20 April 2010

On Omar Vizquel

This from Rob Neyer's ESPN Chat:
What's odd to me is that everyone says the Hall of Fame is about being great, and yet even during Vizquel's prime none of the writers thought he was great. He's a three-time All-Star who fared far, far, far worse than Shawn Green (among many others) in MVP balloting. It's going to be a fun argument.
Rob was (indirectly) responding to Jayson Stark's book, Stark Truth, in which the columnist builds a Hall case for former Tribe 6-Man Omar Vizquel. Now, I haven't crunched the numbers, so I don't know if I'd support Vizquel's induction. What I do know is that "none of the writers thought he was great" is a terrible justification for voting against a player. Indeed, I bet the hitters who pulled the ball his way would offer a different opinion.

Two points before I get into a more substantive discussion. 1) Neyer's a major proponent of Bert Blyleven's candidacy, despite that he's only a two-time All Star who received similarly weak MVP support; 2) Vizquel posted a 92 OPS+ in his best 10-year stint, which is not significantly worse than the 96 OPS+ Ozzie Smith posted during his best decade. I'm not saying Vizquel is as good as Ozzie, but if Omar could do backflips I doubt we'd be having this discussion.

Sure, Vizquel never struck fear into the hearts of the pitching staff. On the other hand, a batted ball anywhere in his vicinity guaranteed the batsmen a non-refundable trip back to the dugout. I could be wrong here, but I'm pretty sure this shortstop flashed his best leather before the SABR revolution hit defense; we might never know just exactly how great he really was out there. But we have some clues...

In another recent ESPN chat, Stark bolstered his position with this tidbit:
As many seasons of five errors or fewer as all the other shortstops in history COMBINED!
Of course, errors are a terrible stat for many reasons, and fielding average can be misleading. However, it's usually not misleading at the margins: players at defense-heavy positions who occupy the extremely high end of these stats will usually be high-UZR fielders. In that regard, Omar Vizquel defined the high end.

Philosophically, I'm with Neyer: the Hall is about greatness, and I'm a "Small Hall" kinda guy. That said, Omar Vizquel's exploits on the infield clay were extraordinary, and I think that's something that Cooperstown should remember.

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