Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports, July 8, 2013

Yo Bro/No Bro #3: Is Omar Vizquel Cooperstown Worthy?

Hey readers, it’s time for another edition of the Yo Bro/No Bro segment.  This week’s topic is as follows:

Matt Bretz:  Yo, bro!  Omar Vizquel belongs in the Hall of Fame!  Let his legacy live on in Cooperstown forever.

Ed Carroll:  No, bro.  Omar Vizquel was good but not Hall of Fame worthy.  He’s not quite Cooperstown material.

Matt:  Omar Vizquel was one the best defensive shortstops that baseball has ever seen, hell one of the best defensive players period.  He ranks 10th in overall dWAR for any position player. He has the 2nd highest fielding career fielding percentage of any SS in baseball history, a good margin ahead of Ozzie Smith. Only Troy Tulowitzki is ahead of him and that’s likely to change as he ages.  Omar won 11 Gold Gloves, 2nd most ever by a SS, and he’s the only SS to win multiple Gold Gloves in both leagues.  Offensively he left much to be desired, but did manage to get 2,877 hits (40th all-time) and reached based 3,954 times in his career (48th all-time). Ranks top 100 in other offensive categories as well (doubles, stolen-bases, etc).  Omar is not getting into the Hall of Fame because of his bat though, it’s his glove which is top 5 all-time at the SS position that will get him in, the most difficult position in the field of play.

Beyond his play on the field, Omar was also one of the most liked players in the game and liked by virtually everyone (Jose Mesa being maybe the lone exception).  Having played during the “steroid era”, he was one of the few bright stops to emerge.  Being “clean” during that time should not be brushed aside.  Omar brought an integrity to the game that should not be ignored.  Nor should his longevity, which led to Omar breaking the record for most games played as a SS. Omar is a sure-fire Hall of Famer, and a guy that I will make the trek out to Cooperstown to watch get his well-deserved Hall induction.

Ed:  Omar Vizquel was a great fielder, a beloved former Indian from a romantcized period in the team’s history, and an easy Indians Hall of Famer. But as happy as I would be to see the block C logo grace his hat in Cooperstown, the reality is Vizquel should only visit the Hall of Fame, not be enshrined in it.

Much is made over Vizquel’s defensive prowess, and though it was a joy to behold at the time, our memories have slightly embellished how good Vizquel actually was. Fielding percentage is a pretty awful statistic, given the subjective nature of errors, and Vizquel was certainly a benefactor of a generous home scorer (“Jacobs Field magic” indeed). This list of the career leaders in Total Zone Runs as a shortstop shows Vizquel quite healthily in fifth overall. So there’s no question he was a great fielder, but the major difference when you look at the latter chart is just how much Ozzie Smith blows Vizquel out of the water defensively. Vizquel was 134 runs above average at SS in 24 seasons, but Smith posted 239 runs above average in 19 seasons – a whopping 105 more than Vizquel, in five fewer seasons (and there’s a couple active players on the list who could reasonably pass up Vizquel as well in Tulowitzki and Andrelton Simmons).

Unfortunately for Omar, the Wizard of Oz is his best Hall of Fame comparison, and well, there’s really no comparison between the two. Using pretty much any sort of effective defensive metric, Smith tops Vizquel, such as in dWAR (Smith had 43.4 dWAR in 19 seasons, Vizquel had 28.4 dWAR in 24). Further damning Omar’s case is dWAR doesn’t seem to be any sort of an indicator of being in the Hall of Fame; Smith tops the charts, and he’s in, as is Brooks Robinson (3rd), Cal Ripken Jr. (4th), Luis Aparicio (6th), Rabbit Maranville (7th), and Joe Tinker (5th) and Bobby Wallace (tied-8th) were selected by the Veteran’s Committees of their eras, but second on the list is Mark Belanger, and he’s not in the Hall, nor is the man tied with Vizquel on the list, Bill Dahlen.

Vizquel took home a lot of defensive hardware in his career, but Gold Gloves are an even worse argument than fielding percentage. The voting has gotten better in recent years, but it’s hard to give the award any sort of credibility when there was never really any sort of barometer or analysis put into the award, making them a glorified popularity contest. Vizquel himself can’t escape this, particularly as evidenced by his odd 1996 Gold Glove, a year where he committed 20 errors.

All of this analysis only really looked at Omar’s defense, and though it was pretty good, we haven’t even gotten to his offense, and that’s where any prayer Omar had of making the hall erodes. Simply using oWAR paints a grim picture for Vizquel. In his 24 seasons, he posted a 32.3 oWAR (oddly higher than his dWAR), but that’s 15 wins below Smith’s 47.8 oWAR in five fewer seasons (19).

It gets somehow even worse when you look at the JAWS (created by Jay Jaffe) leaderboards. Jaffe created JAWS to help measure a player’s Hall of Fame worthiness, and an explanation, and list of shortstops, can be found here, but you’ll have to scroll down a bit to find Vizquel, as his 36.0 JAWS ranking puts him 41st amongst all shortstops. The average Hall of Famer at shortstop has a 54.7 JAWS score. The one player voted into the hall lower than Vizquel on the list is Monte Ward, whose final game was in 1894 and he was elected by the Veteran’s Committee. Shortstops with better Hall of Fame cases than Omar Vizquel, per JAWS: Nomar Garciaparra (23rd), Miguel Tejada (27th), Vizquel’s former Indians teammate Tony Fernandez (32nd), Tulowitzki (33rd), Jimmy Rollins (34th). Rafael Furcal is right on the heels of Vizquel at 43rd (34.8 JAWS). One of the shortstops ahead of Vizquel will be enshrined when he’s eligible (Derek Jeter), but two others haven’t been (Dahlen and Alan Trammell), and the third is Alex Rodriguez, and unless changes are made to the way the voting is done, it’s questionable if Rodriguez gets into Cooperstown.

