23 June 2010

A Tale of Two Pitchers: Yankees' A.J. Burnett

The Yankees maintained their loose grip on first place in the American league Eastern Division Monday night despite being handed an embarrassing, 10-4 loss to the last-place Arizona Diamondbacks. Since the Tampa Bay Rays and the Bostons did not play, the Bronx Bombers retained a slim, 1/2-game lead on their division rivals.

That contest marked the fourth straight poor performance - and fourth straight loss - for starting RHP A.J. Burnett, whose once-sparkling 6-2 record and 3.28 ERA have ballooned to 6-6 and 4.83, respectively. Having a streak of four starts in which you allow nine homers and 23 runs in just 20 innings will do that for you, it seems.

The Yankees signed Burnett last winter, despite my impassioned pleas not to, though to be fair, my skepticism was based on Burnett's health, not his skills. In any case, in my frustration with Burnett's apparent inability to either throw strikes (at all) or throw strikes that batters would actually miss, I began wondering how it's possible that this man once won 18 games in a season. For that matter, how is it possible that the man won 13 games last year, when it seems that every time I watch him pitch, he allows six runs in five innings or something like that?

Burnett's troubles - or at least his inconsistencies - have been pretty well documented. The broadcast team on ESPN last night started describing their perceptions of Burnett, who seemed to be "frustrated" and "having mechanical issues" and "not on the same page" as catcher Jorge Posada, and so on.

Lack of focus, front shoulder flying open, bad karma...whatever. It seems that everybody has an explanation for how a guy who can consistently throw a baseball 94 miles per hour and has a curveball that dives toward the plate as though being suddenly pulled by an electromagnet can be so...so...mediocre.

They mentioned the supposed difficulty Posada and Burnett had last year in connecting with each other, though they didn't mention the specifics: That Burnett had a 4.96 ERA when Posada caught him in 2009 and a 3.22 ERA for anyone else. Granted, he pitched badly a couple of times in the playoffs with Jose Molina catching him, too, but still, that's a big difference. This year's even worse: 6.06 with Posada, 3.63 with Francisco Cervelli. (For the record, Burnett didn't seem to connect with Chad Moeller all that well either: 5.21 ERA).

There are other bizarre splits as well. Burnett is 3-2 this year with a 3.47 ERA when he gets five days of rest, but on normal four days' rest or on 6+ days, he's got an ERA well over five and a half. He's got a 3.46 ERA at home, 5.85 on the road. Last year's split was not quite as pronounced: 3.51 at home, 4.59 on the road. And this despite New Yankee Stadium's reputation as a hitter's park.

Or, here's a fun one: He's 3-0, 1.23 in day games, but 3-6, 5.97 at night. Maybe 7:05 PM is past his bed time? Probably just a fluke, since last year that split was reversed (5.38 ERA during day games, 3.14 at night). Most pitchers tend to do better at night overall, since hitters can't see the ball as well.

But perhaps the most glaring disparity is the one I mentioned first: How can a guy who wins about 15 games a year seem to be so terrible whenever I get to see him pitch? The answer is a simple one: Because he is.

Let me explain. I live in Pennsylvania, outside the usual area of the YES network, which means that I only get to see Yankee games when they're either on national TV (like FOX, TBS or ESPN) or when they're on the local New York stations that happen to get broadcast in eastern PA, like WPIX and WWOR. That means that I only see a handful of Yankee games each year, perhaps 20 or 30 at most. And, as I mentioned, it seemed to me that every time I saw Burnett pitch, he was terrible.

If it seemed that way, that's only because, well, he was:

2009-2010 National broadcasts (ESPN/TBS/FOX)      
12 2-6 66.0 85 61 38 47 15 8.32 5.5 11.6 6.4 5.2 2.0

2009-2010 Local NY Broadcasts
36 17-9 232.1 206 81 94 215 23 3.14 6.5 8.0 8.3 3.6 0.9
If you include his postseason performances, which are all nationally broadcast, his numbers improve very slightly, to 3-7 with a 7.44 ERA, which, on a scale of one to ten, is still awful. Overall, Burnett has been more than twice as likely to surrender a home run on national television as he has been on local TV. He walked two more batters per nine innings, struck out two fewer and gave up about three and a half more hits per game. And of course he allowed more than twice as many earned runs.

