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JAWS and the 2021 Hall of Fame Ballot: Bobby Abreu

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2021 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

Bobby Abreu could do just about everything. A five-tool player with dazzling speed, a sweet left-handed stroke, and enough power to win a Home Run Derby, he was also one of the game’s most patient, disciplined hitters, able to wear down a pitcher and unafraid to hit with two strikes. While routinely reaching the traditional seasonal plateaus that tend to get noticed — a .300 batting average (six times), 20 homers (nine times), 30 steals (six times), 100 runs scored and batted in (eight times apiece) — he was nonetheless a stathead favorite for his ability to take a walk (100 or more eight years in a row) and his high on-base percentages (.400 or better eight times). And he was durable, playing 151 games or more in 13 straight seasons. “To me, Bobby’s Tony Gwynn with power,” said Phillies hitting coach Hal McRae in 1999.

“Bobby was way ahead of his time [with] regards to working pitchers,” said his former manager Larry Bowa when presenting him for induction into the Phillies Wall of Fame in 2019. “In an era when guys were swinging for the fences, Bobby never strayed from his game. Because of his speed, a walk would turn into a double. He was cool under pressure, and always in control of his at-bats. He was the best combination of power, speed, and patience at the plate.” Read the rest of this entry »


JAWS and the 2021 Hall of Fame Ballot: Billy Wagner

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2021 Hall of Fame ballot. Originally written for the 2016 election at SI.com, it has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

Billy Wagner was the ultimate underdog. Undersized and from both a broken home and an impoverished rural background, he channeled his frustrations into throwing incredibly hard — with his left hand, despite being a natural righty, for he broke his right arm twice as a child. Scouts overlooked him because he wasn’t anywhere close to six feet tall, but they couldn’t disregard his dominance over collegiate hitters using a mid-90s fastball. The Astros made him a first-round pick, and once he was converted to a relief role, his velocity went even higher.

Thanks to outstanding lower-body strength, coordination, and extraordinary range of motion, the 5-foot-10 Wagner was able to reach 100 mph with consistency — 159 times in 2003, according to The Bill James Handbook. Using a pitch learned from teammate Brad Lidge, he kept blowing the ball by hitters into his late 30s to such an extent that he owns the record for the highest strikeout rate of any pitcher with at least 800 innings. He was still dominant when he walked away from the game following the 2010 season, fresh off posting a career-best ERA.

Lacking the longevity of Mariano Rivera or Trevor Hoffman, Wagner never set any saves records or even led his league once, and his innings total is well below those of every enshrined reliever. Hoffman’s status as the former all-time saves leader helped him get elected in 2018, but Wagner, who created similar value in his career, has major hurdles to surmount. There are, though, fewer hurdles than before: In his fifth year on the ballot, his share of the vote nearly doubled, from 16.7% to 31.7%, the third-largest gain among returning candidates. His advantages over Hoffman — and virtually every other reliever in history when it comes to rate stats — provide a compelling reason to study his career more closely. Given how far he’s come, who wants to bet against Billy Wags?

2021 BBWAA Candidate: Billy Wagner
Pitcher Career Peak JAWS WPA WPA/LI IP SV ERA ERA+
Billy Wagner 27.7 19.8 23.7 29.1 17.9 903 422 2.31 187
Avg HOF RP 39.1 26.0 32.6 30.1 20.0
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

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A 2021 Hall of Fame Ballot of Your Own — and a Schedule of Profiles

My annual Hall of Fame series is well underway, and now that we’re past the Thanksgiving holiday, it’s time to launch what’s become a yearly tradition at FanGraphs. In the spirit of our annual free agent contract crowdsourcing, we’re inviting registered users to fill out their own virtual Hall of Fame ballots via a cool gizmo that our developer, Sean Dolinar, built a couple of years ago. We’re also going to use this page to lay out a tentative schedule for the remainder of the series.

To participate in the crowdsourcing, you must be signed in, and you may only vote once. While you don’t have to be a Member to do so, this is a good time to mention that buying a Membership does help to fund the development of cool tools like this — and it makes a great holiday gift! To replicate the actual voting process, you may vote for anywhere from zero to 10 players; ballots with more than 10 won’t be counted. You may change your ballot until the deadline, which is December 31, 2020, the same as that of the actual BBWAA voters, who have to scare up a postage stamp and schlep their paper ballot to the mailbox.

