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Is Omar Vizquel a Hall of Famer?

2010/07/26

Hawk Harrelson never runs short on four things: clichés, catch phrases, nicknames and opinions.  People can decide from there if this makes him a good broadcaster or a really annoying one. I find him entertaining in a “so bad it’s good” way, but catch phrases and weird opinions aside, the Hawk isn’t as horrible as some make him out to be. He grows on you, oddly enough.

Anyway, I believe it was Friday he was raving about Omar Vizquel. Vizquel has had a great month, there’s no denying that, but he said he believed that without question, Omar was a first ballot Hall of Famer. I’ve heard him say this before. Then also recently Keith Law got into a big Twitter war over Omar’s WAR, or lack thereof, and how Vizquel isn’t a Hall of Famer in his opinion. My inclination was to agree with Keith, as we both share a love for stats and snark. So I headed over to Baseball Reference to check out Omar’s case.

First, I looked at his similarity scores. These are the old Bill James’ similarity scores and I find them to be kind of antiquated now. But hey, we all look at them to get a sense of how comparable a player is to another—not necessarily in value—but in the shape of a career. The purpose for James making them was to give people a way to compare non-Hall of Famers to players in the Hall to see who was either on track to make the Hall or to find out who might have been snubbed. Bill James loves Hall of Fame arguments, and the similarity scores first appeared in his book Politics of Glory.

Here’s Omar’s most similar players:

  1. Luis Aparicio (921) *
  2. Rabbit Maranville (872) *
  3. Ozzie Smith (871) *
  4. Dave Concepcion (845)
  5. Bill Dahlen (833)
  6. Luke Appling (825) *
  7. Pee Wee Reese (822) *
  8. Nellie Fox (815) *
  9. Bert Campaneris (801)
  10. Red Schoendienst (796) *

* – Signifies Hall of Famer

That’s some good company, with Omar’s hero at the top. The problem I have with the sim scores is they aren’t adjusted for park and era and there’s a lot of counting stats that go into the formula, but Omar compares well with several Hall of Famers. (Rabbit Maranville is one of the most non-Hall of Famer Hall of Famers ever, but I’d say Bill Dahlen belongs)

Baseball-Reference also has another Bill James’, Hall of Fame argument toy: Gray Ink, Black Ink, the Hall of Fame Monitor, and the Hall of Fame Standards. I’ll spare you the details of those, as they are more of a fun little toy, but you can read about them more here. Getting to the point, the verdict is this: The Hall of Fame toy says that Omar falls short of the normal Hall of Fame standards, but predicts that he’ll probably get in anyway on the strength of his 11 Gold Gloves.

WAR does a better job of leveling the playing field, neutralizing for park, era, league, and everything else, so we’ll look at that. I probably could have done that 500 words ago, sorry.

Player WAR/pos From To Age WAR/625 Top 7 WAE
Honus Wagner 134.5 1897 1917 23-43 7.2 68.7 78.2
Cal Ripken 89.9 1981 2001 20-40 4.4 54.2 39.4
Arky Vaughan 75.6 1932 1948 20-36 6.1 54 37.5
Luke Appling 69.3 1930 1950 23-43 4.2 42.9 26.9
Pee Wee Reese 66.7 1940 1958 21-39 4.4 41.4 26
Ozzie Smith 64.6 1978 1996 23-41 3.7 39 20.4
Joe Cronin 62.5 1926 1945 19-38 4.4 43.6 24.2
Bobby Wallace 60.5 1894 1918 20-44 3.9 38.3 21.4
Lou Boudreau 56 1938 1952 20-34 5.0 44.2 23.3
Luis Aparicio 49.9 1956 1973 22-39 2.8 30.5 9.6
Joe Tinker 49.2 1902 1916 21-35 4.3 31.7 11.4
Joe Sewell 48.4 1920 1933 21-34 3.6 40.3 13.3
Hughie Jennings 46.4 1891 1918 22-49 5.1 45 26.3
Dave Bancroft 46.4 1915 1930 24-39 3.5 36.2 15.4
Travis Jackson 43.3 1922 1936 18-32 4.1 35.2 15
Phil Rizzuto 41.8 1941 1956 23-38 3.9 34.4 14.2
Rabbit Maranville 38.2 1912 1935 20-43 2.1 27 6.1
George Wright 28.5 1871 1882 24-35 6.1 26.9 7.3
Omar Vizquel 43.3 1989 2010 22-43 2.4 25.4 4.5

What I’ve outlined here is the player’s top seven seasons to give us an idea of what a player was at his peak. It’s one thing to accumulate a lot of WAR over the years, it’s another to be truly amazing for a good, long period. I also have WAR/625 plate appearances. This is what the player averaged over the course of a season’s worth of plate appearances. Then we have Wins Above Excellence, which another fun little junk stat that Sean Smith came up with. Basically, anything more than a 3 WAR season is an excellent season. This is another way to decide the greatness or lack thereof in a certain player.