Including his postseason outings, that makes a total of 93.1 innings on national television, 17 games. It's not a small sample size, though perhaps not as large as I might prefer. And he was only able to provide a Quality Start in seven of those 17 games. Compare that to his locally broadcast work, where he made 23 Quality Starts in 36 outings, and you can see why someone like me may have gotten a skewed impression of his pitching acumen.

In short, Burnett looks every bit like a Cy Young candidate on local New York TV, or at least he looks like the $16.5 million workhorse the Yankees thought they were getting when they signed him last winter. But if you see him on national television? Well, let's just say they'd be hard pressed to justify letting him keep his rotation spot over, say, Kyle Davies.

Why is all of this important? Well, for one thing, Burnett's next start is scheduled for Saturday.

On the road. (@ the Dodgers)

On national TV. (FOX)

Since becoming a Yankee, Burnett is 2-5 with a 9.88(!) ERA in nationally broadcast road games. Lots of minor league clubs do fireworks after the game on the weekends. This game should have plenty of fireworks before that.

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09 June 2010

Walter Johnson Evaluates Stephen Strasburg's Debut with Washington

Today's blog post has been - ahem- "ghost"-written by one Walter Perry Johnson. Don't mind him. He's been dead for over 60 years and has only the vaguest ideas of what's going on in the world.

Mr. Nelson has been kind enough to wake me from my eternal slumber to weigh in on a subject of obviously eternal importance: The major league debut of one Stephen Strasburg.

As it happens, I could hardly acquire a wink of sleep anyway, rolling in my grave as I listened to all this hype comparing him to me. Applesauce! Do you know what the Washington Post said about me before I first set foot on a major league hill?

"No youngster that has broken into fast company in recent years is attracting as much attention as..."

...well, Yours Truly. That's who.

And with good reason: I had spent the previous six weeks racking up goose eggs on minor league scoreboards around the country. I hadn't allowed a run in 75 consecutive innings, finishing most of the games I started! I had struck out 166 batters in those innings, nearly three quarters of all the outs I recorded, and about two out of every three men who stood in against me!

And that was only after I was found by a scout in Idaho, working for the phone company by day and decimating opposing lineups at night. I spent my boyhood working on the family farm in Kansas. Working, not playing ball. Then I worked in the California oil fields when I was just 15 years old, and I was proud to know that my efforts would help keep America hustling and bustling, working and building for centuries! That was work, I tell you, not like kids these days, having everything handed to them.

But what has this Strasburg kid done? Led a coddled life, getting rides in some spruced up jitney to his baseball games against other towns and schools? I had to walk to most of my games, or hitchhike for a passing mule wagon, until I was in a semi-pro league and could afford a jalopy of my own. Took days. That's why we couldn't play every day.

But this Strasburg kid, I hear he even attended college. College! Anyone who tells you that a college campus is a good place to find a baseball player is all wet, I say. Sure, that Matty fellow turned out all right - not as good as me, mind you, but definitely the real McCoy - but the list is short after that.

No, if you want a real talent, go and find yourself some hard-boiled reuben on the side of a country road, someone who's worked hard his whole young life and developed the muscles needed to withstand the daily grind of a long life in baseball.

You need someone who's honed his skills against grizzled veterans of sandlots across the great wide expanse of the West, and proven himself against them, not against kids who are barely old enough to wipe their own noses! All the best come from this stock: Cobb, Wagner, Wheat, Alexander, Three-Finger Brown, Ruth, Coveleski. You can take that to the bank!

And another thing: I'm sorry to be the wet blanket here, but from what I've learned, he's hardly pitched! Fifty five innings? In more than two months of "work"? Heck, they've been giving this guys some kind of runaround, or else he'd have pitched more. What is he, some prom-trotter who's too busy filling out his dance card to finish his own games?

Those teams he's played on in Syracuse and Harrisburg must not have wanted to win very badly. Perhaps the Tri-State League plays a shorter schedule these days and the pennant was already wrapped up. How else can you explain limiting a kid with so much supposed talent to starting only once every six or seven days? And then yanking him for a reliefer after only five or six innings?