The ballot is here and contains all 25 candidates (sorry, no write-ins for those fixated on Pete Rose). We’ve got tables of career stats for hitters and pitchers, if that helps, as well as a checkbox that allows you to see the stats of those already enshrined. As with last year, I’ll write up the crowdsourcing results sometime in early January, when we’re all jonesing for Hall news in advance of the announcement of the official results on January 26. Read the rest of this entry »


JAWS and the 2021 Hall of Fame Ballot: Mark Buehrle

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2021 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

At a moment when baseball is so obsessed with velocity, it’s remarkable to remember how recently it was that a pitcher could thrive, year in and year out, despite averaging in the 85-87 mph range with his fastball. Yet thats exactly what Mark Buehrle did over the course of his 16-year career. Listed at 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, the burly Buehrle was the epitome of the crafty lefty, an ultra-durable workhorse who didn’t dominate but who worked quickly, used a variety of pitches — four-seamer, sinker, cutter, curve, changeup — moving a variety of directions to pound the strike zone, and relied on his fielders to make the plays behind him. From 2001-14, he annually reached the 30-start and 200-inning plateaus, and he barely missed on the latter front in his final season.

August Fagerstrom summed up Buehrle so well in his 2016 appreciation that I can’t resist sharing a good chunk:

The way Buehrle succeeded was unique, of course. He got his ground balls, but he wasn’t the best at getting ground balls. He limited walks, but he wasn’t the best a limiting walks. He generated soft contact, but he wasn’t the best at generating soft contact. Buehrle simply avoided damage with his sub-90 mph fastball by throwing strikes while simultaneously avoiding the middle of the plate:

That’s Buehrle’s entire career during the PITCHf/x era, and it’s something of a remarkable graphic. You see Buehrle living on the first-base edge of the zone, making sure to keep his pitches low, while also being able to spot the same pitch on the opposite side of the zone, for the most part avoiding the heart of the plate. Buehrle’s retained the ability to pitch this way until the end; just last year [2015], he led all of baseball in the percentage of pitches located on the horizontal edges of the plate.

Drafted and developed by the White Sox — practically plucked from obscurity, at that — Buehrle spent 12 of his 16 seasons on the South Side, making four All-Star teams and helping Chicago to three postseason appearances, including its 2005 World Series win, which broke the franchise’s 88-year championship drought. While with the White Sox, he became just the second pitcher in franchise history to throw multiple no-hitters, first doing so in 2007 against the Rangers and then adding a perfect game in 2009 against the Rays. After his time in Chicago, he spent a sour season with the newly-rebranded Miami Marlins, and when that predictably melted down spent three years with the Blue Jays, helping them reach the playoffs for the first time in 22 years.

Though Buehrle reached the 200-win plateau in his final season, he was just 36 years old when he hung up his spikes, preventing him from more fully padding his counting stats or framing his case for Cooperstown in the best light. A closer look suggests that beyond the superficial numbers, while he’s the equal or better of several enshrined pitchers according to WAR and JAWS, he’s far off the standards, and doesn’t have the peripheral collection of accomplishments to bolster his candidacy. Like Tim Hudson, he may receive a smattering of support on a ballot that’s hardly crowded, but his candidacy isn’t likely to lack staying power. Read the rest of this entry »


Charlie Morton Is the Braves’ Latest One-Year Rental

It’s often said that there are no bad one-year deals, and the Braves have made a particular habit of using them to augment their young rotations — a habit that predates Alex Anthopoulos’ arrival as their general manager. After a season in which they fell one win short of their first trip to the World Series since 1999 despite a rotation thinned out by major injuries, the Braves have been been aggressive in pursuing that short-term approach. After signing Drew Smyly to a one-year contract last week, they’ve inked Charlie Morton to a one-year, $15 million deal, the same amount of money he would have been paid in 2021 had the Rays not declined his option in late October. Though a quirk of timing caused him to miss inclusion in our Top 50 Free Agents list, he’s the first major free agent to come off the board.

Morton, who turned 37 on November 12, is coming off a regular season in which he was limited to nine starts and 38 innings due to a bout of shoulder inflammation that sidelined him for three weeks in August. The Rays kept him on a short leash, but as the postseason reminded the baseball world, that’s how they roll. Morton pitched more than five innings just once (5.2 on August 4 against the Red Sox), and he topped 90 pitches just three times, maxing out at 94. He was used similarly in the postseason, and looked quite good, particularly in a pair of scoreless starts against the Astros in the ALCS; he threw five innings and 96 pitches in Game 2, then an ultra-efficient 5.2 innings while allowing just two hits on 66 pitches in Game 7. His removal while cruising along in that latter game foreshadowed manager Kevin Cash’s ill-fated decision to pull Blake Snell in Game 6 of the World Series, though in Morton’s case things turned out in the Rays’ favor. His lone postseason dud came in Game 3, when the Dodgers roughed him up for five runs in 4.1 innings.

