23 May 2008

Omar Vizquel's Weak Hall of Fame Case

UPDATE: I have taken an updated and more thorough look at Omar Vizquel's Hall of Fame credentials here.

Rob Neyer links to a column by Henry Shulman of the San Francisco Chronicle suggesting that some writers might be thinking of voting Omar Vizquel into the Hall of Fame, once he's eligible. Shulman says he conducted "a small straw poll of hall voters" which probably means he asked two guys while they were sitting in the press box together, covering the same game.

Let's hope so. If not, the Hall of Fame is about to lower its standards a bit.

Shulman says that Vizquel's credentials as the all-time leader in games played at shortstop, plus his 11 Gold Gloves and his 2700+ hits (by the time he's done) should make him a solid Hall candidate. Neyer argues that the fact that the man was never considered a great player, not just defender, should mean that the writers wouldn't even consider voting for him. Sure, he got all those Gold Glove votes, but when it came down to it, he only got any votes for the MVP once, finishing a distant 16th in 1999. This despite anchoring the infield defense of half a dozen playoff teams with the Tribe in the late nineties and early oughts. Also, he's not much of a singer.

Here are the 23 current players whom the Hall considers shortstops, with their Baseball Prospectus career WARP3 totals, which is Wins Above Replacement Position, adjusted for all time, encompassing offense, defense and even pitching.

Shortstop          WARP3
Luis Aparicio 91.2
Luke Appling 127.9
Dave Bancroft 82.2
Ernie Banks 119.9
Lou Boudreau 110.1
Joe Cronin 112.6
George Davis 130.3
Travis Jackson 73.9
Hughie Jennings 76.3
Pop Lloyd ???
Rabbit Maranville 92.9
Pee Wee Reese 105.8
Cal Ripken 173.1
Phil Rizzuto 75.3
Joe Sewell 91.5
Ozzie Smith 132.5
Joe Tinker 81.2
Aarky Vaughan 131.5
Honus Wagner 203.0
Bobby Wallace 112.8
Monte Ward 83.7
Willie Wells ???
Robin Yount 132.0
Average 111.4
Omar Vizquel currently sports a total of 100.3 WARP3.

It should be noted that some of these guys spent significant amounts of their careers at other positions. Ernie Banks actually played more games at first base than he did at short. Yount played almost half his career as an outfielder. Boudreau and Cronin were, in addition to being very good players, managers for a long time, with some degree of success.

Wells and Lloyd were both presumably very good players in the Negro Leagues, but we don't really have any credible numbers for them. Monte Ward was also a pitcher, and a pioneer in the early days of major league baseball. Joe Tinker was elected by a suddenly generous Veterans Committee in 1946, right after a World War, when they were feeling especially nostalgic, apparently.

But even if you throw all of those guys out, the average for the remaining players stays almost exactly the same, 111.3, instead of point four. So don't worry about that.

Vizquel's WARP3 number fits in rather nicely with the career marks of several of these guys. It's more than Rabbit Maranville, Joe Tinker, Joe Sewell, Dave Bancroft, Travis Jackson, Hughie Jennings or Luis Aparicio. It's also more than Rizutto, and almost as much as Pee Wee Reese, but still way less than Aarky Vaughan, Lou Boudreau or Luke Appling, all five of whom lost time to the War.

If you go by the argument of pointing out the existing bar, which is down there somewhere in the neighborhood of Travis Jackson or Phil Rizutto, even accounting for the war, it's obvious that Omar has done more in his career than those guys, despite never being great in a single season. But it's also obvious to most observers that those guys shouldn't be in the Hall in the first place, so that's not a terribly convincing argument.

Even if you want to use the benchmark of where the average is, it would seem that Vizquel would at least reasonably maintain, if not raise the standard of MLB HoF shortstops. Of course, so would Bill Dahlen, and I don't see anyone clamoring for his candidacy.

This type of argument is something of a slippery slope. It's not a bad starting point to only enshrine players whould maintain or even raise the standard of the existing crop at a given position, but that's not enough, in my mind. We ought to want to make the Hall more exclusive, and therefore more impressive, not less.

Sure, we can put Omar Vizquel in. he's better than Travis Jackson, right, even though he doesn't have as cool a first name? Then we've got to let Ron Santo in, too, though, since he's better than George Kell, right? And what about Harold baines, since he has the most games and hits and what-not as a Designated Hitter? Shouldn't he be considered Hall-worthy?