Talent? Phenomenon? Horsefeathers! They've obviously been hiding something, else they'd have let him finish what he started once in a blue moon. Or they'd let him barnstorm the way we did back in those days, racking up almost as many innings in the winter and in between games as we did during the real "season". That's a way to keep yourself in shape, none of this bunk about exercise machines. Just exercise!

Maybe it's that hard overhand delivery of his. That can't possibly be good for the man's limbs, all those elbows and knees flailing about. Reminds me a little of that Feller kid the newspapermen were all getting stuck on just as I went to meet my maker. Whatever happened to him? Probably got hurt and was never heard from again! Why, I'd bet my all Bethlehem Steel stock that guy never made an impact in the majors!

In my day, I threw in a smooth, sidearm motion, keeping the ball behind me til the last moment and whipping it around on the strength of my gut and my gams, not just my arm. That's how I was able to pitch for over 20 years and strike out more batters than anyone ever has or ever will! Over 3,500 of them! Young Stephen has a long way to go before he can eclipse that record!

This kid's an injury waiting to happen, and then what? God help him if he tears his ulnar collateral ligament, something I once heard my old teammate Curly Ogden harping about up here. Can't do a darned thing if that sucker snaps! All that lettuce the Washingtons are supposed to pay him will be lost! He won't get a single Mercury dime! They'll just release him and he'll have to go work in a soap factory. Then he'll see what real work is like!

For now, well, he mostly looks the part. With that on the table, there have been other impressive debuts that would make you think the guy was the dog's bollocks, when he just turned out to be Joe Average. So last night didn't mean much in itself.

I'll give him credit where it's due, since he did strike out 14 batters in the seven innings he did pitch, whereas your humble author fanned only three in his own debut. Still, though, I also pitched eight innings, not seven, and these came against the eventual pennant winning Detroit Tigers, including the Georgia Peach himself, who was so impressed with me he said,

"The first time I faced him, I watched him take that easy windup. And then something went past me that made me flinch. The thing just hissed with danger. We couldn't touch him..."
The soon-to-be American League champions resorted to bunting against me to get on base, which is mostly why I struck out so few that day. Then later Sam Crawford, a two time home run champ, smacked one off me in the eighth. But then I didn't surrender another circuit clout for almost two years! Let's see if young Stephen can rack up 450 or so innings before someone circles the bases on his credit again!

Strasburg gave up his lone home run, I hear, to someone named Delwyn Young, a lusterless reserve who's got no business hitting a homer of anyone mentioned in the same sentence as The Big Train. What kind of name is "Delwyn" anyway? What a hoot! Next thing you'll be telling me that there are players named Daric, or Denard, or Dustin! Kids these days!

And anyway, these were not exactly the Pirates of my day, with the likes of Pie Traynor, Max Carey, Stuffy McInnis, Kiki Cuyler, Big Poison and Little Poison in the lineup. But Milledge? Cedeno? Walker? Jamarillo? There's not a single guy in that Pittsburgh lineup who would have passed muster as a waterboy with those Pirates, much less on the playing field.

In short, while everyone's yammering on about how this kid is the bee's knees and how everything with the Washington Nationals will soon be Jake, remember that my Washingtons had a winning record only six times in my first 17 seasons with them. Remember too that Strasburg will face a lot tougher competition than the ragamuffin Pirates as the season plods on, and that the babe might not be so berries pitching against first division teams.

And finally, remember that injuries happen, and only the Big Cheese up here really knows if and when, and mum's the word from him.

Wait...Washington Nationals?

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04 June 2010

The Even More Perfect Game

My mom tells me that in her high school English class, during a discussion of how, grammatically, certain words should be modified (i.e. is it "narrower" or "more narrow", "certainer or more certain"?) the word "perfect" came up. Some students thought "more perfect" the correct usage. others thought "perfecter" was acceptable, if somewhat clunky.

My mom pointed out that it was neither. Perfect, is, by definition, without the possibility of improvement, and so there was no need to modify the word. You could not be more perfect than perfect. And her teacher agreed.

But Wednesday night, Armando Galarraga taught us what my mom and her high school English teacher could not: You can improve upon perfection after all.