Anyway, this doesn’t look make Omar look good. Only Rabbit Maranville was worse WAR per year number, and even he had more peak value or Wins Above Excellence.  Vizquel is well below the average Hall of Fame shortstop in every class.

I can hear argument coming: This stat includes Total Zone. Fielding stats aren’t super reliable, this is worthless, blah blah. Well, even if we gave Omar a +10 season automatically for every Gold Glove he ever won, that bumps him up to 53 career WAR, which helps his argument, but still is far from a lock. Alan Trammell and Barry Larkin, who I think should be in the Hall, have 68.9 and 66.9 WAR, respectively. Omar has over 2000 plate appearances than both players.

But if we fudge with Omar we have to do it with everyone, and while I’m not going to say Omar wasn’t deserving of his Gold Gloves because I don’t know, we do know there have been a lot of undeserved Gold Gloves given out. (Rafael Palmeiro, ahem!) He certainly does have a better reputation than say… Derek Jeter.

Omar has had a brilliant career, and there is no shame being part of the Ray Lankford Wing of the Hall of the Very Good. Vizquel was and is a terrific defender and a class act, but Little O is short of being a Hall of Famer, at least in my book.

Just if you Total Zone fans were wondering, here’s how Omar stacks up defensively with the other shortstops of baseball history:

Rk Player Rfield From To
1 Mark Belanger 241 1965 1982
2 Ozzie Smith 239 1978 1996
3 Cal Ripken 181 1981 2001
4 Joe Tinker 180 1902 1916
5 Luis Aparicio 149 1956 1973
6 Omar Vizquel 142 1989 2010
7 Travis Jackson 139 1922 1936
8 Art Fletcher 132 1909 1922
9 Marty Marion 130 1940 1953
10 Rabbit Maranville 130 1912 1935
11 Phil Rizzuto 121 1941 1956
12 Lou Boudreau 118 1938 1952
13 Pee Wee Reese 117 1940 1958
14 Rey Sanchez 116 1991 2005
15 Billy Jurges 113 1931 1947
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/26/2010.

Omar averaged +7 runs saved per season, Aparicio +8, Ozzie Smith +13 and Mark Belanger had +19. Whoa.

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24 Comments leave one →
  1. 2010/07/26 9:50 PM

    I agree with you and Keith. As I said to him, Vizquel may had the most highlights from his eveyday web gems. This flashy style is what most fans remember about Vizquel. He was/is definitely fun to watch. He still has many OMG moments. The question becomes then, are those flashy moves really contributed to wins? My guess is no. And it is no shame at all -he should be proud, very proud- to make baseball entertaining, especially playing defense. He has definitely inspired many young latin kids to play shortshop from seeing his amazing display on the field. That impact, however, is not recognized in no stat whatsoever. Tough luck though.

  2. Mark permalink
    2010/07/26 11:03 PM

    You did an excellent job of riding Keith Law’s coattails.

    Most of all, I loved the way you discounted both longevity (an important ingredient in most HoF discussions of value) and 11 gold gloves (only 1 other SS has been awarded more). Any argument against Vizquel that does not credit his longevity and Gold Gloves is as senseless as an argument that Pete Rose wasn’t much of a hitter without all those singles; therefore, he was a below average hitter. The fact that Vizquel is still worth starting at SS at the age of 43 is a very rare thing to marvel at, not to snark. He also ranks 3rd in assists by a SS on the all-time list.

    I would be interested in reading an analysis of who should have received any or all of those 11 Gold Gloves according to advanced stats, but that information surely would not sway Omar’s naysayers anyway since it’s clearly uncool to like a flashy shortstop with longevity and too many awards to be underground/indie enough.

