Is Omar Vizquel a Hall of Famer?

A few weeks ago, one of the questions offered in our weekly (World Famous) StatSpeak roundtable was whether or not Omar Vizquel was a Hall of Fame worthy candidate.  My answer was no, although I must say, I based it on stats like range factor, primarily because those data go back several years and are free to look at.  But, that was before OPA!, my new Retrosheet fielding system that I developed a little bit ago.  In running the 2007 numbers for OPA!, I noted that Vizquel, even at 40 years old was the best defensive  shortstop in baseball, rating 20+ runs saved over the league average shortstop.  If he’s doing that now in the twilight of his career, it made me wonder what he was doing in the middle of his career.
I started running previous seasons’ OPA! to see what I could find.  If Vizquel was saving a lot of runs with his glove, maybe on the order that the great hitters of all-time were producing with their bats, maybe Vizquel deserved a second look.  Vizquel premiered in 1989 with the Mariners and is still going in 2008 with the Giants, and has played most of his career at shortstop (an inning in right field in a very weird game notwithstanding).  So, it’s just a matter of downloading the last 20 years worth of Retrosheet data files and running the syntax. 
It’s never that easy.  I found a small problem with OPA!  I assumed that all of the old files would be as detailed in telling us what type of batted ball a batter hit (grounder, fly ball, liner).  The problem is that this level of detail was only present from 1993-1999 and 2003-2007.  Fortunately, that’s most of Vizquel’s career, but unfortunately, that a few good years of Vizquel’s career.  Oh poop!
The OPA! syntax that I wrote treats each batted ball type separately, and while the files in the early 90’s and early 2000’s note that an out was a groundball to short or a line drive, we are left to wonder if a hit to left was a liner or a seeing eye single.  That makes a difference because in assigning blame, ground balls are easier to field than line drives.  But, even still, perhaps we can get some idea of what Vizquel’s contribution has been in this generation of shortstops with the available data.  I took the results from the years with detailed enough files.  Here’s what I found for Vizquel, starting in 1993, when the numbers become readable.
year  OPA! runs  lg rank (min 450 IP at SS)
1993  6.51           8th
1994  -0.71         12th
1995  8.96           5th
1996 -3.57           21st
1997  15.07          3rd
1998  5.13            13th
1999  22.27          3rd
2000  ???
2001  ???
2002  ???
2003  6.29           7th
2004  -5.23         30th
2005  3.29          11th
2006  -0.33        17th
2007  23.18        1st
Vizquel has had a few good years, but in most of the years that we can glimpse, he wasn’t much more than a somewhat-above-average shortstop.  Not a bad shortstop, to be sure, but not one that was completely altering a game.  In fact, in his best years he was really only worth 20 runs or so above the average fielder.  Let’s for a moment be generous and say that Vizquel was saving 20 runs above average per season with his glove, not only in those missing years, but consistently throughout all of his years in the big leagues.  In 2007, the list of players who had around 20-22 batting runs above average included Michael Young, B.J. Upton, Chone Figgins, Carlos Lee, Garrett Atkins, and Edgar Renteria.  All of them good players, most of them deserving All-Stars, but also a list of people who will probably be members of the Hall of “Oh yeah, I sorta remember him, he was pretty good,  I guess.”  Don’t believe me?  In 1987, the list of those who put up 20-22 batting runs above average included Kevin Bass, Carney Lansford, Chili Davis, Danny Tartabull, and Kevin Mitchell.  I rest my case.
Interestingly enough, in researching Vizquel’s performance, another shortstop poked his head into the mix and got me thinking, if Vizquel’s getting mention for the Hall of Fame based on his defense (as “the greatest defensive shortstop of this era”), why isn’t this other guy?  He debuted in 1990 (a year after Vizquel) and played until 2003 and like Vizquel has a career OPS+ of 83 (so both were clearly making it by on their defense.)  By about 2001, our mystery man was reduced to part-time or utility guy duty, so his numbers of total runs saved probably went down, as you can see from his 2003 numbers.  He also didn’t really start playing full time until 1992.
His numbers (and yes, I’m being evasive about who the gentleman is) in the available years:
year  OPA! runs  league rank
1993 4.05            11th
1994  6.31            9th
1995  2.19            12th
1996  8.36            8th
1997  16.90          2nd
1998  20.74          1st
1999  25.82          2nd
2000  ???
2001  ???
2002  ???
2003  0.55           21st
In the mid- to late-90s, when Vizquel was supposedly cementing his reputation as one of the game’s best defensive shortstop and winning several Gold Gloves (Vizquel won the AL shortstop Gold Glove every year from 1993-2001, then won two more in the NL with the Giants in 2005 and 2006) he wasn’t all that great and there was someone who was pretty consistently outperforming him.   For a couple years, our mystery man was actually one of the best defensive shortstops in the league, despite getting no recognition for it.  I bet that you didn’t know that about Mike Bordick.  After all, no one’s making the case for him to go into the Hall of Fame.
Oddly enough, I would love to see Omar Vizquel go into the Hall of Fame from a personal perspective.  I write these words from Cleveland where the man is still worshipped several years after he left the team.  He sure was flashy both on and off the field.  There’s the iconic picture of him leaping in the air after making a barehand-grab-and-throw that’s one of the most easily recognized images in the city.  But, over time, he just doesn’t bear out as one of the greats, even of his own era. 
So, I just can’t get behind an “Omar for the Hall” movement.  At least statistically speaking.

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2 Responses to Is Omar Vizquel a Hall of Famer?

  1. Steve says:

    So Omar magically became the best fielder at his position at Age 40, but before that he was mediocre?
    Yeah, because that happens all the time, right? 40 year olds are always great defensive SS.

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