Baseball BeatJune 30, 2008
Examining Omar Vizquel
By Rich Lederer

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.

    * * *

    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."

  • Comments

    While I never thought of him as a HOF'r and I don't think he is one, I think he will get in. In 5 years he is going to look like a 13-time gold glover and the type of scrappy player that BBWA will love as a protest vote on the bloat of juiced sluggers. We'll hear "He did it the right way".
    My guess is that Vizquel will get in EASILY!

    If Vizquel is really performing at replacement level, wouldn't it make sense to keep him around? Recognizable name, useful skill as a defensive replacement, good citizen, good community relations.

    Obviously, he's not ideally suited to the Giants, who need to rebuild. But if a team were carrying 14 position players, he's not the worst guy to occupy one of them if you have a shaky defender as the starter at short.

    Great analysis but I disagree with your statement that the Giants are going nowhere fast. They are only 5 games out of first place in the weak NL West and they are about to have three starters with over 100 strikeouts. Stranger things have happened.

    Vizquel has been a defensive whiz and a useful offensive player, but Trammell is more deserving of Cooperstown.

    While I agree that the Giants are not going nowhere fast - see our three starters atop the strikeout rankings and other rankings - the Giants are not ready to take it to the playoffs and do well.

    They need somebody to suddenly step up and be a big consistent RBI guy for them, particularly at home. Perhaps it will be Schierholtz if Winn is ever traded, but for now, everybody on the team has some weakness, Rowand at home, Molina his career numbers, the young players can't really hit against their side (the lefties can't hit lefties) if at all.

    That said, Lincecum and Sanchez have been pretty great so far and Cain usually turns it on sometime between now and August. If Zito can repeat his last start for the rest of the year, that's 4 starters at the top of their game. Plus Correia had a good stretch of starts at the end of last year, if he can repeat it this year, that's the whole rotation doing well.

    Lots of ifs, though, will probably lead to no playoffs this season. But I really like their chances of making the playoffs next season if they can add two good bats, one internally (Schierholtz?) and hopefully one via free agency (though I have nobody in mind at the moment, just if such a player exists).

    Gotta agree with Mike D. above. The Giants have proven surprisingly resilient. Now, that is just in the first half, and it's likely that guys like Vizquel will be among the second-half casualties as they discover that shortstop is a really hard position to play when you're in your 40's (let alone your late 30's!), but if I'm Sabean, I'm thanking my lucky stars that the Snakes traded Carlos Quentin and re-signed Eric Byrnes instead. With the division leader down to a .500 record as of Sunday, the Giants are as viable as any team -- though I would be looking for a second-half rebound by the Rockies, and maybe a bounce from the Dodgers once they get Rafael Furcal back from the DL.

    After watching him for his entire time in Cleveland I can't imagine that one would not consider him HOF worthy. However, I also can't imagine why Alan Trammel gets so little love from the BBWAA. Oh yeah I can. How many voting members live within 100 mi. of Detroit? How many live within 100 mi. of Yankee Stadium? Same for Boston, Chicago and LA, but a little less so. Big markets are drastically over represented in the voting. If you don't think so, do a count yourself. That is why Blyleven isn't in too.

    I think Vizquel is borderline. He has been solid offensively and typically overachieved. Defensively, he is one of the greatest ever. Though, if he gets in Trammell and Larkin should be locks. How do you ignore Trammell? Trammell was one of the top SS in the 80's. Yes, just as good as Ripken and better than Ozzie. He just never got the exposure. Compare the offensive stats and the RC/27.

    It hurts to say this (I guess I'm feeling a little sensitive lately), but I wouldn't put Vizquel in. While his fielding was generally good, sometimes even very good and even great, his hitting line screams average/average/below average (compared to the league), plus he wasn't exactly an effective base stealer (382 SB to 152 CS, for about a 71.5% rate).

    If Vizquel makes it into the HoF I will officially stop following, caring and even thinking about the sport of baseball ever again.

    i had the pleasure of watching him up close during his tenure with the indians. he is better in the field than ozzie smith and comparable at bat. how many remember vizquel hitting second to kenny lofton in the hey days of the tribe and laying down bunt after bunt to move lofton to third once he got on and stole second? i just saw him in cleveland as a giant put down a perfect squeeze bunt to score a run for the giants. these things dont show up on a stat sheet, but for those who truly follow the game and vote for the hof should look beyond his offensive numbers and put him in as the complete baseball player that he is.

    If Vizquel is voted in and Santo is still not a member I will be pretty perturbed.

    Bunts show up on the stat sheet just fine, Chuck: your man's the active leader, with more than twice as many as the next non-pitcher:

    But all those bunts weren't hits. They were bunts. If you have to "look beyond" Vizquel's (lousy!) offensive numbers how can he be a "complete player"? He was a lousy hitter!