    • 2010/07/27 7:01 AM

      WE LIKE Omar Mark, just not as much as you, apparently. I enjoy what he’s doing and respect what he’s done. He’s just not quite up to par for the Hall of Fame, which should be about rewarding the very elite. I said he was very good, I didn’t call him garbage and insult his mother. Sheesh.

      Oh, and he’s not starting at SS. That would be Alexei Ramirez.

      • Mark permalink
        2010/07/27 12:57 PM

        Omar has started more games at SS than anyone else in MLB history. #1 is elite. He has the 2nd most Gold Gloves (11!). That is elite. Those accomplishments are dismissed out of hand by the anti-Omar crowd, and that is wrong. The burden of proof is on the snarks to explain why any/all of them were not deserved since who awarded him 11 GGs are presumed innocent. The fact that other GGs may have been awarded erroneously does not nullify all other GG awards just as all safe calls by umpires cannot be thrown out because of occasional mistakes.

        The offensive element is not that others may think that Vizquel is not a HoFer, but the dismissive nature of all anti-Omar writings that I’ve seen so far. #1 in games at short and #2 in Gold Gloves do not matter; all of these other stats mean more. That’s always the claim. But every one of the other stats at least puts him in good company, not out of the discussion altogether.

        Accumulating a lot of counting stats while playing the most games in history is not a “problem,” as you’d said, but a positive sign of longevity. Omar Vizquel both meets the standards of existing HoF shortstops and raises the bar in one or more respects. Perhaps he is not a sure-fire first ballot Hall of Famer, but he definitely belongs on the ballot and should be a serious contender for enshrinement.

    • Mitch permalink
      2010/07/27 7:54 AM

      Since his final season in Cleveland, Omar has hit .266/.329/.341 (OPS+ of 75) and you’re arguing that his longevity helps his case? He won his final two gold gloves (in 2005 and 2006) in an NL that also had Jack Wilson and Adam Everett, and in 2006 over Everett who turned in an incredible +25 season with the glove, according to UZR. He was good both of those years, but to call him the best in the league is really stretching it.

      • Mark permalink
        2010/07/27 9:35 PM

        I know it’s taboo to mention it today, but Vizquel led the NL in fielding% by a SS in 2005-2006. As far as Everett are concerned, one was a close 2nd one year in FPCT, and the other was in the top 5 the other year. Neither made the top 5 both years by that measure.

        I’m not advocating for FPCT, but that was the best universally known stat to judge fielding in its day, and that is still somewhat true now since no sabermetric blogger can seem to agree on 1 designer fielding stat to replace FPCT. Some of the other designer stats used in this blog post had not been invented when Omar began his big league career and still are not universally known or published. (Range factor was probably the indie/underground stat of the day at the time Omar’s career began, and it serves as a perfect example of how what seems sabermetrically minded now can be considered awful and/or meaningless with time.)

        To answer your first question, no, his AVG/OBP/SLG line was not helped by his longevity. I was referring to “the problem” of his accumulating so many counting stats by sticking around.

    • 2010/07/27 11:47 AM

      So, by your argument, Jamie Moyer should be in the Hall of Fame?

      • 2010/07/27 11:47 AM

        Supposed to be in reply to Mark. I can’t imagine Erik would think Moyer should be in the HOF, because he’s sane.

      • Mark permalink
        2010/07/27 1:02 PM

        No. Moyer does not match Vizquel’s career accomplishments at all.

  3. 2010/07/27 12:08 AM

    Good stuff, Erik. I have to wonder if Vizquel retired six years ago like Robin Ventura–who was born three months after Omar and retired in 2004 with 61.3 WAR–if we’d even be having this discussion.

    • Mark permalink
      2010/07/27 1:03 PM

      Vizquel was a SS. That is very different.

      • Adam permalink
        2010/07/27 2:43 PM

        WAR accounts for position so no it’s not different.

        Mark, Golden Gloves are the worst awards to use for evaluation because they are given purely on reputation. When you look at Visquel’s career with more objective measures you realize his defense was not as good as we think it was. Factoring that and the fact that he was really a below average hitter for most of his career; you realize he is not HOF worthy.

      • Mark permalink
        2010/07/27 9:40 PM

        Adam,

        I only looked at Vizquel’s last 2 GGs, and it appears as though they were awarded on the merit of ranking #1 both years in a statistic: fielding percentage. Obviously, the awards make some attempt at using objective measures.