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JAWS and the 2021 Hall of Fame Ballot: Todd Helton

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2021 Hall of Fame ballot. Originally written for the 2019 election, it has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

Baseball at high altitude is weird. The air is less dense, so pitched balls break less and batted balls carry farther — conditions that greatly favor the hitters. Meanwhile, reduced oxygen levels make breathing harder, physical exertion more costly, and recovery times longer. Ever since major league baseball arrived in Colorado in 1993, no player put up with more of this, the pros and cons of playing at a mile-high elevation, than Todd Helton.

A Knoxville native whose career path initially led to the gridiron, ahead of Peyton Manning on the University of Tennessee quarterback depth chart, Helton shifted his emphasis back to baseball in college and spent his entire 17-year career (1997-2013) playing for the Rockies. “The Toddfather” was without a doubt the greatest player in franchise history, its leader in most major offensive counting stat categories. He made five All-Star teams, won three Gold Gloves, a slash line triple crown — leading in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage in the same season — and served as a starter and a team leader for two playoff teams, including Colorado’s only pennant winner. He posted batting averages above .300 12 times, on-base percentages above .400 nine times, and slugging percentages above .500 eight times. He mashed 40 doubles or more seven times and 30 homers or more six times; twice, he topped 400 total bases, a feat that only one other player (Sammy Sosa) has repeated in the post-1960 expansion era. He drew at least 100 walks in a season five times, yet only struck out 100 times or more once; nine times, he walked more than he struck out.

Because Helton did all of this while spending half of his time at Coors Field, many dismiss his accomplishments without a second thought. That he did so with as little self-promotion as possible — and scarcely more exposure — while toiling for a team that had the majors’ sixth-worst record during his tenure makes such dismissal that much easier, as does the drop-off at the tail end of his career, when injuries, most notably chronic back woes, had sapped his power. He was “The Greatest Player Nobody Knows,” as the New York Times called him in 2000, a year when he flirted with a .400 batting average into September.

Thanks to Helton’s staying power, and to advanced statistics that adjust for the high-offense environment in a particularly high-scoring period in baseball history, we can more clearly see that he ranked among his era’s best players, and has credentials that wouldn’t be out of place in Cooperstown. But like former teammate Larry Walker, a more complete player who spent just 59% of his career with the Rockies, Helton’s candidacy started slowly. He received just 16.5% of the vote in his first year, 3.8% less than Walker did in his 2011 debut, but thanks to a less crowded ballot — and perhaps Walker’s coattails, as he jumped 22 percentage points and was elected in his final year of eligibility — Helton rose to 29.2% last year, making the fourth-largest gain of any returning candidate. Still, he’s got a ways to go before he can join his former teammate in the Hall of Fame.

2021 BBWAA Candidate: Todd Helton
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Todd Helton 61.8 46.6 54.2
Avg. HOF 1B 66.9 42.7 54.8
H HR AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+
2,519 369 .316/.414/.539 133
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

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JAWS and the 2021 Hall of Fame Ballot: Andy Pettitte

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2021 Hall of Fame ballot. Originally written for the 2019 election, it has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

As much as Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, and Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte was a pillar of the Joe Torre-era Yankees dynasty. The tall Texan lefty played such a vital role on 13 pinstriped playoff teams and seven pennant winners — plus another trip to the World Series during his three-year run with Houston — that he holds several major postseason records. In fact, no pitcher ever started more potential series clinchers, both in the World Series and the postseason as a whole.

For as important as Pettitte was to the “Core Four” (Williams always gets the short end of the stick on that one) that anchored five championships from 1996 to 2009 — and to an Astros team that reached its first World Series in ’05 — he seldom made a case as one of the game’s top pitchers. High win totals driven by excellent offensive support helped him finish in the top five of his leagues’ Cy Young voting four times, but only three times did he place among the top 10 in ERA or WAR, and he never ranked higher than sixth in strikeouts. He made just three All-Star teams.

