Indians

Omar Ain’t No Hall of Famer

The address is 347 Lakeshore Dr., Battle Creek, MI. The month is August and the year is 2000. I roll out of bed a grab a bowl of cereal in the cereal capital of the world, presumably something from the nearby headquarters of Kellogg’s or Post. Without the ability to watch the Indians on a nightly basis, this Sandusky native was left with whatever Sportscenter had to offer. The likes of Dan Patrick, Stuart Scott, and Kenny Mayne serenaded my ears as Omar Vizquel serenaded my eyes. After a full rotation of highlights, I flung my cereal bowl in the sink and rushed down the hall of the three-bedroom ranch. I reached into my Tim Couch locker and pulled out a Wilson glove, tennis ball, and Chief Wahoo hat.

The cracked pavement and slight contours of the driveway offered challenges, nay, opportunities. Opportunities to emulate number thirteen. As an eleven-year-old little league shortstop, he was my hero. Caroms of the tennis ball off the small patch of bricks in between the garage door and den window allowed for unique backhand and bare-hand opportunities. Emulating the quickness of the transfer from glove to hand was the hardest part and led to many rattles of the garage door and tennis ball slams into the window of our den (sorry, Mom). Hitting was an afterthought, for once. The smoothness with which Vizquel commanded his position was way cooler than any home run, dunk, or touchdown throw. A love for baseball was born.

Numbers were a big part of that love for baseball, too. At that early age, reciting batting averages of any player became a hobby and schtick at family gatherings, where uncles would ask me to recite Player X’s stat lines. I could tell you that Omar was well on his way to an eighth consecutive gold glove. Hall of Fame? That eleven-year-old in Michigan would have said it was a lock.

Sixteen years later, Omar Vizquel’s name has graced the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time. It took so long because Vizquel continued churning on MLB diamonds until age 45, wrapping up his career as a bench utility player for the White Sox and Blue Jays. His credentials have created discussion, with saber-nerds like myself questioning his worthiness for a variety of reasons.

In accordance with holding Hall of Fame admittees to an objective level of worthiness, Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated created a metric that identifies the average Hall of Famer’s value at each position. The Jaffe WAR Score system, affectionately known as JAWS, combines the seven-year peak and career WAR totals to provide a baseline for assessing Cooperstown worthiness. In this system, the average Hall of Fame shortstop checks in at 66.7 career WAR and a seven-year peak of 42.8 WAR. Cleveland’s beloved Omar Vizquel falls well short of each of these marks, amassing a career total of 45.3 and a seven-year peak of 26.7.

Vizquel’s WAR values reflect so poorly because of lackluster hitting. While the average was decent, Vizquel’s power and run-producing abilities were not exactly a concern for opposing pitchers. If Vizquel would be elected, his career 82 OPS+ would be tied for the worst among the two dozen shortstops enshrined.

Omar closed in on 3,000 hits, ending up 32 short, but it took him nearly 24 seasons over 12,000 plate appearances to get there. On the surface, his career slash line of .272/.336/.352 doesn’t seem too poor. In fact, his batting average and on-base percentage were above what would be expected from shortstops in that time frame. The .352 slugging and 82 OPS+, however, indicate that the batting average and on-base percentage were mostly empty, consisting predominantly of singles and walks. The average shortstop OPS+ from 1989 to 2012 far exceeds Vizquel’s output. In other words, if you were to draw a random shortstops name out of a hat, the odds would favor that person being a far more efficient hitter than Vizquel was through his years of making Jacob’s Field explode.

Omar Vizquel Cleveland Indians

I know, I know… if anyone is making a case for Hall of Fame Omar, it isn’t because of his bat. But the Hall is reserved for the greatest players, and the bat cannot be ignored. Making the case that Omar belongs in Cooperstown hinges solely on his glove. The eleven gold gloves are second only to The Wizard’s thirteen among shortstops. Gold gloves are nice, and eleven is not easily attainable feat, but they’re hardly objective. Votes have proven to be all over the map in regards to appointing the greatest fielders at each position, with routine emphasis placed on reputation, flash, and, in some inexplicable cases, the player’s hitting prowess.1 In no way is this an indictment of Omar’s gold gloves, it is merely a clause that points to the dangers of basing arguments on something that is so arbitrary.