If you think instead about where the bar should be, instead of where it is, I think you have to leave Vizquel out of the Hall. Not everyone in the Hall has to be Honus Wagner or Cal Ripken, but "appreciably better than Gary Gaetti" doesn't seem like such an outlandish requirement to me.

We've had more than 125 years to see what great players look like, and to paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, I think we should know them when we see them. Omar Vizquel is not one of them.

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Ron Rollins said...

That's great stuff, against the all-time greats. But my theory is, a guy should only be compared to the people he played against. Different eras, different philosophies, etc. Look at who was hitting against the same pitchers, and playing on the same fields in the same stadiums.

I'll bet you look at the numbers for only the SS who played during the same time span, he's a top 5 player at his position. Maybe still not a HOFer, but pretty good, I'll bet.

And in my opinion, if you're in the top 5 of everyone you played against, you should get some serious consideration. But he should be compared to his contemporaries, not guys who played 100 years ago.

Travis M. Nelson said...

Thanks, Ron.

Again, the numbers I quoted are already adjusted for all times, so that you can compare across eras, at least to some degree.

Your comments are not a bad place to start either, but it opens the door for someone who just happens to dominate a weak class. That's the kind of logic that says that Jack Morris should be in the Hall because he was the winningest pitcher of the 1980's. (Not that I think you'd make that argument.)

Yes, if a guy dominated his own era, even if his numbers don't look all that impressive compared to today's players, you'd have to say he should get serious consideration. Lefty Gomez, for example, only won 189 games, but did so mostly in the offense-inflated 1930's.

Similarly, if a guy was obviously very good, but happened to be stuck playing in an era when there was someone else better than him at the same position, I don't think that should be held against him. Just because Alex Rodriguez is a Hall of Fame thirdbaseman doesn't mean that Chipper Jones is not.

Vizquel, however, has both of those things going against him.

His numbers are only impressive compared to historical shortstops on the merits of his longevity. Anyone who plays for 20 years at one position is going to be among the all-time leaders in some stats at that position. That's a notable feat, but it doesn't make him a Hall of Famer.

And neither are his numbers impressive when compared to his peers. A-Rod, Jeter, Ozzie Smith, Ripken, Trammell, Garciaparra, Larkin, Rollins and others were all more significant players during Vizquel's career, if not in the same ways or for very long. He's really not among the top 5 at his position in his career. I would say that (in no particular order) Ozzie, Jeter, Ripken, Trammell, A-Rod, Miguel Tejada, Barry Larkin and even Edgar Renteria were (or are) better than Omar during his own career.

Ron Rollins said...


Looking at the names listed, I see you point about Vizquel not being a HOF'er. I was never really sure about him, anyhow.

But I do stand by my point that candidates should only be looked at based on what their contemporaries did. Judging Vizquel on Ripken, Trammell, Tejada, etc is appropriate. Judging him against Wagner, Rizzuto, Appling, etc just doesn't seem like a fair comparison. At least to me.

Still not saying he is deserving, but a better question is, if they don't put some people in based on defensive ability, or relievers, aren't they just admitting that its only about the ability to hit the ball and none of the other factors of a game really matter. Seems to me someone could still be a HOFer without a high average or a load of homeruns, based on what they did on they field. But just an opinion.

Travis M. Nelson said...

It's an opinion with which I happen to agree, but I do think that defense is a less significant part of the game than offense,and therefore that you should be truly outstanding at defense if you're not even an average hitter (Vizquel's career OPS+ is 84, 16% worse than an average hitter during his career) to compensate.

Ozzie Smith did that, and you could argue that Bill Mazeroski did, too, though I would not have put him in the Hall, personally. Omar, however, has a reputation that far exceeds his actual skills, and so I don't think he should make it on either front.

He got 11 Gold Gloves because the people who vote for the Gold Gloves really don't know what the hell they're doing. They think because he can make a running stab at a grounder or catch a ball off the back of his glove and throw a guy out, he must be great. A better shortstop could have positioned himself better and made the play with less flair, and more importantly, made more plays.

If you look at Omar's FRAA (Fielding Runs Above Average, another Baseball Prospectus stat) he comes out at +61 for his career, he compares poorly to Ripken (+185), Smith (+254), Trammell (+109), and winds up about the same as Barry Larkin (+58) despite playing in over 400 more games. Ozzie Smith twice racked up more than 61 FRAA in spans of just three seasons! Wouldn't you think that a great shortstop, playing more games than anyone ever played at the position, ought to have had more defensive value than anyone else, or at least be close?

