquel would be a virtual lock for the Hall of Fame. However, that is far from the truth.

Vizquel had a career bWAR of 45.3, but 28.4 of that came from defense, making him one of the more one-dimensional candidates. His counting numbers on offense look solid, but when taking into account his 24 years playing, they take a much more Tommy John accumulator look.

It’s possible for players who were more one dimensional to be all-time greats and earn a ticket to Cooperstown. Fellow shortstop Ozzie Smith is a great example. Could Vizquel have been that dominant with the glove that he is a Hall of Famer? His .985 fielding percentage is the best at the position, ever. He’s first in double plays turned, third in assists. His dWAR is tied for seventh. That all said, Smith’s 76.5 bWAR dwarfs that of Vizquel. It’s not even close.

Vizquel also has additional strong arguments against him. Sports Illustrated’s Jay Jaffe writes that the former shortstop doesn’t measure out nearly as well when it comes to his range and that many advanced stats suggest his reputation with the leather wasn’t as super hero-esque as it typically portrayed.

It’s also problematic to overlook Vizquel’s deficiencies with the bat. His counting numbers are nothing to be ashamed of but they fall short of a Hall-of-Fame resume. A league average hitter is expected to have a 100 OPS+ (On base plus slugging percentage). He only exceeded that mark two times in his 24 years and had a light-weight mark of 82 for his career. Not only does that translate to his production being 18 percent less than a league average hitter, it puts him just above former offensive luminaries like pitcher Dontrelle Willis who boasted a career OPS+ of 75 to give an idea of the comparative value of that particular statistic.

There is also reason to correlate what successes Vizquel had on the offensive side with him playing on a number of gifted hitting teams. He began with the Ken Griffey Jr.-led Seattle Mariners; spent over a decade with the Cleveland Indians and their murderer’s row that included the likes of Kenny Lofton, Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome; and then another four years with Barry Bonds, Jeff Kent and the San Francisco Giants. It’s a reasonable assumption to surmise that a relative weak hitter like Vizquel saw a benefit in his overall production, particularly in seeing better pitches to hit and scoring more runs because of being able to bat in such talented lineups.

In order for Vizquel to be a surefire candidate, his defense would have to be historical. It is absolutely fair to say he was among the best of all time, but there is no evidence to suggest that he was “the best,” or even that close to it. This isn’t an effort to split hairs. A fair summary of his career is that he was a stand-out defender whose bat you could live with. He left a remarkable legacy and impact on the game but is outside the qualifications needed to be enshrined in Cooperstown.

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