        I know that FPCT is considered awful by sabermetric standards, but wake me up when the “sabermetric community” can agree on 1 worthy defensive stat (or 3 at the very most) which should be the absolute measures for fielding performance for the next 100+ years.

        -“Rip”

  4. Bruce Schoenfeld permalink
    2010/07/27 8:39 AM

    To me, it seems like he has had a pretty similar career to Ozzie. Almost the exact same batting stats, and he has fielded the same number of balls, more or less: Vizquel in 22,000 innings, Smith in 21,000. I have no brief for Vizquel, but I don’t understand how Ozzie is a slam-dunk HOFer and Vizquel (according to Keith Law) not even in the conversation. This isn’t about “highlight” or “web gems.” I just don’t see that much to separate the two careers, do you?

    • Adam permalink
      2010/07/27 5:14 PM

      Where are you getting those numbers? It looks to me like Ozzie Smith had over 1,000 more defensive chances in 1,000 fewer innings at SS. Not really that similar.

  5. ben permalink
    2010/07/27 9:31 AM

    whos ever watched vizquel play and thought hall of famer?

  6. Bruce Schoenfeld permalink
    2010/07/27 6:06 PM

    I have 12,905 for Ozzie, 12,094 for Vizquel. So 900 more over 20-odd years, or one more chance every four games. Ozzie fielded .978, had an OBP of .337, and slugged .328. Omar has fielded .985 (significantly better, so makes up for the 900 fewer chances), has an OBP of .338 and slugged 26 points higher at .354. I realize these aren’t new-wave, Keith Law-approved stats, but Omar appears to have reached nearly as many balls, handled them better, gotten on base the same amount and done more with his at bats. I’m not convinced it makes him a Hall of Famer, but I guess I’m not all that sure about Ozzie, either. If you say Ozzie absolutely deserved it, I don’t see how Omar isn’t even in the conversation. I’m not an Indians fan, I’m a magazine writer. And I have no personal interest in the guy. I’m willing to be convinced either way. But based on those numbers, they certainly seem comparable.

  7. Adam permalink
    2010/07/27 7:01 PM

    No, that’s misleading because if you include all positions Vizquel has played in 261 more games and 1593 more innings and counting. To be fair to Omar we should count only the innings played for both at SS. If we do that we get:

    Vizquel: 11,894 Chances / 22,793.2 Inn = 0.522 x 9 = 4.698 Chances per 9

    Smith: 12,905 Chances / 21,785.2 Inn = 0.592 x 9 = 5.33 Chances per 9

    Looking at adjusted offensive numbers for both, they are actually very close. To me the difference is in the objective defensive numbers. Omar Vizquel was a very good defensive shortstop, but Ozzie Smith was truly exceptional. The are several players who have been as good defensively as Vizquel but Smith is in elite territory.

  8. Bruce Schoenfeld permalink
    2010/07/27 7:47 PM

    Why only look at shortstop numbers? We’re not electing him to the shortstop Hall of Fame.

    I like both players, but not I’m sure either should be in the HoF. I saw Ozzie quite a bit in his prime and I get it. But as Bill James once said, no shortstop ever saved a double.

  9. Adam permalink
    2010/07/27 8:08 PM

    Are those 84 games he played at 2B and 3B even relevant to the discussion?

    Taking them out really, like I said, gives him the benefit of the doubt because other positions naturally don’t have the same range and adjusted offensive numbers at those positions make him look worse.

  10. Miklos permalink
    2010/08/20 8:58 AM

    I just saw this discussion.

    OS and OV both were/are excellent shortstops, but their strengths differ. On range, the edge unquestionably goes to Ozzie. He got to more balls and made more plays. On reliability, it’s Vizquel. He’s #2 all-time in fielding percentage. Ozzie has 100 more errors, or 55% more errors, 281 to 181 at SS. And something I haven’t seen discussed is that Vizquel had faster hands, which to me partly makes up for the lesser range. Vizquel turned over 100 more double plays, and that advantage holds when you adjust for games or innings played. In a 162-game season, Ozzie makes more plays, but Vizquel boots fewer, and turns an average of six more double plays.