    This would be like looking beyond your lack of logical ability and poor awareness of the statistical record, in order to to consider you a "complete baseball analyst"!

    ps--check out k/bb ration and sb/cs for more evidence of Ozzie's considerable superiority...

    It would be a mistake to put Vizquel in the HoF, but I will still love baseball and enjoy the games in any case.

    Vizquel is a classic case of Bill James's theory that players who have one superior skill fare better in HoF discussions than more complete, but less visibly outstanding, players. He's done as a batter, but his defense is astounding for a 41-year-old.

    I can go either way on Omar getting into the HoF: I guess it depends on what you feel is worthy of the HoF.

    Superiority in one skill should always, IMO, be considered if it is that good. If he is the rainman of one important aspect of baseball and can do other things OK, then I'm OK with him in the HoF.

    But really, if Ozzie Smith is the litmus test, then you have a really strict interpretation of who will get into the HoF (not that there is anything wrong with this) and I would have to assume you really don't like the HoF as it is currently constituted, not in the slightest.

    About his BB/K, yes, Smith had a greater ratio but that's what I don't like with the saber movement today, people take one saber-stat and throw it out there like that settles the argument without taking in the bigger picture as well. Another important point to me, is that despite that huge advantage in walks, Vizquel still has a greater career OBP than Ozzie Smith, even with his horrible stats the past two seasons. However, the key tipping point for Ozzie here is offensive environment, his OBP is 9 points higher than the average for his era, Vizquel's is just even.

    And OPS-wise, both are comparable though Ozzie is better: 87 vs. 83 OPS+. That is due to SLG, though OBP is more important leading off than SLG, which Vizquel did a lot of, but SLG is that much more important in the #2 spot, which is where Ozzie did a lot of. However, one could argue that Ozzie hurt his team more hitting 2nd than Vizquel did leading off, as poor SLG in the 2-spot really hurts the offense much more than in the leadoff spot.

    And while I understand the need to use career measures to compare players, I think it is wrong to use any measure that incorporates defensive measurement until there is a measure that most experts can agree upon as a good measure and that we have data for. That is my line in sand. And I think most will agree that fielding percentage isn't that good a measure and that any measure incorporating past fielding statistics is therefore flawed in some way.

    I realize that this means that most probably means that we'll never have any comparison with players in previous eras but I think it's worse to try to capture it imperfectly as well.

    Likewise, I think there is a place in the hall for longevity of performance. I know some don't see the merit in that, but longevity at an acceptable performance level is an accomplishment as well.

    I also don't like the argument that because someone comparable isn't in the hall, then he doesn't belong. Just because a mistake has been made before - and I'm not saying that a mistake has been made with the players above, but as a general situation - does not mean you should go and propagate it by keeping out someone not as good but still worthy by the definitions that people apply. Each should be considered on their merits, anybody not making it into the HoF before is a separate issue.

    Put that all together, I think Vizquel is a valid borderline candidate. The "if" factor is how much you value great defense that he provides because he provided adequate offense for his position. His defense is good enough to get people to sit up and pay attention or to take a look. That's qualitative, but I think that's worthy enough in combination with his adequate offense, longevity, and other factors that he brought to the game. Look at the reception he got in Cleveland recently when the Giants went there. He is a great ambassador to the game.

    That said, I know he's borderline because of his offense. I won't think it's a huge travesty either way, but I do think that defense in general is not as valued as it should be, especially considering the DIPS revolution: what people seem to forget is that DIPS means that about 75-80% of all ABs result in a ball in play, meaning that good defense is important, great defense is that much more important, especially at a key defensive position like SS.

    And despite his age, Vizquel is still among the leaders in fielding. Using the Fielding Bible Plus/Minus, he was 3rd last season overall, 8th over the 3 year period.

    Superficially, Vizquel has a lot in common with Ozzie. Great fielders, light hitters, long solid careers. But, and I think this has a lot more to do with the way the game was played and was not merely a matter of perception, Ozzie's career bears the hallmark of a star, and Vizquel's is pedestrian. Fourteen all star games for Oz, 3 for Omar. 6 times Oz got MVP votes, once as high as number 2 (the rest not close) and is 356 all time on MVP shares. Omar received votes once, Vizquel got votes once, finishing in 14th and is 1440 all time in MVP shares. Indeed, Ozzie was at one point the highest paid player. Also Ozzie stole 200 more bases than Omar, and was caught 4 times less.

    I know there are always issues with MVP votes and fans voting for all stars, but I think here they show that one guy was a star and one guy was merely a good player with a long career. Trammell is far more deserving that Omar, who simply never was among the best during his career.

    I watched Omar his entire time in Cleveland. He was a lot of fun to watch. I never got the idea that he's a HoFer.