Additionally, Gold Glove voting in the 1990s was pre-new age defensive metrics. The voting focus was placed on fielding percentage and error totals, which are quite misleading and fail to capture the full value of a shortstop’s glove. For example, if Player X can get to, but fail to, field a ball that Player Y had no shot at, should Player X be punished with an error that impacts his fielding percentage? That’s where the new-age metrics come in handy. The defensive metrics support Omar as an incredible fielder, as expected, but not to the same degree as a few others.

Though defensive metrics are all a bit messy, especially historically, they provide a foundation, at the very least. Defensive WAR totals is a prudent starting point. We know Ozzie Smith was likely the greatest shortstop and possibly fielder of all-time. His defensive WAR totals match these expectations, topping the list. Omar’s marks are extremely impressive, finishing tenth overall in this category. Is that enough to compensate for a below average bat?

The uninspiring 82 OPS+ and historically poor WAR totals (in regards to other Hall of Famers) are too detrimental for his case. There is a precedent for admittance, though. The 5-5, 150-pound Rabbit Maranville, a middle infielder who spent a good chunk of his career with the Boston Braves, has his place in Cooperstown and his case is nearly identical on the hitting and fielding sides. The catch with this precedent, however, is that Rabbit was inducted into the Hall before it was of legal drinking age, and meaningful standards had not been established. Sixty years later we have applicable goalposts that offer beneficial evidence of what amounts to a Hall of Fame-worthy career and what falls short.

Omar Vizquel objectively falls short, which is in no way an indictment of his greatness. A player can be historically great without being worthy of Cooperstown admittance. A player can be an organizational staple or fan favorite without meriting that level of recognition. This is where Omar fits, especially considering voting limits. Writers are not allowed to vote for more than ten players on each ballot. Even if you are a proponent of more Hall of Famers, you’d be hard-pressed to make a worthy argument that places Omar Vizquel in the Top 10 of the current ballot.

Whether inducted into Cooperstown or not, Omar Vizquel will deservedly occupy a special spot in Cleveland’s, and my own, heart. His barehands, backhands, and off-balance throws will continue to occupy the ‘Up Next’ portion of my YouTube pages. The glory days of the bouncing tennis ball in my driveway will not be forgotten.

  1. What’s up, Derek Jeter? []

  • tsm

    Omar was at least the equal of Ozzie defensively. Remember, Ozzie played well over 50% of his games on a rug with its prefect bounces. In addition to his home park, Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Houston also had rugs. Ozzie was better at backflips, but not at anything else with a glove. Jaffe can create all the metrics he wants,(how are analytics alone working out for the HBT?) but they are no substitute for eyeballs. I have seen them all going back to Aparicio, and Omar is the best with the glove I have ever seen.

  • MartyDaVille
  • Chris

    Hey new Team Apathy initiates… may I borrow your torchforks?

  • Gage Will

    My garage is full of them… you’re welcome to grab a few.

  • Harv

    Don’t care if he’s HOF-bound or not – such a subjective award bestowed by national media should really really matter only to him and his family – a few things about his career:

    – approaching 3,000 hits over 24 years is as impressive as, let’s say, 2,200 over 15 years because he played the game’s most athletic position at the highest level for nearly a quarter century! Even when he lost some range he was still great. This is Vince Carter dunking at 40 freaky-level stuff. Other great shortstops look completely different by their mid-30s.

    – Never saw him eaten up by a bad bounce and the fact that he was never victimized is a sleight of hand attributable to his reaction time, anticipatory footwork and maybe the best hand/glove coordination. Agree with TSM about Smith getting truer hops on turf, but not sure that’s Smith fault or that implies he was lesser. They were different, Smith with superior range and arm, Omar the ultimate hand/eye magician.