As you by now know, the Tigers' 28-year old Venezuelan pitcher retired 26 consecutive Cleveland Indians that night in Detroit, and then disaster struck. Well, not disaster, exactly, but certainly an injustice. Galaragga induced a little grounder to the right side of the infield, which was cleanly fielded by Tigers' firstbaseman Miguel Cabrera, who threw to Galaragga, covering the bag, as the pitcher should. It was the ideal, textbook ending for a gem of a game, 83 pitches of remarkable efficiency and effectiveness, leaving the pitcher holding the ball with which he had entered the record books.

Except it wasn't.

The now infamous umpire, Jim Joyce, despite having a clear view of the play and plenty of time to call it, somehow called it wrong, making an out batter safe and a perfect pitcher flawed.

Replays showed that Joyce was clearly in the wrong. Galaragga has the ball in his glove and his foot on the bag while Donald's foot is still perhaps 12 to 18 inches from touching the bag. Granted, that's just a fraction of a second, but this is what umpires train for, hone their skills for a quarter of a century for, and this is what they're paid to do. He's got to get that call right, especially now.

Normally, as I understand it, an umpire makes that call with both sight and sound, watching the base for each player's feet while listening to hear the ball hit the fielder's glove. If you watch the replay (and I know you have, lots and lots of times already) you see that Galaragga didn't catch the ball right in the meaty part of his hand, which would make the loudest 'pop'.

The fact that Miguel Cabrera only had to throw the ball about 15 feet means it wasn't thrown that hard, and the fact that Galaragga caught it in the webbing, as you're supposed to, and that it rattled around a little only makes it tougher. It didn't rattle much. He essentially had control of it, but it was enough to dull the sound and perhaps make it difficult for Joyce to hear it. To his credit, Joyce doesn't cite this as the problem. He just admits to screwing it up and asks for forgiveness, something Galaragga has already given him, even if the Detroit Tigers' fans never will.

Umpires make that call all the time. Joyce makes that call all the time and has never previously been challenged like this, because if he's ever been wrong about it before, it was never in so momentous a spot. Never with 18,000 fans watching in rapt attention, waiting to be able to tell their grandchildren that they Witnessed History.

But he blew it. An umpire's mistake accomplished what 27 Indians' intentional actions couldn't, and just like that, history was, well...made anyway.

It's been said frequently that Galaragga's "failure" to accomplish the feat will actually make him, and this game, more famous than if he'd actually done it. That may be true. After all, Kenny Rogers, Len Barker and Mike Witt all had careers that belied their one-time perfection, making that hardly the first thing you think of when someone brings one of their names into the conversation. Galaragga likely would have fallen into the same category. Now he's in a class by himself.

No, commissioner Bud Selig can't - or at least won't - overturn Joyce's call. He could. He's got the authority, both from his title and from the "best interests of the game" clause in his contract, that is too frequently interpreted as "the best interests of the owners' bank accounts". But make no mistake: Selig could call the now ruined game "perfect" and it would be recorded as such in the record books.

He's done it before. Randy Johnson once struck out 20 batters in nine innings, but was told that his game wouldn't be remembered along with those of Kerry Wood and Roger Clemens, because the game went 11 innings, and he left after nine. But then MLB reversed its decision and eventually decided to recognize it as an official 20-strikeout game.

Others have done it before. The judges and committees at the 2002 Winter Olympics made a similar wrong "right" when they awarded gold medals to two sets of skaters. One of the judges had been coerced into modifying her scores to favor the Russians over the Canadians, in exchange for better votes for the French in the ice dancing competition. When this came to light, her score was discarded and the two pairs were declared tied, and both were awarded Gold Medals. Two sets of "the best" which is technically impossible, and yet, allowed.

Selig could do the same. What if it came out that Joyce was paid to blow that call? I don't think he was, but if he was, wouldn't Selig be forced to succumb to pressures to reverse the call? Is it really any better to leave it this way simply because it was an honest mistake?

The mistake happened, and it's been said that we can't simply ignore that Trevor Crowe batted again and made another out, but of course that's not true. Until recently, stats accumulated during games that failed to go the requisite five innings were ignored, with MLB essentially pretending that they, and the game, never happened.

Selig could effectively pretend that the blown call, and Crowe's subsequent at bat, didn't happen. He doesn't even have to mutter magic words and cast a spell. He can just do his best Captain Picard impression and say "Make it so." and it will be so. Literally nobody can stop him, and there are probably a lot more people upset about the current state of affairs than would be upset by that.

