09 January 2018

Cooperstown Conundrum

Ryan Thibodaux has been tracking all of the baseball Hall of Fame balloting for the last several years so you can see in real time who's voting for whom, including links to the columns or twitter or whatever where the writers made their, oh, let's say "arguments" for the votes they cast. 

Some of the voters - BBWAA members with at least 10 years experience - actually admit to basically punting their votes, or voting just for the hometown boys from their local team’s glory days, or to actively avoiding any information that disagrees with their preconceived notions of who belongs in the hall and who doesn't.  Others complain that there can’t possibly be 10 worthy candidates on the ballot, while ignoring the fact that, having sent their ballots in blank in previous years, they are part of the reason that there are still so many qualified candidates on the ballot right now.  Some won’t vote for suspected PED users.  A few seem only to vote for those guys.  It’s a weird process. 

I can tell you this much: There's going to be a lot of sunburned folks in Cooperstown in July. At least three, maybe four or five new members from the BBWAA voting (Chipper Jones, Jim Thome and Vladimir Guerrero are all sitting comfortably over 90%, and Edgar Martinez is at ~80%. Trevor Hoffman's in the high 70's and Mike Mussina is in the low 70's, though both - and maybe Edgar? - could fall below the requisite 75% mark when the final tally is announced.  More conservative writers tend to be the last to share their votes, if they do at all. 

Plus, you've got Alan Trammell and Jack Morris from the veterans' committee, not to mention Bob Costas and Sheldon Ocker, who won the Frick and SPink awards, respectively. So that's at least half a dozen long, boring speeches at the induction ceremony, maybe a lot more.

The thing that really amazes me is Omar Vizquel's 29% right out of the box. Granted, it'll probably drop a bit and it's not close to the necessary 75%, but that's a LOT for a first time ballot. Trammell took 15 years to top out at 41%! Fred McGriff, Dave Parker, Dale Murphy: Never more than 25%. Dave Concepcion never even sniffed 20%. Lou Whitaker was once-and-done!

And yet if you gave any competent GM a chance to take Vizquel for, say five or even 10 years in his prime, vs. any of those guys, I doubt many (any?) would pick Omar. I mean I get that there's more to it than that, who/what you need on your roster at any given time, etc. You can't play nine Fred McGriffs or Greg Madduxes. Heck, you can't even play nine Barry Bondses, though I think that would still be a hell of a team. ;-) But one-to-one, would you take Omar over any of those guys in his prime, or even for the long haul?

I have made my opinion on Vizquel's qualifications, or the lack thereof, pretty clear in this space in the past.  Though that was a quite distant past, and perhaps he's done something in the intervening years to make me change my mind?  Lemme check...


A few of the numbers in that post could stand to be updated, but the net result is the same: Not just "No", but "Hell, no". Vizquel's career value, his WAR compared to others who spent a significant portion of their careers at shortstop, is pretty low, about 30th overall, right between Vern Stevens and Tony Fernandez.  He's behind about eight other guys who aren't in Cooperstown and won't ever be, including Jim Fregosi, Miguel Tejada, Bert Campaneris and someone named Art Fletcher, whom I would have sworn was a host of a 70's game show.  

Granted, there's something to be said for longevity. Vizquel did play 24 seasons and has more games at shortstop than anyone in history, but it's only a few dozen more games than Derek Jeter, who could actually hit.  Jamie Moyer played 25 seasons, and is also in his first year on the ballot, but so far as I can tell nobody has voted for him.

Vizquel amassed 2,877 hits (mostly singles) by sticking around for that long and won 11 Gold Gloves, so I guess that's the narrative driving his high first time vote total, but I just can't see it. Keith Hernandez won 11 Gold Gloves, and an MVP Award, and never got more than about 10%.  Other defensive wizards with better bats (Garry Maddox, George Scott, Yadier Molina) have won eight or more Gold Gloves, and nobody thinks of them as Hall of Famers.  

Comparisons to Ozzie Smith seem frequent, but these are off base.  Smith was a better hitter (87 OPS+ vs 82), a better base runner (580/148 SB/CS, compared to 404/167 for Omar) and a MUCH better defender.  Ozzie won two more Gold Gloves, sure, but the advanced metrics show that he saved about 100 more runs while playing about 200 fewer games.  That’s a huge difference. 

WAR and JAWS both say he's about the 20th best player currently on the ballot, comfortably behind Moyer and Johnny Damon, who looks like he will fall off the ballot after his first try.

Vizquel was never more than about the 4th or 5th best shortstop in the majors during his career, though there was some stiff competition there for a while.  He made 3 All-Star teams, but then that's not such an accomplishment anymore, when every team is required to have representation there. He got an MVP vote or two one time in his career, 1999, his best year offensively, and that was it. He was a pretty good base stealer for about half a decade in the middle of his career, and he hit .333 once. After the games at short and the Gold Gloves, his argument gets pretty thin.  

Hopefully Vizquel's hype tapers off, as Don Mattingly's did, once the voters have had a chance to think about it for a few years. 

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