Examining Omar Vizquel
When a 41-year-old shortstop goes 1-for-his-last-32, is it not fair to wonder if he has reached the end of the line? Is he just in a slump or is it something bigger than that?
The player in question is Omar Vizquel. To try and answer the above questions, I thought it would be instructive to take a closer look at the stats and survey a handful of prominent sportswriters and analysts.
Through yesterday's action, Vizquel is "hitting" .156 AVG/.234 OBP/.180 SLG. His OPS of .414 ranks second-to-last among players with 100 or more plate appearances. Only Tony Pena has produced a lower OPS in 2008 and over the past 365 days. His three XBH in 141 PA and line drive rate of 10% are pretty damning evidence that he is no longer squaring up the ball like he once did.
Honus Wagner is the only player who has ever played 100 games at shortstop as a 41-year-old since 1900. Luke Appling, who split time between SS and 3B as a 41-year-old in 1948, played 141 games at short as a 42-year-old. NOBODY has ever played 100 games at shortstop as a 43-year-old.
Based on the above, Vizquel, who turns 42 next April, is defying the odds by playing shortstop this year. With 37 games under his belt thus far in 2008, he still needs to play 63 more the rest of the way to become just the second shortstop to reach the triple-digit mark in a single season. *Can* he do it? Sure. *Should* he do it? That's another question.
As shown above, Vizquel is a liability at the plate. However, to his credit, he is still fielding well. Omar has only made one error and has a fielding percentage of .993. Moreover, according to The Hardball Times, the 11-time Gold Glover has made 69 plays on 78 balls hit in his zone. His Revised Zone Rating of .885 would rank first among all shortstops if he qualified. Vizquel has also made 14 plays on balls hit outside of his zone, equal to 4.62% per inning played (which would rank sixth among all qualified shortstops).
Is Vizquel's defensive prowess enough to overcome is offensive woes? Probably not. THT calculates that the 19-year veteran has been one Win Share below bench this year (normally called Win Shares Above Bench). In other words, he has been producing at a replacement level rate.
While Vizquel has had a fantastic career, he is no longer valuable in the here and now. And his team, the San Francisco Giants, are going nowhere fast. Sending Little O out there everyday is doing the club little or no good in the present or the future.
As far as retirement goes, there isn't anything Omar can really achieve by hanging around another season or two. With 2,617 lifetime hits, his chances of reaching 3,000 are slim and none – and slim just left town. Unless Vizquel is traded and makes it to the postseason, there is little that he can do to add to his resumé because it is highly unlikely that voters will reward him with a 12th Gold Glove given the injury that sidelined the defensive wizard in April and part of May.
Although Vizquel has played in two World Series, he has never been on a world championship team. In 11 postseason series covering 56 games, Vizquel has hit .250/.327/.316 over 264 trips to the plate. These rate stats are worse than his regular-season career marks of .273/.339/.355.
Is Vizquel a Hall of Famer? Six of his top ten similar batters have been inducted into Cooperstown. Of the seven shortstops, Vizquel is probably most comparable to Luis Aparicio, Ozzie Smith, Rabbit Maranville, and Dave Concepcion, all of whom were known more for their glovework than offensive value. While the first three are all Hall of Famers, Vizquel falls short of all four when viewed in terms of Win Shares (which considers offensive and defensive contributions).
Using career Win Shares, here is how Vizquel stacks up, position-wise, to his most similar batters:
Bill Dahlen 394
Ozzie Smith* 325
Pee Wee Reese* 314
Rabbit Maranville* 302
Luis Aparicio* 293
Bert Campaneris 280
Dave Concepcion 269
Omar Vizquel 260
* Hall of Famer
While Win Shares are not the definitive word, it is unexplainable as to why Bill Dahlen is not in the Hall of Fame. More to the point, it is hard to make an argument on behalf of Vizquel unless one wants to ignore WS or believes Concepcion and Bert Campaneris are worthy of such status. Moreover, there is another shortstop who is currently eligible for the Hall who hasn't even sniffed the 75% of the vote required to gain election. Yes, Alan Trammell, he of 318 Win Shares, is a much stronger candidate than Vizquel, as is Barry Larkin (346 WS), who becomes eligible in two years. The bottom line is that Vizquel needs to get in line behind Larkin and Trammell and arguably Concepcion, who falls off the ballot this year after never gaining more than 16.9% of the vote.
I surveyed four experts, including two Hall of Fame voters, for their opinions on Vizquel. Question No. 1: Should he retire? Question No. 2: Is he a Hall of Famer?
Peter Gammons: "No, because he can still help a contender. Check the AL shortstops. Yes."
Tracy Ringolsby: "Yes and yes."
Rob Neyer: "1. He should do whatever he wants. 2. No, no, no, no, a thousand times no."
John Dewan: "Omar Vizquel continues to be a very good shortstop. He's at +6 so far this year, which ranks him 5th among regular shortstops. However, offensively, he seems to have lost it and should probably hang it up. Then again, I thought Jim Edmonds was done when the Cubs traded for him and he's been great for them. Vizquel is not even close to being a Hall of Famer."
As for me, I believe the time has come for him to hang up his cleats. Whether he does so now or waits until the end of the year is immaterial to me. However, his presence on the Giants makes little or no sense unless one wants to view him more as a coach than a player.
With respect to the Hall of Fame, I would say, "No." He has had a very good career, but it would be a stretch to suggest that he deserves to be enshrined based on his career or peak value, much less the rankings among his peers.
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Update: I had also asked Bill James and Joe Posnanski the same questions posed above. Here are their responses, both of which were returned after I had posted this article.
James: "1. It's none of my business and I won't comment. 2. No."
Posnanski: "1. Don't know if he should retire ... I never think that's my place to say. But he's 41, he's hitting .156, he appears to be done as a useful player, and I'm not sure what he's getting out of playing or what they're getting out of him.
2. I'd have to take a long look, but my gut feeling would be no, I would not vote for him for the Hall. I've always been a big fan of Vizquel, and I've seen him play a lot, and I saw him make enough of those cool barehanded plays to think he was a superior defensive shortstop (though perhaps overrated -- Bill James, you no doubt know, rated him a B- defensive shortstop by Win Shares, and anyway I never put him in that Ozzie, Davey, Belanger class). Still, I think as you look over his career he was not as good a player as, say, Dave Concepcion, certainly not as good as Alan Trammell, there are probably a few other shortstops on this list as well. So unless there are things I'm missing -- which is certainly possible -- he'd be down the line as far as I'm concerned."