I don't think he should, but I don't want to hear him saying he can't. In true Seligian fashion, Bud isn't even saying that. He hasn't yet even addressed the blown call or the review of it directly, only the general idea of instant replay, and this in the midst of an admission that the umpire blew it and that Galaragga should have been given credit for perfection.

...there is no dispute that last night's game should have ended differently. [...] ...it is vital that mistakes on the field be addressed. Given last night's call and other recent events, I will examine our umpiring system, the expanded use of instant replay and all other related features. Before I announce any decisions, I will consult with all appropriate parties...
To summarize, that means, "No."

Selig won't overturn the call, in spite of the fact that this seems exactly the right thing to do. Perhaps not the correct and precise thing to do, but the good and right thing.

And that's OK. The really impressive thing about this feat is that Galaragga, upon seeing that he's been robbed of his pending immortality, only smiles. He doesn't explode, or plead with the umpire or even so much as kick the dirt. He just smiles, as if to say, "OK, if that wasn't good enough, let's try this." He then goes and retires Crowe on five pitches, making him the only man in history to have to retire 28 batters to finish his perfect game.

And that's exactly how he should be remembered. Galaragga's game ball and glove should go to Cooperstown, to be displayed along with the other 20 balls from the perfect games throughout history and the hundreds of no-hitters, and perhaps a photo of him smiling at Joyce when he sees the bad call.

After the game, Galaragga was interviewed and showed no malice or resentment toward Joyce, ironically reminding us all that "Nobody's perfect,". And he was right about that.

He was more perfect.

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01 June 2010

Omar Vizquel and the Hall of Fame, Revisited

I originally opined on the subject of Omar Vizquel and the Hall of Fame about two years ago, and I notice that I have gotten a lot of traffic and comments on that post lately, so I thought I would update it a bit. But feel free to go and read the original post and especially the comments, as some people made some good points with which I was forced to grapple.

Two years ago, Henry Shulman of the San Francisco Chronicle suggested that some writers might be thinking of voting Omar Vizquel into the Hall of Fame, once he's eligible. Shulman said that 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 a game. More recently, due to the fact that Vizquel has surpassed 2,700 career hits and continues to add to his record for career games as a shortstop, the subject of whether Omar = Hall of Famer has come up again. Let's examine the case, sort of a sports interaction review, one merit at a time:

1) Lots of Hits

Of course, 2,700 career hits on its own is not such a big deal. Harold Baines has about 150 more hits than Vizquel and the BBWAA writers have shown no particular inclination to enshrine him. Derek Jeter currently has 99 more hits than Omar, and continues to widen that gap, but obviously has a lot more going for him than a lot of singles (and a lot more outs). Roberto Alomar has more, too, and will probably be elected to the hall of Fame this or next year, as will Barry Larkin. The presence of two contemporary middle infielders who combined defensive acumen with offensive prowess will only make it harder for the light-hitting Vizquel to get in.

Andre Dawson just recently got into Cooperstown, but he's got over 400 homers and an MVP award to his credit as well, plus a cool nickname. Vada Pinson and Al Oliver and Bill Buckner and a bunch of other guys all have 2,700 or more hits and have no hope of ever being elected. They all had their merits, but none was considered a sufficiently great player to get real consideration for the Hall.

2) Lots of Games

Being the career leader in games played as a shortstop is a meritorious achievement too, but again, not enough. The other defensive positional leaders (Pudge Rodriguez, Eddie Murray, Eddie Collins, Brooks Robinson, Barry Bonds, Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente) were all great players in other ways than simply their ability to repeatedly answer the bell.

To look at this another way, if the #2 or #3 player at each of these positions had in fact made it to #1, would that make him a Hall of Famer? Carlton Fisk, Joe Morgan, Jake Beckley, Luis Aparicio, Rickey Henderson, Hank Aaron and Tony Gwynn are already in, and Fred McGriff and Roberto Alomar are on the edge, likely to get in eventually.

But the #2 center fielder - another position that requires some defensive prowess - is Steve Finley, and #3 is Willie Davis. The #3 catcher, just one behind Fisk, is Bob Boone, a man known primarily for his defense. Greg Nettles (whom Bill James calls the "Incredible Leaping Octopus") and Gary Gaietti are the next two third basemen, and Luis Gonzales is the next left fielder. Do you really think that any of these guys would be a solid candidate for Cooperstown if they'd played a few more games or if the leader had played fewer?