I agree with you, in principle: There is room in Cooperstown for players who were excellend defenders, but only so-so hitters, or excellent relief pitchers, even if they would not have made good starters (Goose Gossage and Mariano Rivera come to mind), but if there are both historical and contemporary examples of guys who were better players at the same position, and not all of those guys should eb Hall-worthy, then this one can't either.

Anonymous said...

The "if x, then y" argument applies when you cherry pick one guy out a large group, i.e. if Jim Rice then Albert Belle, if Albert Belle then Juan Gonzalez, etc.

This isn't one guy that Vizquel scores better on in the WARP3 test. It's 7 guys. That's a very large percentage of the HoF SS population, especially when you consider than Banks and Yount weren't even career shortstops.

People say Omar is Ozzie without the backflips, but that's false. In reality, he's a superior Scooter without the rings or Yankee mythos to help him. 1,000 more games played than Rizzuto isn't chump change. You even admit yourself than Vizquel probably wouldn't lower the SS standards of the HoF, and even if he did, wouldn't that just make it easier for sabermetric mancrushes like Larkin and Trammel to eventually get in?

You say that his longevity alone doesn't make him a HoFer. Unfortunately for you, the Hall voters don't really agree with you. Every other games played leader for their position is in the Hall. Aparicio was a HoFer pretty much solely because of his longevity, and Vizquel will be too. Even if he somehow goes 15 ballots without making it, he's the kind of guy that the VC absolutely loves. Omar *will* end up in the Hall, and in the meantime people can sit at their desks and weep with impotent rage that he is in and Trammel and Bill Dahlen aren't in, nevermind that no one arguing for Dahlen ever saw the damn guy play.

Travis M. Nelson said...

It's not exactly true that every positional games leader is in the Hall. Harold Baines has the most games at DH, and he only got a handful of votes the first two years on the ballot. He amassed 2866 hits, but never hit 30 homers in a season, nor 40 doubles, nor scored even 90 runs in a single year. He led the AL in slugging in 1984, but never got particularly close to the top in anyting else, ever.

Jesse Orosco has pitched more games than anyone else, but he's not going in, not with 87 wins and 144 saves. Being a closer for 5 or 6 years and a LOOGY for 15 is not enough.

And the other positional games played leaders (Brooks Robinson, Craig Biggio, Ty Cobb, Carlton Fisk, Eddie Murray) are all there because they were great players as well, not just becuase of their longevity.

I don't like to compare players to Phil Rizzuto because he's such an odd case. He was so talented, obviously so to the writers of his day, but he lost a lot of time to the war, and his skills took a while to come back after he returned form the rigors of combat duty. His hitting doesn't look all that impressive compared to today's stats, but Win Shares suggests that he was a deserving MVP in 1950, and a much better player than people realize. Bill James ranked him something like 16th among all shortstops in the 2001 Abstract, even considering all of that.

And it's hardly fair to say that Aparicio only got in because of his longevity. He was a RoY, got MVP votes in 10 of his 18 seasons, finishing as high as 2nd once, and was a 10-time All Star. He was thought of as a great player, at least for much of the time he was actually playing. The Writers didn't just wake up one day years after he retired and decide he was really good.

By contrast, Omar's gotten three MVP votes in 10 years. While he has made three All Star teams, these days you have to have someone appointed from each team, so that's not as impressive a feat. Sean Casey and Luis Castillo have each made three All-star teams. Paul LoDuca has been on four of them, and even if those guys stick around for 20 years, they won't be Hall of Famers.

The distingtion here is really between if he should get into the Hall, or if he will. I agree that he may get in, perhaps by the Veterans Committee or something, but I don't think he should.

Mike said...

I'm very late to this thread, but I just thought I'd point out one flaw in your argument, though I do agree that he should not be in the Hall. You mention that it wasn't impressive for him to make the All-Star teams that he did because every MLB team needs representation these days. That would only be a valid argument if he was the only Indian selected to those All-Star teams. However, on 2 of the All-Star teams he made, there were several other Indians selected.

In 1998, he was 1 of 6 Indians. In 1999, he was also 1 of 6. This would have made it more difficult for him to make the team, given that the weaker AL teams needed to be represented. And in 2002, although he was the only Indian selected, his first half numbers were admittedly impressive.

While I admit he is not a Hall-of-Famer, it would be wrong to take these achievements away from him.

Travis M. Nelson said...

That's a good point, Mike. I hadn't looked into that, but you're right that he was a good enough player to make All-Star teams when he already had teammates on the squad.

