In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, MLB.com is presenting a series of roundtables, debating the best players from various Latin American countries. Today’s topic: the best players from Venezuela.
Alyson Footer, moderator/editor: I’ve been looking forward to this debate, given the load of talent we’ve seen come from Venezuela over time. While Luis Aparicio is currently the only Venezuelan native in the Hall of Fame, that’s going to change dramatically in the next several years. Miguel Cabrera is a first-ballot shoo-in, and Félix Hernández will appear on the ballot in the not-so-distant future. Then we have Jose Altuve and Ronald Acuña Jr. on the horizon after that. For now, though, I’m guessing we’re all in agreement that Miggy is the best Venezuelan player, ever? Discuss.
Anthony Castrovince, reporter/columnist: No question. On the short list of the greatest right-handed hitters ever.
Sarah Langs, researcher/analyst: I think so! No disrespect to Aparicio. But 500+ HR, 3,000+ hits, a Triple Crown…
Efrain Ruiz, Editorial Producer, Las Mayores: Yes, there is not really a question here. Easy one, all due respect to Mr. Aparicio.
Footer: This topic is fun in that in another decade we may be fighting over Miggy and Acuña.
Langs: I love the horizon, though. Acuña’s start to his career is along the lines of HOFers, if we look at adjusted stats. I cannot WAIT to discuss in 10 years.
Castrovince: Acuña has been pretty clearly compromised in coming back from the knee surgery this year. And yet, even in a down year, he has managed to be provide above-average production for a great team. But hopefully next year it's back to the MVP-caliber performance we've come to expect.
Of all the players I have been around in my time covering baseball, Miggy is just on another level in terms of his approach to hitting and reading opposing pitchers. An absolute savant.
Ruiz: We could throw in a thousand stats and facts, but I like these two: Cabrera, Hank Aaron and Albert Pujols are the only players in MLB history with 3,000 hits, 500 home runs and 600 doubles. And he is one of just seven players with 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. And, among Venezuelans, he is the leader in home runs (506, 107 more than Andres Galarraga), hits (3,081), doubles (607), runs (1,529), RBIs (1,842), slugging (.524), OPS (.909) and OPS+ (142), way above Bobby Abreu (128).
Miggy also has 12 All-Star Games, two MVP Awards, four batting titles and is the only Triple Crown winner since 1967 -- at least for the next two weeks, since this guy Aaron Judge who plays for the Yankees (have you heard of him?) may join him soon. Miggy might not be too far ahead of the pack in WAR (Baseball-Reference's version) as people might think -- 67.9 against 60.2 for Abreu and 55.9 for Aparicio -- mainly because his production was pretty much limited to his mighty bat. Still, this one in not really close.
Castrovince: Miggy has hinted at this possibly being his last season (even though he's still under contract next year). If he does hang 'em up, that would be one heck of a Hall of Fame class with Pujols, who as we discussed the other day has a pretty strong argument as the greatest player ever from the Dominican Republic.
Ruiz: That will be a very loud day in Cooperstown, Anthony.
Castrovince: Wave those flags!
Langs: My favorite part of Miggy is simply his transformation. From that kid on the Marlins' 2003 World Series team, to someone who we’re celebrating for all of these cumulative stats. That kind of staying power is so impressive and so important.
Footer: It doesn't hurt that he has one of the more lovable personalities in baseball. Very gif-y.
Ruiz: Totally, especially the second half of his career.
Footer: What will Acuña need to do to make this a real argument two decades from now?
Castrovince: Just 2,500 more hits or so...
Ruiz: Stay on the field, which Miggy was able to for a long time, playing at least 148 games in each season from 2004 to 2016, with 2015 being the only exception.
Castrovince: Exactly, Efrain. Acuña is the more dynamic player in terms of what he can do in the field and more specifically on the basepaths. But that also makes it more difficult to post up the way Miggy did for so long.
Langs: Certainly win an MVP award or two. And just as someone who loves watching Acuña play, I can’t wait for him to win the World Series and not be sitting on the bench recovering from an injury, but instead getting his moment with a great catch and a crucial leadoff home run. He needs those signature moments. I know he already has plenty of them! But gaining even more, now that the team won the World Series last year without him.
Ruiz: Then, sustained production, which is harder than staying on the field. I love Acuña and his potential, but the road is still long. We always like to compare players in the first so many years of their careers -- who hit more home runs through 25 years old, etc. -- but the hard thing is always keeping it going.