Neither do I.

3) Lots of Gold Gloves

Another argument in his favor is his cache of 11 Gold Gloves. the number of course is not enough. Keith Hernandez also has 11. Andruw Jones has 10. Mark Belanger, Paul Blair, Don Mattingly, Frank White and George Scott all have at least eight, and none has ever gotten serious consideration for Cooperstown. A great defensive reputation simply is not enough. Rob Neyer argued 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.

Look, Gold Gloves are more of a popularity contest than anything else. Derek Jeter, who truly is a great player, has four of them, even though he only recently turned himself into an adequate defensive shortstop. Steve Garvey's got four of them, despite the fact that the man never threw the ball to second base. Jason Varitek has one, for crying out loud. At best, perhaps they reflect a player's ability to repeatedly look impressive or acrobatic while making the same plays that look routine when accomplished by better prepared defenders. Adam Everett, let's say.

There's little question that Vizquel has been a very good defender over the course of his career, but much of his defensive reputation rests on his appearance rather than on his results. In 2006, for example, he won a Gold Glove largely on the merits of his league-leading .993 fielding percentage, but the more advanced metrics - Total Zone Runs, Fielding Bible +/-, UZR, FRAA,- all seem to suggest that he was somewhere between the 5th and 10th best defensive shortstop in MLB that year. Granted, there have been years (2007, for one) where he actually was the best, and didn't get the Gold Glove, but the former occurrence is much more common.

The Case Against: Career Value

The truth is that, despite his longevity, Vizquel has never been a great player, and the baseball writers, the ones who vote for the Hall of Fame, know it. He only received any votes for the MVP once, finishing a distant 16th in 1999. He was worth about six Wins Above Replacement that year, a true all star caliber performance, and the only time in his 22-season career that he crested the 4.0 WAR plateau. MVPs are typically about 8 WAR or more in that year and Hall of Famer shortstops, though there is a significant range, average about 64 WAR for their careers, as you will see.

This lack of MVP appreciation has occurred despite the fact that Vizquel frequently anchored the infield defenses of playoff teams with the Tribe in the late nineties and early aughts. For getting into the playoffs, especially playing in a world series, odds should increase of getting MVP votes, but alas, not so much. Also, he's not much of a singer.

Comparison to the Elite:

There are the 23 players whom the Hall considers shortstops, and the following list shows their Baseball Prospectus career WARP3 totals, which is Wins Above Replacement Position, encompassing offense, defense and even pitching, adjusted for all time. Additionally, I have included his WAR, Wins Above Replacement, as calculated by Sean Smith of baseballprojection.com.

This means, by definition, that these numbers allow us to compare players across different eras.

Shortstop          WARP3     WAR
Luis Aparicio 47.4 49.8
Luke Appling 70.7 68.9
Dave Bancroft 38.2 46.3
Ernie Banks 62.9 64.3
Lou Boudreau 73.6 55.9
Joe Cronin 69.0 62.6
George Davis 76.5 90.8
Travis Jackson 43.7 43.4
Hughie Jennings 56.8 47.9
Pop Lloyd ??? ????
Rabbit Maranville 39.9 38.0
Pee Wee Reese 63.1 66.4
Cal Ripken 102.4 89.8
Phil Rizzuto 47.5 41.6
Joe Sewell 51.5 48.1
Ozzie Smith 92.0 64.7
Joe Tinker 51.4 49.0
Aarky Vaughan 85.2 75.6
Honus Wagner 140.6 134.7
Bobby Wallace 60.5 60.4
Monte Ward* 58.9 64.5
Willie Wells ??? ????
Robin Yount 66.8 76.8
Average 66.6 63.8

Omar Vizquel currently sports a total of 41.0 WARP and his WAR is 42.8.

Since the first time I looked at these numbers, Baseball Prospectus has significantly changed its WARP3 formula. The average last time was about 111, almost double what we have now, though the scale is roughly the same.

Also, since I've added WAR to the evaluation, we can see that the two do not always agree. On average, WARP3 and WAR agree to within less than 3, but there are a few significant differences. These generally seem to be in the upper echelon of players though - Ripken, Wagner,
Smith, Vaughan, Boudreau and Davis - so it's really only a question of how MUCH better than everyone else those guys really are.