My rebuttal to that though is twofold:

1) The perceived value of having made an all-star team is diminished overall, given the rule. Hall of Fame voters won't necessarily goback as you did and check who else from his team made the squads.

B) Omar was never elected to start, and one of those (1998) years Vizquel made the team because his own manager picked him. He hit .302 with zero home runs in the first half, in a year in which all kind of home run records fell. He did make it as the 5th SS on the team in 2002, but then Joe Torre has made some bizarre managing decisions over the years.

Anonymous said...

Ron, you might not know what it takes to be in that level for 20+years. Vizquel has the same or better numbers that your "best shortstop" Ozzie Smith, and I am not talking about defense, because everybody knows that he has been the best, and his numbers for a shortstop with more than 1000 games will show it to you.

More than 2700 hits, more double plays, 1st in games played in shortstop (he still playing at 42), 2nd in number of hits as shortstop. Last year he was challenged to play 3rd and 2nd and in both played better than everyday players. Should I mention that he can bat lefty and righty and he is an exceptional bunter?. Tell me about other shortstop that can play with the same grace, style, quick hands and footwork, and by the way with the least amount of errors.

He did not hit the ball as A-Rod, Tejada, or Garciaparra. But where are they now? Playing any other position, not mentioning the *.roids stuff

Even Mr. Ripken says that Vizquel is Hall of famer, and Ripken has a batting average similar to Vizquel’s, so how can you say that he should not be there?

It is not just about the numbers, is what the guy brings to the table in every team that he plays, there are the heads up plays, the good running on the bases, the good at bats, the confidence that gives to the pitchers knowing that they have somebody that can actually can turn everyday plays. That you cannot measure!

What else does he have to do to show that he is one of the best shortstop that have ever played in MLB?


Anonymous said...

My name is Albenis, and my last post was not for Ron, was for Travis


Travis M. Nelson said...

Albenis, thanks for clearing that up. I would have responded earlier but I never know if an anonymous commenter ever comes back to read my responses.

Anyway, I can't argue with your so-called unmeasurable attributes. Thos things, by definition cannot be proven, and therefore cannot be disproven either. But the measureable stuff is a different story. Vizquel, when you adjust for eras and ballparks and such, has not been as good a hitter as Ozzie was, over their careers. Smith's career OPS+ was 88, while Omar's is just 82. Neither is great, but sompared to his leagues, Smith was better. And he was a measurably better defender as wll. Omar lives in a time of ESPN and highlight reels and stuff, so the flashy plays he used to make garnered him a lot of attention, but SMith actually made a lot of plays, which is really what you need a defender to do. He got to evething. Omar's not that good. Omar has mde only three all star teams, and got an MVP vote only once. Aparicio, by contrast, made 13 All-Star teams, got MVP votes in 10 different seasons, and led the league in steals a bunch of times. Luke Appling got votes in 11 seasons, and won a couple of batting titles. Maranville got MVP votes eight differnet times, finishing in the top 10 in five different seasons. Ozzie even got MVP votes six times, finishing as high as second once. Vizquel has almost never been considered by the baseball writers as one of the 20 or so best players in the league, despite having played on several playoff teams.

The fact that he has stuck around for 20 years is a credit to him, and he has amassed a lot of counting stats because of that, like the 2700+ hits you mention, but he's also made more outs than all but 13 players in history and is 19th in career times caught stealing.

Though he is nominally a switch hitter, he's been pretty terrible hitting efty over the course of his career, with just a .652 OPS, so it's not like it helps much. I suppose he may be a good bunter, which would explain why he;d led his league in sacrifices four times and currently tops the active list in that stat, but that really just means that he was not a good enough hitter to let him swing in situations where they have a man on base, right? Anyway, bunting is hardly something on which to build a Hall of Fame case.

He's been pretty good, a useful player over the course of his career, but 20 years of "useful" don't make a Hall of Famer, in my opinion.

Randall said...

"a useful player" with 11 Gold Gloves? Sounds like you are just a hater.

Best defensive shortstop of his generation. Hit well enough. Had a long productive career.

As for All-Star selections, he had the misfortune of playing in a league with guys named A-Rod, Nomar, and Jeter. I doubt even Ozzie would have cracked too many All-Star squads against guys with those offensive numbers.

The arguments about his hitting relative to the time he played in seem a bit naive (not to mention pointless) given what we know about the steroid situation.

What's wrong with having arguably the second best defensive shortstop ever in the Hall? How could this do anything but upgrade the position?