Indeed, Pettitte was more plow horse than racehorse. A sinker- and cutter-driven groundballer whose pickoff move was legendary, he was a championship-level innings-eater, a grinder (his word) rather than a dominator, a pitcher whose strong work ethic, mental preparation, and focus — visually exemplified by his peering in for the sign from the catcher with eyes barely visible underneath the brim of his cap — compensated for his lack of dazzling stuff. Ten times he made at least 32 starts, a mark that’s tied for seventh in the post-1994 strike era. Within that span, his total of 10 200-inning seasons is tied for fourth, and his 13 seasons of qualifying for the ERA title with an ERA+ of 100 or better is tied for first with two other lefties, Mark Buehrle (a newcomer to this year’s ballot) and CC Sabathia. He had his ups and downs in the postseason, but only once during his 18-year career (2004, when he underwent season-ending elbow surgery) was he unavailable to pitch once his team made the playoffs.

Even given Pettitte’s 256 career wins, he takes a back seat to two other starters on the ballot (Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling) who were better at missing bats and preventing runs, and who also had plenty of postseason success. Both of those pitchers have reasons why voters might exclude them from their ballots even while finding them statistically qualified, and the same is true for Pettitte, who was named in the 2007 Mitchell Report for having used human growth hormone to recover from an elbow injury. Between those dents and dings and the additional presence of both Roy Halladay and Mike Mussina, Pettitte received just 9.9% in his 2019 ballot debut, and even on a less crowded slate, his share only increased to 11.3% last year. He seems unlikely to make much headway towards 75% barring a significant change in the electorate’s attitudes towards PEDs.

About those wins: Regular readers know that I generally avoid dwelling upon pitcher win totals, because in this increasingly specialized era, they owe as much to adequate offensive, defensive, and bullpen support as they do to a pitcher’s own performance. While one needn’t know how many wins Pettitte amassed in a season or a career to appreciate his true value, those totals have affected the popular perception of his career.

2021 BBWAA Candidate: Andy Pettitte
Pitcher Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Andy Pettitte 60.2 34.1 47.2
Avg. HOF SP 73.3 50.0 61.6
W-L SO ERA ERA+
256-153 2,448 3.85 117
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

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JAWS and the 2021 Hall of Fame Ballot: Tim Hudson

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2021 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

At the turn of the millennium, on the heels of six straight sub-.500 seasons, the Oakland A’s enjoyed a competitive renaissance. From 2000 to 2003, they averaged 98 wins per year, good for a .606 winning percentage that ranked second in the majors, an eyelash behind the Mariners (also .606 but with one more win in that span). They made the playoffs in all four of those seasons, three by winning the AL West, and they did it all despite shoestring budgets that regularly placed their payrolls among the majors’ bottom half-dozen. The ability of general manager Billy Beane to exploit market inefficiencies in crafting a low-cost roster gained fame via Michael Lewis’ 2003 book Moneyball, but underplayed in a tale that emphasized on-base percentage, defense, and quirky, misfit players was a homegrown trio of starting pitchers — Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito — who were central to the A’s success. Drafted out of college, the “Big Three” asserted their spots among the AL’s top pitchers despite a lack of overpowering stuff.

The oldest of trio was Hudson, a skinny, undersized righty (generally listed at 6-foot-1 and 160 pounds) who relied on his low-90 sinkerball to generate a ton of groundballs, as well as a diving split-fingered fastball, slider, and change-up to miss bats and keep hitters off balance. An Alabama native who was drafted out of Auburn University in the sixth round in 1997, Hudson reached the majors just two years later, and quickly emerged as a frontline starter able to shoulder annual workloads of 200-plus innings, belying his modest frame. In a 17-year career with the A’s (1999-2004) and later the Braves (2004-13) and Giants (2014-15), Hudson helped his teams reach the postseason nine times, but both the pitcher and those teams experienced more than their share of hard luck in October. Only at his final stop, in San Francisco, did Hudson’s teams even make it to the League Championship Series, but in 2014, he was a key component of the Giants’ World Series-winning squad.

Though he made four All-Star teams, received Cy Young consideration in four seasons, and won well over 200 games while cracking his league’s ERA and WAR leaderboards seven times apiece, Hudson does not have an especially strong case for Cooperstown, particularly once one looks beyond the superficial numbers. While he’s expected to receive a smattering of support from BBWAA voters in a year where the ballot traffic is comparatively minimal relative to recent cycles, he might not even draw the 5% needed to remain on the ballot. Even so, his outstanding career is worthy of review. Read the rest of this entry »


Canó’s PED Suspension Has a Silver Lining for Mets

Not too long ago, Robinson Canó appeared to have a real shot at becoming the first second baseman to reach the twin milestones of 3,000 hits and 400 home runs, as well as an eventual berth in the Hall of Fame. In May 2018, however, while playing for the Mariners, he drew an 80-game suspension after testing positive for a banned diuretic. Now, as a member of the Mets following a blockbuster trade that has thus far looked like a flop, he’s drawn another suspension for violating the game’s joint drug agreement. As his second offense, this one will cost him the entire 2021 season as well as all of his $24 million salary. That’s a situation that could benefit the Mets, who under new owner Steve Cohen are already primed to be one of the winter’s more aggressive teams.