    – Omar’s hitting improved, from really weak to a guy who absolutely could handle a bat. Initially benefited from the protection of the mashers in the line up around him but his improvement was more than that. As a base runner, on the other hand … yuck. So many stupid decisions.

  • Chris

    That’s perfect, because that’s exactly where I’m planning the protest.

  • RGB
  • RGB

    “I have seen them all going back to Aparicio, and Omar is the best with the glove I have ever seen.”

    There’s your first mistake. Metrics nerds don’t actually watch sports.

  • Gage Will

    You’re right, I don’t watch sports… Just drool at spreadsheets all day!

  • Gage Will

    Please just stay off my lawn…

  • Gage Will

    Agree with a lot here, harv. Some folks care about the hall more than others, and, if I were voting, it would be incredibly difficult to justify voting for Omar over 15-20 other names on this ballot.

  • scripty

    Shortstop is a defensive position, and he is the by any means the first or 2nd best shortstop of the past 2 generations. I am sure there are metrics that say otherwise but I’d say those are flawed if they can’t make that work. A world-class all-time defensive player at the most difficult position does wonders for a team. That this is even a debate, is silly. I felt this way about Smith also. This unique debate doesn’t come up too often but in this case it’s unequivocal to me.

  • scripty

    Amazingly, I was at the 3-error game.

  • Steve

    Maybe, but we have a problem in that strikeouts and home runs keep increasing. That means less and less of a players talent in the field contributes to winning games. Smith’s defense contributed more to winning games because there were more balls in play then.

    How do you compare two guys with the same range, arm, hands, instincts, etc when the job has changed over time?

  • Steve

    “Shortstop is a defensive position”

    But not defense only. I don’t think its accurate enough just to call Vizquel a below average bat. Smith’s batting component of WAR is over 100 runs better for their careers than Vizquel. And about another 100 once we include baserunning.

    We have to credit Vizquel as the most valuable fielder ever to get him in the conversation when it comes to total value.

  • tsm

    Thanks for the insight. Out of curiosity do you have any statistics you can point me to showing the differences in balls in play in the two eras?

  • Kristyn

    Google is paying 97$ per hour,with weekly payouts.You can also avail this.
    On tuesday I got a great new Land Rover Range Rover from having earned $11752 this last four weeks..with-out any doubt it’s the most-comfortable job I have ever done .. It sounds unbelievable but you wont forgive yourself if you don’t check it
    !da147:
    ➽➽
    ➽➽;➽➽ http://GoogleNetJobsNetWorkFromHome/find/jobs ★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫:::::!da147luuuu

  • scripty

    My validation of Vizquel for the HOF has nothing to do with Ozzie. Even if he was a below average hitter, I’d have no issue him being in the HOF. Again as I noted above, if one of the greatest fielding SS can’t get to the HOF even as an average-ish hitter, the WAR metric is either flawed or not applicable to the discussion. This is where we must remember the WAR is a tool among other tools available to us, like common sense.

  • Steve

    “if one of the greatest fielding SS can’t get to the HOF even as an average-ish hitter, the WAR metric is either flawed or not applicable to the discussion.”

    Even if “average-ish” could describe Omar’s offense, this is a preposterous thought process. As my post demonstrates, Vizquel is so far below even the below average Smith, that “average-ish” is not just misleading, but wildly inappropriate.

    Mark Belanger is also one of the greatest fielding shortstops, and yet his bat is recognized as so weak that he is not worthy of enshrinement. We need a balance of offense and defense together, and not open the doors to the Rey Ordonezes of the world.

    But this all basically comes down to you wanting WAR to do the exact opposite of what its intended. Its not supposed to simply validate our preconcieved notions, but to actually figure out how much each event in the game is worth and put them all together so that we can see that balance between offense and defense. So that we can tell who helps more between the glove-first shortstop and the bat-first 1B.

    Cases like Vizquel possibly being Hall worthy are precisely where WAR does its best work. Putting his actual between the lines contributions in context with players at other positions and from other eras.

  • Harv

    I remember that game, believe itwas his first year here? Was so odd. He said it would never happen again.

