Indians, WWW

How will Jim Thome, Omar Vizquel fare in Hall of Fame voting?

The 2017 Baseball Hall of Fame results were announced on Wednesday, with Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez joining the hallowed ranks of Cooperstown. It was an encouraging sign to see another three recent stars advance into the Hall — even if Cleveland.com’s Bill Livingston abstained from participating in peculiar fashion.

In today’s age, the Hall of Fame process has turned into a year-long escapade. Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame Tracker has made it into the legitimate mainstream of baseball conversation. So it’s never too early to start thinking about next year’s ballot. And among the upcoming big-named first-year entrants are two Cleveland Indians legends: Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel.

They’ll be up against several returning stars, as Trevor Hoffman (74.0 percent), Vladimir Guerrero (71.7) and Edgar Martinez (58.6) led the pack of the additional six players to receive 50-plus on this year’s ballot. Along with fellow newcomers Chipper Jones, Scott Rolen and Andruw Jones, it’ll be another tight battle in 2018.

As we wrap up the Twitter discussions of this year’s ballot and look forward to next year, it seemed like a worthwhile While We’re Waiting topic to dive into the statistics behind the cases for Thome and Vizquel. Do you seem them landing in the Hall of Fame eventually? How many years might it take? How do they look on the upcoming ballot?

Starting off, how does Jim Thome compare to fellow offense-focused sluggers in recent ballot history?

2018 HOF - First Basemen

The stats above are from Baseball-Reference.com’s Hall of Fame ballot guide. As a quick glossary: It shows career Wins Above Replacement; WAR in the player’s best seven seasons; Jay Jaffe’s JAWS score system; and the Jaffe system average for that position among Hall of Famers. Then, several counting stats for career comparison.

Thome’s 612 home runs certainly stand out from the crowd. They still rank No. 7 in MLB history, although Albert Pujols (591) might soon surpass him. Historically, 500 home runs marked a shoo-in for any candidate. But that hasn’t been the case for many players in the recent steroid-suspected era, as Sammy Sosa (609), Mark McGwire (583), Rafael Palmeiro (569) and Gary Sheffield (509) can all attest.

Of course, Thome isn’t suspected of any performance-enhancing abuse, so surpassing the 600-homer mark will appeal very favorably to many voters. And his on-base percentage and slugging percentage compare favorably to recent inductee Frank Thomas. He looks good from the quick peak at WAR7 and JAWS.

One thing voters might get hung up on could be Thome’s last eight years of his career, 2005-12, where he battled injuries and bounced from team to team. He still knocked out 189 home runs in those years, but he wasn’t the same dominant force as he was in those Cleveland years and his first two in Philadelphia. For a first-year ballot entree, it’s been a long time since he was in his peak MLB performance.

Overall, the Peoria native looks pretty good in his complete resume. The main hiccup could be timing. As is well known, a player has to get 75 percent of the vote to gain entry into the Hall of Fame. And even though voters can include up to 10 players and Thome will likely be fine eventually, he might be very close to the margin in year one against Edgar, Chipper, etc. That’s the numbers game that often occurs in balloting, fair or not.

But what about Omar Vizquel, the shortstop who wowed crowds in the early days of Jacobs Field. How does he look against fellow infielders in recent ballot history?

2018 HOF - Middle Infielders

The offense is obviously the issue here. Very few comparable, legitimate candidates have gotten on the ballot in recent years. Would you rather me compare Omar’s resume to the career resumes of Edgar Renteria, Carlos Baerga, Bret Boone or David Eckstein? Or does digging back a bit farther provide a bit more context?

From a WAR perspective, Vizquel’s value exclusively comes from his excellent fielding and position scarcity, as expected. His offense was well below the league average. In actuality, he only contributed 5.0 wins above average in his career, per Baseball-Reference.com. Thome, on the other hand, contributed 37.5 wins above average.

It’s obviously hard to compare a first baseman to a defensive wizard. They contribute to the game in varied ways. Was Vizquel’s defense more of a historical anomaly than Thome’s offense? How could you properly quantify defense to the level necessary to make this decision?

Vizquel played longer, had equivalent or better offensive statistics than Ozzie Smith, but feels like a longer shot for inclusion to the Hall. Ozzie’s defense perhaps stuck out better in the ’80s and/or actually some degree better. But it’s an awful close comparison.

Ultimately, I’m guessing a second-year success for Jim Thome in 2019. And I’m feeling awful pessimistic about Vizquel. It could come down to the wire, in the final years of his 10-year candidacy. If not, I’d imagine he’ll get in eventually in one of the revamped Hall of Fame procedures for looking back on different eras. How do you think things will end up? Feel free to vote on Twitter or share in the comments.