It’s the latest bum note for Canó in his second tour of New York. Acquired from the Mariners on December 3, 2018 along with Edwin Díaz and cash in exchange for a five-player package headlined by first-round picks Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn, the former Yankees star was limited to 107 games due to hamstring and quad injuries in 2019. Both his 93 wRC+ and 0.8 WAR represented his worst numbers since 2008, and the deal looked even worse due to Díaz’s collapse; the pair’s underperformance probably cost the Mets a Wild Card berth, as they finished with 86 wins, three fewer than the lower Wild Card seed, the Brewers. Adding insult to injury, Eric Longenhagen placed Kelenic 11th on his Top 100 Prospects list in the spring, the same ranking that both Baseball America, and MLB.com gave him.

Canó did fare better in 2020. Though he served a 10-day stint on the Injured List due to a groin strain in early August, he hit .316/.352/.544 while tying for second on the team with 10 homers, and placing fourth via both his 141 wRC+ and 1.3 WAR. It wasn’t nearly enough to help the Mets, who sputtered to a 26-34 record and a fourth-place finish in the NL East. Read the rest of this entry »


JAWS and the 2021 Hall of Fame Ballot: Omar Vizquel

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2021 Hall of Fame ballot. Originally written for the 2018 election at SI.com, it has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.
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In the eyes of many, Omar Vizquel was the successor to Ozzie Smith when it came to dazzling defense. Thanks to the increased prevalence of highlight footage on the internet and on cable shows such as ESPN’s SportsCenter and Baseball Tonight, the diminutive Venezuelan shortstop’s barehanded grabs, diving stops, and daily acrobatics were seen by far more viewers than Smith’s ever were. Vizquel made up for having a less-than-prototypically-strong arm with incredibly soft hands and a knack for advantageous positioning. Such was the perception of his prowess at the position that he took home 11 Gold Gloves, more than any shortstop this side of Smith, who won 13.

Vizquel’s offense was at least superficially akin to Smith’s: He was a singles-slapping switch-hitter in lineups full of bigger bats and, at his best, a capable table-setter who got on base often enough to score 80, 90, or even 100 runs in some seasons. His ability to move the runner over with a sacrifice bunt or a productive out delighted purists, and he could steal a base, too. While he lacked power, he dealt in volume, piling up more hits (2,877) than all but four players who spent the majority of their careers at shortstop and are now in the Hall of Fame: Derek Jeter (3,465), Honus Wagner (3,420), Cal Ripken (3,184), and Robin Yount (3,142). Vizquel is second only to Jeter using the strict as-shortstop splits, which we don’t have for Wagner (though we do know the Flying Dutchman spent 31% of his defensive innings at other positions). During his 11-year run in Cleveland (1994–2004), Vizquel helped the Indians to six playoff appearances and two pennants.

To some, that makes Vizquel an easy call for the Hall of Fame, and as his candidacy heads into its fourth year, he looks as though he’s on his way. In his 2018 ballot debut, he received 37.0% of the vote, a level of support that doesn’t indicate a fast track to Cooperstown but more often than not suggests eventual enshrinement. In the two cycles since, he’s climbed to 42.8% and then 52.6%, the last of those particularly significant; current candidates aside, every player who’s reached 50% except for Gil Hodges has eventually been elected, either by the writers or by a small committee.

These eyes aren’t so sure Vizquel’s election is merited. By WAR and JAWS, Vizquel’s case isn’t nearly as strong as it is on the traditional merits. His candidacy quickly became a point of friction between old-school and new-school thinkers and only promises to be more of the same, as though he were this generation’s Jack Morris. [Update: As if his case needed another polarizing factor, shortly after this article was published, it came to light that in October, Vizquel’s second wife, Blanca García, accused him of domestic violence via an Instagram live post. Further updates below.]

2020 BBWAA Candidate: Omar Vizquel
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Omar Vizquel 45.6 26.8 36.2
Avg. HOF SS 67.5 43.1 55.3
H HR AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+
2,877 80 .272/.336/.352 82
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

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