Castrovince: We haven't really discussed another active player who could be Cooperstown-bound, and that's Altuve. He won't surpass Miggy as the greatest player from Venezuela, but he's 32, is already an eight-time All-Star, is closing in on 2,000 hits, almost 600 extra-base hits, and, while some people will understandably be hung up on the Astros' cheating scandal (even though we have reason to believe he wasn't caught up in that) he's been a vital member of a consistent winner.
Ruiz: At 32 years old, Altuve just passed Omar Vizquel in WAR (45.9 to 45.6) and from what he has shown this year, it sure looks like there is plenty left in the tank. I really think he has a chance to challenge Cabrera’s WAR total if he can stay healthy. Four 200-hit seasons, three batting titles, an MVP Award, the 2019 ALCS MVP, eight All-Star Games, the 2017 World Series... Yes, there is the whole Astros controversy, but there is good evidence that he basically did not use that cheating system and he actually hit way better on the road (.381/.449/.633) than at Minute Maid Park (.311/.371/.463) in 2017.
Castrovince: By the way, though Aparicio is the only Venezuelan currently in the Hall, there is an argument for Dave Concepcion to at least be in the Cooperstown conversation. Nine All-Star appearances, five Gold Gloves, two Silver Sluggers, two World Series with the Big Red Machine.
Langs: And Johan Santana! A peak years HOFer -- for sure.
Ruiz: Santana's peak was something else, definitely.
Between 2004 and 2009, Santana was able to say something that maybe only Cabrera could say among Venezuelan players: That he was the best player in baseball -- or in this case, the best pitcher. Think about it. Aparicio was great but never the best player in baseball. Abreu, same thing. Hernández? Yeah, maybe the best pitcher for a short time. During that period between 2004 and 2009, among pitchers with at least 1,000 innings pitched, Santana lead the Majors in WAR (39.0), wins (99), ERA (2.86), ERA+ (154), strikeouts (1,335) and WHIP (1.046). Johan Santana should be a Hall of Famer.
Castrovince: As I scroll through the list of players from Venezuela, there are quite a few of those Hall of Very Good types -- Johan, Abreu, King Félix, K-Rod, Carlos Zambrano, Vizquel...
It's hard to make a full-throated endorsement for any of them for the Hall, but they had great careers.
Ruiz: Yeah, the hard thing here is picking from 2 through 5.
Castrovince: This turned out to be purely anecdotal, but I did see more people making Abreu's case in print and online last winter. His vote percentage went from 8.7 to... 8.6. So it didn't amount to anything. But he's got seven more tries. In fact, we did a roundtable on his case!
Ruiz: Abreu sure has SOME numbers.
Reached base 3,979 times, hit 921 extra-base hits, and stole 400 bases in 2,425 games
Reached base 3,955 times, hit 763 extra-base hits, and stole 319 bases in 2,440 games
Player A is Abreu. Player B is Tony Gwynn.
Not saying Bobby is a Hall of Famer, because I think the "Fame" factor, for whatever reason, is missing, but he was great player.
Castrovince: Yeah, while I'm still personally iffy on Abreu as a Hall of Famer, I do have to say his case was stronger than I had assumed without really delving into the numbers. And the internet has power to it! So with the benefit of seven more years on the ballot, perhaps he'll see a surge of support.
Ruiz: Numbers stay forever, that's true, but narratives shift. Among Venezuelans, Abreu has a better WAR than everyone but Miggy, and he’s five points ahead Aparicio.
Castrovince: When you look at the list of players from Venezuela and rank it by WAR, the surge in talent coming from there just in the last couple of decades really stands out. I was fortunate to cover Victor Martinez when he came up in Cleveland, and he's another of those Hall of Very Good guys. Just a tremendous switch-hitting presence for a very long time.
Langs: Magglio Ordóñez is another -- what a great hitter in his day. And a very fun player to watch.
Footer: Let’s rank your top five Venezuelan players. Go!
Castrovince: 1. Miggy, 2. Aparicio, 3. Altuve, 4. Johan, 5. King Félix.
I expect Acuña to be on my list when all is said and done. And I think Altuve’s going to end up in Cooperstown.
Langs: 1. Miggy, 2. Aparicio, 3. Santana, 4. Altuve, 5. King Félix.
I will have Acuña here one day for sure. I have Altuve here because I fully expect him to make the Hall of Fame.
Ruiz: 1. Miggy, 2. Aparicio, 3. Santana, 4. Abreu 5. Altuve. Aparicio is the only one in the Hall, he helped change the game by bringing back speed, was a marvelous defender at a key position and came through at a time when things were not easy for Latinos or African Americans. Altuve still has a real chance to get all the way to the top if he can stay healthy.