    As to the claim someone made that their offensive numbers are “very close,” that’s just wrong. Vizquel bats over 10 points higher, with a slugging percentage nearly 30 points higher. Vizquel batted .290 or higher five times, versus two for Ozzie. Vizquel has over 300 more hits than Ozzie, and 100 more extra-base hits. Vizquel is now in the top 50 all-time in terms of number of hits. That’s elite territory, even if he got there via longevity rather than a string of .330 seasons. Out of all of the players above him on the list, I believe only one–Harold Baines–is eligible for the HoF yet not in the HoF. I think being the #2 SS all-time in fielding pct. and #1 all-time in double plays gets you past Harold Baines. And Vizquel isn’t done. He’s hitting close to .290 this year. If he comes back next year, he may retire at 2,900 hits. That’s HoF territory (again, even if via longevity) even if he had no defensive stats. I don’t think he’s a slam-dunk for first-ballot selection, but I think he’s picked on about his third or fourth try.

    • 2010/09/27 3:37 PM

      I’m still waiting for somebody to reply to the great points Miklos make.
      Like Dan said below, the anti-Omar crowd cherry picks their points. I’m sure they can strategicaly find points to discard the obvious points that Miklos made, which make Vizquel elite.

  11. Dan permalink
    2010/09/08 8:00 PM

    I think Bruce and Miklos make excellent points:
    1) I never understood either how O.S. was a first ballot HOF. First ballot? Someone who almost couldn’t hit? So, if he was a first-ballot HOF, then Vizquel at the very least needs to be in the conversation.

    2) Brilliant analysis by Miklos on the defensive stats. Sabermetrics fans and those opposed to seeing O.V. in the hall choose and pick stats that make him look worse than he was. It’s like those car commercials: “the Hyundai whatever has 20% more rear legroom than the Toyota whatever, 10% better gas mileage than the VW whatever, is $100 cheaper than the Chevy whatever…” You get the point (i.e., data dredging.) They hand pick the stats that make the car look good. People here are doing the opposite: it’s almost like getting to more balls is all that mattered. Almost like you get to the ball and the umpire calls the out.

    I also think that vizquel is suffering from playing in the PED era. When Ozzie Smith played, it was totally acceptable, even expected, for the SS to hit in the .260-.280 range with little power. But then came the Tejadas of the world, with their dubious methods, and eclipsed players like Omar, who relied on their craft and not on brute force. these players changed the expectations of middle-infield players forever, even if people don’t realize it.

    Finally, yes longevity DOES matter. That’s is THE argument against Don Mattingly, who otherwise would be a more serious contender for the Hall. Because of his injuries, his playing time was shortened, and he played the second half of his career with an ailing body. When he was healthy, he was as good as anyone in history, but lack of LONGEVITY is what they use to keep him out. Now Vizquel has it, but in this case it’s not a good thing. What a joke!

    P.S. Gold Gloves, as imperfect as they are, are given out by the foremost experts in the matter, the managers and coaches of opposing MLB teams. When O.S. retired, I’m sure people were amazed by his 13 GGs. Now they aren’t worth a thing.

  12. Joe permalink
    2011/01/22 7:10 PM

    Great thread. Putting stats aside for a couple of minutes OS and OV were essentially the same player. Maybe Smith hit better after the age of 32, but I am purposely not going to look at either players stat line. Instead, I am going to use my memory. My employer transferred me to St. Louis in 1980 and I’ve been a season ticket holder ever since. I saw somewhere around 900 of Ozzie’s games. Luckily I still had to go to Cleveland and I saw about 30 of Omar’s games a year. In my opinion I am an expert on these two.

    Omar was a better fielder. The best I have ever seen. More range, better hands and faster feet. Ozzie Smith might have been better at positioning himself and he might have had a more powerful with a slower release, but as I recall he played at least 20 feet further back on the turf. The turf was only fast if you hit the ball solidly, if the ball bounced within 30 feet of the plate Ozzie could probably get it. Infield hits only happened in old Busch if the ball was drilled in front of the plate and bounded 90 feet into the air. (see Coleman, Vince or McGee, Willie)

    Omar had less flair, and more grace than many of you purport. He was not a flashy Sportscenter highlight or acrobat, that was Ozzie. Simply put, Omar was the best defensive shortstop of the last 40 years. I’ve seen them all.

    Offensively they were both weak but adequete. When they were young they were poor hitters but with time they became competent big league hitters. The edge probably goes to Ozzie but because he played in the astroturf era I would discount any edge he has in slugging. Omar would have loved having his hits down the line bounce on down to the corner.

    OS should not have been a first ballot HoF’er but in my opinion OV deserves an eventual

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