Though it’s likely Omar was “clean” in the steroid era, we don’t know for sure one way or the other, and it’s pretty much irrelevant when you consider Vizquel simply doesn’t have a Hall of Fame resume (and using PEDs does not, nor has it ever, immediately disqualifies you from Cooperstown consideration). Smith, Ripken, Jeter and Barry Larkin all played in roughly the same time span, and all have better qualifications than Vizquel. Vizquel’s longevity seems to be more of a hindrance to his case than a benefit; he spent most of the last 5 years of his career hanging around in part-time roles, long past the point when he should have retired. He’s a great former Cleveland Indians shortstop. But he’s not a Hall of Famer.

Matt:  First you say Fielding Percentage is a terrible stat (couldn’t disagree more) and then you say Omar didn’t deserve some of his Gold Gloves, siting the 20 errors he made in 1996.  How can you brush aside fielding percentage and then use error total/fielding percentage as an argument for keeping Omar out of the Hall?  If we’re really going to start looking at errors totals and guys not deserving Gold Gloves, you have to look at Ozzie who won a Gold Glove three times while making more than 20 errors. In fact, he made 20 or more errors five times in his career (Omar did it once).  Now while I disagree that fielding percentage is a “terrible” stat, I do recognize the flaws in it and not saying it’s the best stat to use.  But I disagree that Total Zone runs is the only stat to use as well, as it’s just as flawed if not more for older players. The stat started in 1989 (Omar’s rookie year), the data from before that is based off assumptions.  Sure you could argue that those assumptions are better than the human factor that goes into fielding percentage but that’s still a matter of opinion. There is no one fielding stat to use, they all are very flawed, especially for guys that played before those stats were even started.  I believe you need to look at all of the fielding metrics out there to get a good picture of where a player ranks.  Doing this clearly shows Omar is a top 5 defensive shortstop in baseball history; however, where in that top 5 is a matter of debate.

In any case, I don’t see how Ozzie is the “best comparison” to Omar.  Why not compare him to Luis Aparicio? Just as fair a comparison.  Even if you do compare him only to Ozzie, it’s not as night and day in my book as many make it out to be.  Sure, claim he was better defensively, I will not argue with that as plenty of numbers do back that up, but offensively Omar was better.  Now yes, when you look at numbers like oWAR and wRC+ Omar’s numbers look worse, but that’s where I return to the steroid era.  You mentioned Smith playing in a similar time and putting up better numbers, well yes and no. Their careers did overlap for 8 seasons (42% of Ozzie’s career, 33% of Omar’s), but Ozzie retired in 1996.  While steroids had entered baseball by then, the big power/offensive numbers had yet to really take off.  Ozzie retired at just the right time, whereas Omar had the unfortunate luck of playing his prime years during that stretch, which retarded many of his “league adjusted” numbers.  Which is another thing that’s always bugged me with the Omar vs Ozzie comparison. In 1996, Omar hit .297/.362/.417 with a .346 wOBA. Ozzie in that same year hit .282/.358/.370 with a .331 wOBA. Omar was clearly better right?  Well, not if you look at wRC+ he wasn’t. Omar had a 98 wRC+ yet Ozzie had a 99 wRC+.  Reason? Well the NL is a lighter hitting league, so Ozzie gets a bump there and Jacob’s Field was considered one of the most hitter friendly parks in the late 90s/early 2000s.  Yet now it’s considered a pitcher friendly park.  Nothing has changed with the Stadium though, just the quality of hitters playing in it.  Omar was punished for playing in a steroid era and on a team full of great hitters (some who also may have been on steroids).  And sure, we don’t know if Omar took or not, but fact is he’s never been linked.

As far as your dWAR argument…you totally lost me there.  So Omar is 10th in dWAR among all position players. Of the nine guys ahead of him, seven are in the Hall of Fame. The two that aren’t consist of Ivan Rodriguez, who will be in the Hall when eligible, and Mark Belanger. So because one player ahead of him isn’t in the Hall, that means Omar shouldn’t be either?  I don’t see why you discount guys that got in via the Veteran’s Committee. This isn’t a debate of how Omar will get in, just whether he will.  If he gets voted in via the Veteran’s Committee does that make a difference? I don’t believe so, even though I think it’s a moot point as he should/will get in via the writer’s vote.

JAWS is a fun stat for fans to look at, but it really isn’t something you should use to determine if a guy is or isn’t Hall worthy. Why?  Because the Hall of Fame isn’t about just stats.  Plus, why worry about a 5 or 7 year peak value?  As the old saying goes, baseball is a marathon not a sprint.  Punishing a guy because he never had a short stretch where he was an MVP-caliber player just doesn’t make sense to me.  Plus, JAWS seems to try and put some minimum floor on what you need to be in the hall, which is no right in my opinion since there are no set guidelines for what makes a Hall of Famer.

Note from Asst. Editor Evan VogelI would just like to say that stats are totally the reason that players are in the Hall and if a player is voted in for being a nice guy, it shouldn’t be as a player. JAWS is the best and only necessary tool in comparing players for candidacy due to the way it measures overall value by using measurable numbers. All other tools for character and clutch aren’t real or measurable, so they have very little use in a hall argument. To say an individual should be voted for the hall without looking at his numbers when compared to his peers is downright absurd, and Jay Jaffe and the JAWS system is the go-to for that.

Who do you agree with?

Is Omar Vizquel a Cooperstown Hall of Famer?

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