Yesterday I wrote about Dick Allen. Dick Allen, who is one of the best right handed hitters to ever walk on a baseball field, one of the best overall players of his era, an MVP and Rookie of the Year award winner, and a seven time All-Star.
Dick Allen is not in the Hall of Fame. Omar Vizquel however, is on the verge of being enshrined in Cooperstown.
To my knowledge, there isn’t an eye-roll, head shaking emoji strong enough that would adequately express my astonishment that such a thing is even open for discussion.
Let’s start from the top. Omar Vizquel played 24 seasons in MLB and was a below league average hitter in 22 of them. And if you’re first reaction is “Well, I know he wasn’t a good hitter, per se…”, you’re missing the point. It’s not that he wasn’t “good” or even league average, it’s that he was an awful hitter.
Vizquel, despite spending a good chunk of his career batting second for what might be the best offensive team to ever take the field from the mid-nineties through the early aughts, posted a career 82 OPS+.
Do you want to know how bad that is? Since integration, 18 players have at least 12,000 PA. The next “worst” OPS+ among that group after Vizquel’s 82 is Craig Biggio at 112. (Reminder: 100 is league average, so 82 is 18% worse than average, 112 is 12% better.) You have to make the cutoff 9,000 career PA to find a worse hitter to ever be allowed to play as long as Vizquel did (In case you’re curious, that would be Larry Bowa.) Generally speaking, players who are that awful don’t get to play for very long.
Hell, if we’re talking Hall of Fame, Bob Lemon – yes, the pitcher – had the same career OPS+ as a hitter that Vizquel had. In fact, Vizquel’s 82 OPS+ would tie Rabbit Maranville’s 82 career OPS+ for the worst among players in Cooperstown. For those of you who are unaware, Rabbit Maranville is considered one of the more embarrassing thumbs ups in the Hall.
So the premise is that Vizquel’s closest HOF comp is a punchline who got in because, although being a zero hit shortstop, he was a plus defender and baserunner for over two decades. Sounds familiar…
Except here’s the bad news for Vizquel fans: The comp is the two decades of awful hitting, because Vizquel was not in fact, a great defender, and he was a below average baserunner.
Let’s start with defense. Vizquel’s career defensive WAR is lower than that of Mark Belanger’s, another glove first SS, but one who has never received HOF support. Let’s not forget that dWAR is cumulative, so playing for 24 seasons gives Vizquel an advantage when comparing career totals. Let’s look at his dWAR per season average and compare it to other good defensive shortstops:
On a dWAR per season basis, Vizquel’s average was lower than that of Belanger, Ozzie Guillen, Roy McMillan, Jack Wilson, Greg Gagne and J.J. Hardy. This notion that Vizquel was Ozzie Smith lite is laughable – he wasn’t even J.J. Hardy. And if you’re going to tell me that defensive metrics are imperfect, I agree. But even if they’re off a little, he’s still grouped with the Guillen’s and Gagne’s of the world and not in the same stratosphere as Ozzie, Luis Aparicio or Andrelton Simmons.
You want Vizquel in the Hall because of his glove? Let me see your Cooperstown support for Jack Wilson first.
“But he was a ‘good’ shortstop and a plus base-runner” you say?
Nope. Wrong again.
Since integration, 526 players have played in at least 1,000 games from all positions and have a positive base-running WAR for their career. Vizquel is not one of them. Some lumbering DHs and 1st baseman do – but Vizquel’s bWAR is in the negative.
Let’s add it all up. Let’s look at WAR, which combines hitting, fielding and base-running.
Bert Campaneris, Jim Fregosi, Jimmy Rollins, and Miguel Tejada have more career WAR – again, in far fewer games – as shortstops and none are in the Hall, rightfully so. Fregosi, Belanger, and Campaneris are joined by Nomar Garciaparra, Jay Bell, John Valentin, Scott Fletcher and many, many others who had better peak WAR (best seven seasons) as shortstops than Vizquel.
We’ve arrived at the Brad Pitt as Billy Beane voice in Moneyball portion of the conversation: “Could he hit? (No) Could he field? (mmm, not really) Could he run? (No). Then what the F are you talking about, man?!?”
“Is Vizquel a Hall of Famer?” is the wrong question. “What the hell were GM’s thinking putting him on a roster for the last six seasons of his career?” is the correct question. Because those seasons, in which he accumulated 0.1 WAR combined, allowed him to pad his career game and hit totals and force us to entertain this ridiculous discussion.
Did I miss something? Let me know.
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