Explaining Vizquel's unique HOF case

Cleveland icon not a lock like Ozzie Smith was in 2002

November 27th, 2017

CLEVELAND -- Around Cleveland, only his first name is required. Mention Omar and there is only one person who comes to mind for Indians fans. If they did not grow up watching him dazzle up the middle, they surely heard the stories of his defensive heroics from their elders.

Omar Vizquel was a wizard at shortstop for the Tribe, and there is no denying his place as one of the greatest players in franchise history. Now, select voters from the Baseball Writers' Association of America must ask themselves this question: Is Vizquel a Hall of Famer?

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To be elected, a player must appear on at least 75 percent of the ballots cast, and the results of this year's vote will be unveiled on Jan. 24 at 6 p.m. ET on MLB Network. Vizquel's case for induction rests heavily on his defensive prowess, and it might help his cause that Cardinals great Ozzie Smith is already enshrined. It is never that simple, though.

Omar vs. Ozzie

Let's start by comparing the offensive resumes of Vizquel and Smith. Over 24 seasons in the Majors, Vizquel hit .272/.336/.352, which is very similar to the .262/.337/.328 line that Smith turned in over 19 years. The 162-game average for Vizquel (33 extra-base hits, 52 RBIs, 79 runs, 22 steals and 56 walks) and Smith (31 extra-base hits, 50 RBIs, 79 runs, 37 steals and 67 walks) are also close.

Separation comes into play when considering the context of the eras in which they played. Vizquel has an 82 OPS+, which means he was 18 percent below the MLB average over his career. Smith, even with very similar rate and counting statistics, posted an 87 OPS+. Vizquel rated as above average in two of his seasons, while Smith had four such campaigns.

Among the 135 Hall of Famers with at least 4,000 plate appearances, Vizquel's OPS+ would be tied for last with Luis Aparicio and Rabbit Maranville.

Using Baseball-Reference.com's calculation of WAR, there was not only a considerable gap offensively (47.8 oWAR for Smith, compared to 32.2 oWAR for Vizquel), but also defensively (43.4 dWAR for Smith and 28.4 dWAR for Vizquel). This is not to say Vizquel's defensive WAR is subpar. In fact, it would rank eighth among all Hall of Famers. Smith's dWAR was just otherworldly, ranking first among all Hall of Famers regardless of position.

Vizquel peaked at 2.5 defensive WAR in 1993, and Smith had eight seasons of at least 2.5 dWAR in his career (his peak being 4.7 in 1989). Among Hall of Famers with at least 80 percent of their games played at shortstop, Vizquel's dWAR would rank fifth behind Smith, Joe Tinker (34.3), Aparicio (31.6) and Maranville (30.8).

Looking at overall WAR, Smith's 76.5 mark currently ranks 34th among Hall of Famers (between Robin Yount and Paul Molitor). Vizquel turned in 45.3 WAR for his career, which would rank 108th.

Among the players considered for shortstop in sabermetrician Jay Jaffe's WAR Score (JAWS), which compares players to Hall of Famers at their position, Smith ranks eighth (59.4 JAWS) and Vizquel ranks 43rd (36.0 JAWS). The average for Hall of Fame shortstops is 54.8.

Vizquel's only edge over Smith exists in the counting numbers compiled due to the former's longevity. Vizquel piled up 2,877 hits, including 456 doubles, 77 triples and 80 home runs. He scored 1,445 runs, had 951 RBIs, stole 404 bases and had nearly as many walks (1,028) as strikeouts (1,087). In those categories, Smith only topped Vizquel in steals (580) and walks (1,072 vs. 589 strikeouts).

The verdict

Vizquel won 11 Gold Glove awards and was -- without a doubt -- one of the premier defenders of his generation. He was a part of Cleveland's powerhouse '90s teams and deservedly earned a spot in the Indians' Hall of Fame in 2014. He has the sixth-most hits among shortstops and the fourth-most among switch-hitters. Vizquel also ended as baseball's all-time leader in double plays turned (1,734), games (2,709) and fielding percentage (.985) among shortstops.

So, is he a Hall of Famer?

Vizquel does not look like a first-ballot candidate, and his Hall of Fame case appears borderline at best, especially when comparing his career to Smith's and other shortstops who already have plaques. That said, the Hall is not void of light-hitting, defensive-minded shortstops. The pro-Vizquel argument, however, is probably stronger when comparing him to players like Aparicio and Maranville as opposed to Smith, a first-ballot inductee in 2002.