    He was hardly a complete player. He had no power. His batting averages were usually only adequate. He was a lousy baserunner. Part of what got Manny Ramirez the rep for MannyBeingManny was the fact that a few times every year he would just space out on the basepaths and run into some really dumb outs. And everyone would laugh. That's just MannyBeingManny. Well, Omar did the same thing, at least as often, but somehow nobody ever mentioned it.

    Omar was an important part of a great team. His defensive steadiness was crucial to a team that had a lot of offense-first guys. But let's not try to make him more than he was. He was a very good, flashy fielder who was wildly overrated by the local media.

    The idea that he was a better fielder than Ozzie Smith is just unbelievably wrong. Take off the hometown colored glasses, they're blinding you to reality.

    Ozzie Smith was the best defensive shortstop I ever saw play, the only defensive player who ever motivated me to go see games just for that player.

    I thought Omar was second, just ahead of Marc Belanger who I only saw at the end of his career. And I was prepared to argue 2609 games at shortstop, two seasons more than Trammell with better fielding numbers, three seasons more than Concepcion, also with better fielding numbers. I note also that Omar's career has included almost *all* of his decline phase at shortstop (only 4 games not at shortstop), whereas Trammell played 131 games at other positions Concepcion played 321 games at other positions. And then I saw shortstop double plays, where Omar has more than 20% more than either Trammell or Concepcion (1680 to 1307 to 1290) which also comes out to more DP per game than either of those. And finally, Omar did all this with a horrid OPS+ of 83. And I decided that if you're going to last 20 years in the bigs hitting that badly, then you really are astonishingly good on defense. And then I think how could he *not* have won the gold glove in 1992, with a Fielding Percentage 20 points better than the AL average, and more gold gloves than Concepcion and Trammell combined, and I give up trying to convince myself that I'm wrong.

    Vizquel has saved his pitchers who knows how many outs over his career. A lot more than Concepcion or Trammell, and that's more per inning and a lot more innings. And as one of the Derek Lowe watchers, I can tell you there are a *lot* of pitchers who just lose it when there's an error behind him. .984 FP versus .977 versus .971 means that his blow up pitchers don't have that excuse.

    And I'll go a step farther. Vizquel (according to some stats I can't access, or maybe can't access without paying) is still a great fielder. He started the season injured, but if range and reflexes and reliability in the field are meaningful, he could improve at the plate. The Giants are a team rebuilding behind some great young arms, and every out that Omar saves them from throwing keeps them healthier, keeps them likelier to throw more innings and maybe even make up that 5 game stretch. So I say Omar should keep on playing as long as he feels up to it and somebody would help him. It's absolutely clear that with Furcal down the Dodgers would be a *lot* better off with Vizquel helping the pitchers, and the Dodgers are only a game and a half out of first. If the Giants had a great prospect Vizquel was keeping benched it might be something else, but they don't.

    But what is also clear is that Trammell belongs in the HOF. OPS+ of 110 versus 88 versus 83. Better FP, DP, RFg and RFg9 compared to league average than Concepcion. And yeah, Bill Dahlen belongs in the HOF. And the other player who is really shafted is Lou Whitaker, with an OPS+ of 116 while always playing second base. Trammell was Whitaker's teammate every year Whitaker played, and Whitaker put up better offensive numbers and excellent defensive ones, but Trammell is still fighting to go into the HOF while Whitaker is forgotten.

    But if Luis Aparicio is in the HOF, with just about the same number of games in his career but 137 fewer double plays and a FP 12 points below Omar's and a slightly worse OPS+, then so does Omar. Heck, Omar's got 90 more DP, six more points of FP - naw, Ozzie's still the best. But I'm comfortable with putting a "specialist" in the HOF when he does his specialty so well that he gets to keep doing it for 20 years, even if he's only the second (or third, or fifth) best specialist of that type in baseball history. Base stealers and DHs and relief pitchers deserve enshrinement too, if they're good enough long enough. Otherwise we have to limit the HOF to just starting pitchers and good hitters.

    Here's a point never made. Balls are hit a heckuva of a lot harder during Vizquel's career than those who preceded him. It follows logically. Pitchers throwing harder, batters bigger and stronger (for whatever reason, especially for whatever reasons) hitting balls harder. Ipso facto. A shortstop during Vizquel's prime years has to have faster reflexes to compete.

    Suddenly Omar at age 41 has the best Revised Zone Rating. I guess his agility and reflexes have improved over the years. Maybe he's bionic, because every other shortstop's decline.

    If being a 9 or 10 at one skill and average (5) at the rest should get a player more HoF consideration than a guy who was an 8 or 9 in every category, then I have been campaigning for the wrong Detroit shortstop to get into the HoF. Instead of pushing Alan Trammell I will now campaign for Ray Oyler. He has a better chance to get in with that kind of logic.

    Unless there is a large difference, comparing DPs is a little unscientific. One player may have played behind a strikeout pitcher rather than a ground ball pitcher. Or he may have played on slower grass rather than a faster artificial surface.