  • Jeff

    Omar Vizquel is one of only three players in history to get 11 Gold Gloves and over 2800 hits. The other two? Willy Mays and Roberto Clemente.

  • Hopwin

    Actually…. wasn’t cocaine available otc prior to like 1930?

  • Steve

    Players experimented with testosterone back in the 1800s. There really hasn’t been an era where players weren’t trying something, legal or not, in any of baseball’s history. But it wasn’t until WW2 did scientists produce synthetic testosterone for the purpose of performance enhancement.

  • Hopwin
  • scripty

    “He was much worse than even Ozzie Smith at the plate.””
    Omar had 417 more hits, .10 higher career BA, his career OPS was the same
    Ozzie stole 176 more bases (580-404)

  • scripty

    Cmon, he lost 30 lbs in 5 months by cutting down on fast food and doing more sprints.

  • scripty

    Just asking here, what if Jim Thome played 15 years for the BoSox or NYY instead of CLE. Are the optics different?

  • Steve

    We need to adjust for the era.

    Vizquel’s batting line was .272/.336/.352 where the league average was .269/.339/.425. His OPS was 76 points below league average.

    Smith’s line was .262/.337/.328 when the league average was .261/.328/.390. His OPS was 52 points below league average. This is why Rbat (the batting component of WAR) has Smith worth 127 more runs than Vizquel at the plate.

    And regarding stolen bases, Vizquel’s percentage was 70.7%, below the break-even rate (about 75%), while Smith’s was 79.7%, above the break-even rate. This is why Rbaser (the baserunning component of WAR) has Smith at 80 runs better than Vizquel.

    The two aren’t even close when it comes to offense.

  • mgbode

    only if we assume Vizquel was using steroids, HGH and the other PEDs that the power hitters of his era were using. that is the trickiest part of these discussions. i’m sure there were players who were clean, but unsure of who they were.

    there is a decent chance that Omar will be penalized for staying relatively clean (if he was)

  • Steve

    The opposite forces us to assume that steroids weren’t used when Smith played (they were), that Vizquel was cleaner than anyone else (we can’t), or we have any clue as to how much PEDs help one hit baseballs (we don’t). Any guesses are no better than darts thrown while blindfolded, and I don’t see a reason to not just take what actually happened on the field as the actual result, like we did with pre-integration baseball. We accept that outside forces affected the game, but we aren’t trying to re-write the history book.

  • Steve

    This is not that far off. The Germans were the first to create synthetic testosterone, and were alleged to have used it on their soldiers.

  • Hopwin
  • mgbode

    Woah, woah, woah.

    Sure, some steroids were used in Ozzie’s day, but you cannot for a moment believe they were used with the same passion and understanding as they were in the 90s. The offensive numbers of the era demonstrate such.

    On guessing, I agree. Was just noting that it really sucks for those who were relatively clean. I also would not vote Omar into the HOF for similar reasoning.

  • Steve

    Tom House, who pitched through the 70s, said PEDs were widespread.

    Offensive numbers mean little, as we have no idea how much PEDs affect hitting or pitching. There’s no reason to believe that steroids = more offense.

  • mgbode

    I understand that pitchers can also benefit – though HGH was still thought to be best for them through recovery cycles.

    There’s no reason to believe that steroids = more offense.

    please explain the 90s

  • Steve

    Changes to the ball and strike zone. There have cycles of more or less offense throughout baseball history. Believing steroids were the main cause of the offense would mean believing that few people used in 92, and almost everyone in 94. A jump in usage like that seems far less believable than a change in the strike zone or ball.

  • mgbode

    “more” or “better usage” w/ sophistication – technology/knowledge goes in jumps, not gradual increases. So, people learned how to better utilize PEDs is a better hypothesis. Lance Armstrong’s team showed just how sophisticated things could get in part of this era.

    there was a decline on offense before 2010 compared to the 90s directly after PED testing implemented

    hitters in their mid-to-upper 30s (including many of the “big-hitters”) continued to improve at unnatural rates compared with the rest of historical MLB

    could there have been strike zone or ball changes factored in? sure (and you missed expansion including Denver being added in). but, that still wouldn’t explain the late-30s guys nor would it fully explain MLB allowing their entire sport to be drug through the mud as it was.

    you would need to show a bunch more work to prove out that PEDs weren’t a huge factor in that timeframe.

  • Steve

    PEDs were widespread in racing, and affected time greatly before Armstrong.

    There was a brief spike in offense in 1999 and 2000, over five runs a game, but then between 2001 and 2009 it stayed between 4.6 and 4.8. The decline was in 2001 and then 2010, not when PED testing was implemented.

    Guys like Aaron and Williams didn’t have “natural” decline years like the rest of MLB, that’s what separates truly great hitters from the regular ones.