  • scripty
  • scripty

    Steve, I’ve seen you here a long time, and frankly, I don’t enjoy you. You seem to pounce on things and distort them to fit some perceived slight or opinion. True dialogue only exists when two parties are attempting to exchange ideas and grow. Since you seem hellbent on just amplifying and re-amplifying a single viewpoint so dramatically, I can no longer pretend to engage in any productive discussion as the exchange of ideas. I feel you never really get anybody’s idea’s here and simply use them to just blare your singular viewpoint. Best luck forward.

  • scripty

    Ozzie had more maybe slightly better range and a bit more of a cannon. Omar had a truly once-in-a-lifetime to get the ball fielded and thrown in a short time. Ozzie was a perfect player for the turf of STL – as well as CIN, PIT, PHI, MTL & HOU – with some pitchers who could get grounders in a more contact-driven era. Omar was probably better coming forward and maybe a little better around the bag.

  • Steve

    What have I distorted? Where have I demonstrated being slighted? If anyone is hellbent on re-amplying a single point of view, its the person here who is determined WAR is wrong before even analyzing the situation

    Here is a dialogue:

    “Shortstop is a defensive position”

    “But not defense only”

    Or you calling Vizquel’s offense average-ish and me pointing out how it is far below average.

    I’m replying directly to your viewpoints, these are ideas being exchanged, and I am most certainly not just pushing one. If you want to respond to these, I’m all ears, but it seems like you want to just be annoyed that your viewpoint got challenged.

  • Vivian

    Google is paying 97$ per hour,with weekly payouts.You can also avail this.
    On tuesday I got a great new Land Rover Range Rover from having earned $11752 this last four weeks..with-out any doubt it’s the most-comfortable job I have ever done .. It sounds unbelievable but you wont forgive yourself if you don’t check it
    !da56:
    ➽➽
    ➽➽;➽➽ http://GoogleOnlineEasyNetTechJobsOpportunities/easy/jobs ★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫:::::!da56luuu

  • June

    Google is paying 97$ per hour,with weekly payouts.You can also avail this.
    On tuesday I got a great new Land Rover Range Rover from having earned $11752 this last four weeks..with-out any doubt it’s the most-comfortable job I have ever done .. It sounds unbelievable but you wont forgive yourself if you don’t check it
    !da88:
    ➽➽
    ➽➽;➽➽ http://GoogleInternetComunityUSAWorkFromHome/online/easytasks ★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫★★✫★✫:::::!da88luuu

  • Bobby Ewing

    im sorry i find gages arguments rather weak

  • Juan Pereira

    My issues with your conclusions. First applying a stat that was not relevant (or even existed for much of his career) is not fair by any means. If WAR or other advance cybermetrics had that relevance in Vizquel prime time I guess they would have play in a slightly different way.
    For Vizquel a more interesting stat will be how many outs he made where the runner will be half step of the bag, no matter how hard or soft the bouncer was, adding to their frustration. How many highlight reels (tarara tarara) he had because of his graciously defensive abilities. How many of the fans went to games to just see him play.
    This is the Hall of FAME not Hall of ADVANCE CYBERMETRICS. Fame comes from different places, and if you ask to name three players from the Indians powerhouse I’m sure that Vizquel will be in more than 75% of responses.
    Longevity is in my criteria underrated, playing SS for around 20 years and keep playing for a few more is remarkable and HOF type of achievement. If Getting his last of 11 gold glove at age 39 with only 4 errors and a .993 Fielding % is not HOF worthy, then just put 9 Aaron Judge and make it a batters game altogether.
    Alan Trammel was good, really good, maybe HOF too, but I doubt that he had the fuzz that Vizquel created by just bouncing on the field and fans just waiting for the highlight play he often was part of.
    So advance cybermetrics aside he has really good numbers and a unique longevity that puts him a top of more traditional stats that were the ones important when he played. The ones that got him his contracts and his gold gloves, and the ones that kept him playing longer than any other shortstop in the modern era. For me that’s more than enough to be a HOF.