It’s the time of the year where fans of teams remember their players far more fondly than they deserve to be remembered, aka, Hall of Fame voting season. In recent seasons, the traditional crowd has lobbied aggressively for the induction of Omar Vizquel into the Hall of Fame, an argument based largely on Vizquel’s defensive prowess. Many have dubbed him the “second best defensive shortstop of all time”, and as such believe that he deserves to be in the Hall over such players as Larry Walker and Scott Rolen. As many anti analytics people will tell you, “you just had to watch him play. He just looked like a Hall of Famer”. This argument has never ceased to baffle me, as most average viewers seem to have gained a more keen eye for player evaluation than most professional scouts with this assessment. What exactly about Omar makes him a Hall of Famer? The fact that he could make plays that most current shortstops can? His one diving play in the World Series in 1997? The 80 home runs that he hit spaced out over 24 years?
There’s an obvious anti analytical bias among players like Omar (or Derek Jeter, who I promise was not as good of a defender as you remember him being) and I know throwing out numbers like WAR and wRC+ are not only not going to change the mind of anybody who supports Omar, but will also probably get me dubbed as the worst name you could ever call somebody. A nerd. Even by the traditional stats that Omar defenders will recognize and understand, Omar is far from a Hall of Famer. The offensive stats that he was able to put up are more a product of his 24 years of play than they were of his actual offensive competence, and I don’t believe in rewarding sustained mediocrity.
Although Omar’s entire case is based on defense, I’m going to pick apart his offense first, mostly because it’s way easier to do. Trying to make a case that Omar did a respectable job as an offensive player is like trying to make a case that the Titanic did a respectable job as an unsinkable ship. His career OPS, which is simply On-base percentage Plus Slugging percentage, sits at a measly .688. If you want a single player comparison, the career of Omar Vizquel was like having 24 years of 2018 Ryon Healy or 2019 Leury Garcia, who finished each of their respective seasons with a .688 OPS. Leury Garcia’s OPS would rank an incredibly solid 130th among qualified batters in 2019, which falls deep inside the 5th page of the OPS leaderboards on Fangraphs. It takes a big stretch to make a case for anybody to be worth enough defensively to take a 5th pager into Hall of Fame consideration, and the fact of the matter is that Omar Vizquel is really just a worse version of Andrelton Simmons.
You won’t find many people who try to argue that Omar Vizquel was a good hitter. However, what you will find is a lot of people that use counting stats as a way to compare Omar to Ozzie, which is, at best, an inaccurate comparison. The most prominent argument falls under the category of “close to 3000 hits”, as his career total of 2,877 is enough to sway some voters in his direction as he was about two seasons away from the magic number. In case you didn’t pay attention to Omar’s last 5 seasons, he turned into the definition of a compiler, playing remarkably subpar baseball while recording a small amount of hits each year. If he had retired when he probably should have, after the 2007 season, he would have ended his career with a total of 2,598 hits, which would have most likely put to bed any arguments about being “close enough” to 3000. I promised to leave analytics out of it, but I can’t get over the fact that Omar’s career fWAR would have been higher had he not played the last 5 seasons of his career.
The foundation of Omar’s offensive case bears entirely on the length of his playing career, and not at all based on him ever being good. His hit total, when averaged out by season, gives you a rough number of about 119 hits per season. Even not counting his last 5 half seasons, he produced an average of about 136 per season, or the amount that Paul Dejong, Kolten Wong, and Randal Grichuk put up in 2019.
Vizquel, obviously not known for his power, averaged a robust 3.3 home runs per season, or about the same amount Zack Greinke hit in 2019. He had more than 70 RBI only twice, and scored more than 90 runs only thrice. His base stealing was reasonably good, including a 6 season stretch where he averaged 35 bags a year. In 1999, by far his best offensive season, Omar put up an .833 OPS, the only time in his career he would cross .800. By definition, Omar was a really bad hitter for most of his career, and one season out of 24 isn’t enough to save him.
Although I tried to abstain from using sabermetrics, defense is hard to quantify without using some form of advanced metrics. Fangraphs has a system to take all aspects of offense into consideration and give players an Offensive value (OFF) per season relative to both league average and park adjusted stats. They also have a method of evaluating a player’s defensive value (DEF) in a season and base that on not only defensive fielding runs above average, but also by positional value on defense. For example, a shortstop with 10 defensive runs saved (DRS) will finish with a much higher DEF than a first baseman with 10 defensive runs saved because defense from a shortstop is so much more valuable than defense from a first baseman. These ways of measuring players point to a player in today’s game that will absolutely not receive Hall of Fame consideration at the end of his career, and with whom, on a rate basis, Omar compares to very favorably: Jose Iglesias.
With all the explanations out of the way, the comparisons begin. Jose Iglesias in his brief career has compiled an OFF of -62.8 and a DEF of 78.1. Averaging that out over his 6 full seasons, you get an OFF of -10.47 per year and a DEF of 13.02 per season. Omar Vizquel, in his 24 years, averaged an OFF of -9.76 and a DEF of 10.92 per season. If you’ll notice, Iglesias ranks better in terms of average DEF per year than the second best defensive shortstop of all time. Jose Iglesias is technically a better defender than Omar was, and he even has the eye test plays to back it up! Enjoy over 5 minutes of Jose Iglesias gems.
If you asked anybody, anywhere, if they thought Jose Iglesias was a Hall of Famer, the answer would be the same in both English and Spanish: no. Remembering Omar as a Hall of Famer lends more credence to the nostalgia he brought than the statistical evidence against him. There’s a popular mindset that goes around Twitter in the age of advanced analytics in regards to the Hall of Fame cases of guys like Larry Walker and Scott Rolen, and it goes something like this; if you have to bring up every stat in the book to try justify a player being in the Hall of Fame, he probably isn’t a Hall of Famer. That argument means absolutely nothing to me first of all, because if a player can stand the Hall of Fame test against every stat, that’s like excluding them on the grounds of being overqualified. But when you have to avoid every single statistic when trying to argue a Hall of Fame case for a player, shouldn’t that mean that he doesn’t belong? The notion of “looking like a Hall of Famer” should’ve died during the Korean War.
If you were to tell me that you think Omar belongs in the Hall of Fame because he exemplified defensive excellence at an important defensive position, I would agree with you. Except, Omar is the second most overrated defensive shortstop ever, with his ballot mate Derek Jeter being the only one to surpass him in that regard. Omar made sparkling plays, was a good defender, and maybe deserved those 11 Gold Gloves he won, but Gold Gloves are about the worst thing to use to analyze defensive value of a player. For one thing, Derek Jeter won 5 of them. For another, Rafael Palmeiro won a Gold Glove in 1999 after playing 28 games at first base. Before the rise of defensive metrics, Gold Gloves were a measure of popularity and the eye test. The tricky thing about the eye test is that you only see the result and not the process that happened to get there. Jeter’s jump throw is a perfect example of this, as he only took about two steps to the ball before it got there, putting himself in the position to need to make a far more difficult play than most shortstops would. So using a Vizquel highlight tape to prove how good of a defender he is means nothing, and once that argument goes down, so does all of Omar’s Hall of Fame credentials.