    And I wouldn’t call MLB being dragged through the mud. The commissioner/owners had the players dragged through the mud. The blame for PED use was all on one side. Meanwhile, former pitcher Bob Tufts: https://twitter.com/TuftsB/status/738390408892403713

  • mgbode

    I call BS on player’s not aging differently during the Steroid Era. There have been a ton of papers that have proven they did.

    here is one whitepaper:

    http://colgate.edu/portaldata/imagegallerywww/21c0d002-4098-4995-941f-9ae8013632ee/ImageGallery/2012/the-impact-of-age-on-baseball-players-performance.pdf

  • To me? If anything that would work against him in my book, given the depths to which I despise both of those teams. To anyone with a HOF vote? We wouldn’t even need the ballots–he’d have been inducted the moment he walked off the field at Yankee Stadium or Fenway.

  • Steve

    That study only looked at hitters during an era of increased run-scoring. This is the problem over and over again, we assume that steroids = more runs scored and work from there.

    Also, I’m not sure how aging curves shifting is evidence of PED use. There is nothing preventing as many young players as old players improving their performance through chemistry. It shouldn’t be one subset over the other, we should see a steady improvement across the board, which means one that doesn’t change something like an aging curve at all.

    And again, PED use was widespread by at least the 70s. We should expect to see the aging curve shift then or earlier, not 1994. We’re taking the evidence and retro-fitting it to the narrative based on nothing more than guesses as to what PEDs do. We are not, and we’ve never done this, figuring out how PEDs affect hitting and pitching a ball.

  • mgbode

    I specifically picked a study that went about attempting to disprove PED use. Reading through, they cannot guarantee the effect due to PED but note several reasons that point to it being a likely large contributor.

    And, all PED use is not the same. There are leaps in science in all fields. There was a leap in athletic training knowledge both w/ PEDs and w/o PEDs during that era. I cannot guarantee how much effect either had on the total but there was a definitive effect from each. Older players increasing production is not a natural event even with some strike zone adjustments or ball tightening (heightening of core elasticity).

  • Steve

    But theres no reason to heuristically believe that older players declining slower to be from PEDs. Young players have access to the same chemistry, they have the same potential to play above their natural state. If young players are improving at a greater than natural rate, then older players will look worse again.

    We cannot start with any assumptions on what PED use looks like, which that paper does, but try to identify how PEDs affects hitting and throwing the ball, which is, admittedly, very tough.

  • Tzu Wu

    I know this article is a few months old but I felt I needed to chime in. I honestly can not see how Vizquel is considered to be HOF worthy. He played 24 seasons until age 45 and had 10 seasons where he failed to even get 100 hits. He had only 1 season where he had a batting average of over .300 The only thing going for him, imo, is his 11 gold gloves. Sure, he has 2,877 hits but only averaged 157 per 162 games so a lot of that is due to longevity. He won 2 gold gloves and had only 1 all star appearance in his last 10 seasons.

  • Tzu Wu

    Sure but Mays and Clemente were tremendously better than Vizquel all over the board in almost every aspect. 2 time MVP, 10 other times being in the top 6 vote getters for MVP for Mays. Almost 700 home runs. Check out this comparison. Vizquel, 24 seasons – 2877 hits, 456 doubles, 77 triples, 80 home runs, 404 stolen bases, 951 RBI’s, BA .272 – Willie Mays, 22 seasons – 3283 hits, 523 doubles, 140 triples, 660 home runs, 338 stolen bases, 1903 RBI’s. .302 BA – Roberto Clemente, 18 seasons, 3000 hits, 440 doubles, 166 triples, 240 home runs. 83 stolen bases, 1305 RBI’s, .317 BA. Personally I think Vizquel is a product of longevity. He had anemic offensive numbers and honestly the golden gloves are almost a popularity contest and dont really mean as much as they seem they do.

  • Jeff

    Except Vizquel was a SS. And his career fielding percentage was better than Ozzie Smith. His career batting average was as well.

    Fact is only three players have ever accomplished that. People can try to diminish it as much as they like, but there are a lot of players that have played since Gold Gloves have been awarded and only three have accomplished that feat.

  • Tzu Wu

    Personally I think Gold Gloves are overrated because of the archaic voting system involved, as managers are not allowed to vote for their own players so a lot of them will vote for players that they only see play about 18 times a year. I will say this, Gold Gloves alone are not going to get him in, I mean look at Jim Kaat, a 283 game winning pitcher with 16 Gold Gloves to his name, and not in the hall of fame. Did you know that in 1999 Rafael Palmeiro won the AL GG at 1st base and only played 28 games at first that season, mostly playing as a DH.

  • Jeff

    Compare his lines to Ozzie Smith. He will get in.