It should be noted that some of these guys spent significant amounts of their careers at other positions, and it's therefore perhaps not fair to compare Vizquel to them directly. Ernie Banks actually played more games at first base than he did at short. Yount played almost half his career as an outfielder. Vizquel deserves credit for staying at shortstop, something few 40-year olds ever do, much less do well.

Boudreau and Cronin were, in addition to being very good players, managers for a long time, with some degree of success, and their selections to the Hall may have benefited from this legacy. In truth, though, both had top-10 MVP finishes half a dozen times or so, and probably didn't need any help from their managerial credentials.

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, amassing about 1/3 of his WAR value as such, and was a pioneer in the early days of major league baseball, so he gets some extra credit too. 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, 67.7 WARP3, hardly any difference at all. So don't worry about that.

With the current formula for either of these statistics, Vizquel is near the bottom of the list, in the neighborhood of a couple of questionable Hall of Fame choices in Travis Jackson and Dave Bancroft, as well as Rabbit Maranville, who only squeaked into the Hall in his 15th year of eligibility - right after his death - after a big nostalgia vote jump.

In any case, Maranville's kind of a special case, something of a baseball whip, a defensive whiz at the toughest defensive position at a time when runs were scarce, so his value, or at least his perceived value, doesn't show up directly in the numbers as much as it does the MVP voting of the time.

But Omar is well below Rizutto, Pee Wee Reese, Aarky Vaughan, Lou Boudreau or Luke Appling, all five of whom lost time to the War and yet still come out ahead of Vizquel in WAR and WARP.

You can argue that he's no worse or less valuable than some of the gentlemen already in the Hall. It seems obvious that Omar has done more in his career than some of those guys, given his longevity, despite never being great in a single season. But it's also debatable whether guys like Travis Jackson belong in the Hall in the first place, so that's not a terribly convincing argument.

If you want to use the benchmark of where the average is, it would seem that Vizquel would significantly drag down the median level of MLB HoF shortstops. By contrast, Bill Dahlen (77.9 WARP3, 75.9 WAR) would considerably raise that bar, 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 would 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.

Did He Do Enough?

Omar Vizquel was never a great hitter, and rarely even a good one. In 22 seasons in the major leagues, he has only twice had an adjusted OPS above the league average. One of those, 1999, when he had an OPS of 110, was essentially a fluke. He hit .354(!) when he put the ball in play that year, even though his career mark is .294 and the league average BAbip that year was .302, about what it usually is.

The other time was 2003. His OPS that year was just 104, but that's the only other time it's ever been above 100, and this one looks legit, as his .284 BAbip is actually a little lower than the league. So congrats, Omar, you earned your career-high 14 homers and 72 RBIs that year, even though the rest of your career marks are pretty pedestrian.

Speaking of walking (see what I did there?), Omar Never took free passes all that often, something that might have helped to bolster his general mediocrity with the bat. He did walk 87 times in Y2K, but only walked more than 60 times twice in his career besides that, and rarely posted an OBP much more than .350 or .360. And that was perhaps the best part of his offensive game.

He had only one season in which he hit double digit homers. At his peak, he cracked the 30-double mark four times in seven seasons, but never hit more than 36 in a season. he hit a few triples, as he was reasonably fleet of foot in his prime, but for all their excitement, they're of limited value. His supporters may point to the fact that he has stolen almost 400 bases in his career, and that at his best, he twice nabbed more than 40 in a season.

I would point out that he's also been caught 158 times, which ranks as the 21st most in history. For comparison, Juan Pierre has been caught stealing 159 times, but has about 90 more successes. Kenny Lofton was gunned down 160 times, but succeeded 622 times. In an era in which power is increasingly common place, the value of individual bases is severely diminished, while that of baserunners is increased, so Vizquel may have harmed his teams more with those 158 failed attempts than he helped them with the 389 successful ones.

Sure, we can put Omar Vizquel in. He's better than Dave Bancroft, and almost as good as Travis Jackson, right, even though he doesn't have as cool a first name? But then we've got to let Ron Santo in too, 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, given that he was apparently so good at what he did?

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 (38.4 WARP3)" 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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