JAWS and the 2024 Hall of Fame Ballot: Omar Vizquel and Francisco Rodríguez

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2024 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.

The fourth and final multi-candidate pairing of this series is by far the heaviest, covering two candidates who have both been connected to multiple incidents of domestic violence.

Omar Vizquel (19.5% in 2023)

2024 BBWAA Candidate: Omar Vizquel
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Omar Vizquel 45.6 26.8 36.2
Avg. HOF SS 67.7 43.2 55.5
2,877 80 .272/.336/.352 82
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

In the history of Hall of Fame voting, no candidate, not even the increasingly inflammatory Curt Schilling, has taken a fall on the scale of Omar Vizquel. Three years ago, the 11-time Gold Glove winner and career leader in games played at shortstop appeared to be trending towards election, having received 52.6% on the 2020 ballot, in his third year of eligibility. While there was plenty of room to quibble over his candidacy on a performance basis — despite his Gold Gloves, the defensive metrics do not hold him to be the second coming of Ozzie Smith, nor do the park- and league-adjusted offensive metrics — that wasn’t what stopped his march to Cooperstown in its tracks.

In the process of updating his profile for the 2021 ballot, I discovered that in October 2020, Vizquel’s second wife, Blanca García, accused him of domestic violence via an Instagram live post. García, who was in the midst of divorcing Vizquel, showed documents from 2016 and ’17 pertaining to a charge of fourth-degree domestic violence assault filed on January 18, 2016, by which point Vizquel was on the coaching staff of the Tigers. The broadcast, and to that point the reporting of the allegations, had all been in Spanish.

Within weeks, The Athletic’s Katie Strang and Ken Rosenthal published an in-depth investigation unearthing records not only of that 2016 charge but of García’s description of another incident of violence from five years earlier. Through an attorney who spoke to The Athletic, Vizquel denied all allegations of domestic violence, and in at least one interview with a Venezuelan news outlet, denied García’s assertion that she was later pressured into signing a letter saying, “I do not believe I was assaulted,” and requesting that the charges be dropped. While many voters had already cast their ballots by the time The Athletic published its findings on December 16, Vizquel’s share of the vote slipped to 49.1%.

That wasn’t the end of the unpleasant and shocking allegations. In August 2021, a former batboy for the Birmingham Barons sued Vizquel for sexual harassment that took place in 2019, when he was managing the White Sox’s Double-A affiliate. The former batboy, who has autism, alleged that he was “targeted for sexual harassment because of his disability,” and offered a graphic account of Vizquel’s behavior. Though the parting had been publicly portrayed as amicable, with director of player development Chris Getz (now the White Sox general manager) citing him as “a positive influence,” The Athletic’s Strang and James Fegan reported — and the White Sox confirmed — that an internal investigation had led the team to suspend Vizquel with pay and then fire him at the end of the season.

Vizquel is no longer in legal jeopardy; his divorce has been finalized, and he and the White Sox both reached confidential settlements with the batboy in 2022. His Hall of Fame candidacy has not recovered, however. In 2022, his share of the vote plummeted to 23.9%; his 25.2% drop was the largest in electoral history. He sank to 19.5% on the 2023 ballot.

In addition to being chockfull of players connected to performance-enhancing drugs — some suspended by Major League Baseball, others alleged to have used the drugs at a time before MLB could do so — recent Hall of Fame ballots have included several candidates accused of domestic violence. Ballot newcomer José Reyes is the only one who drew a suspension under MLB’s Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy, which was created in 2015, but Vizquel and other candidates current (Andruw Jones, Manny Ramirez, and Francisco Rodríguez) and past (Barry Bonds, Carl Crawford, and Sammy Sosa) might have all faced suspensions had the policy been in place during their playing careers.

Where the connection to PEDs derailed the candidacies of Bonds and Sosa (neither of whom was ever suspended by MLB) and have done so thus far for the twice-suspended Ramirez, voters have not uniformly decided that allegations or convictions for domestic violence matters are disqualifying. Speaking for my own ballots, I voted for Sosa once, Bonds twice, and am about to vote for Jones for the fourth time; with 58.1% last year, his sixth on the ballot, he has a reasonable shot at election by the writers. I can certainly understand voters choosing to rule out such candidates out on these grounds, whether or not they have a firsthand connection to someone whose life has been affected by domestic violence, and whether or not they put stock in the so-called character clause.

Indeed, it’s here I must mention the “integrity, sportsmanship, [and] character” section of the voting rules. Until Mark McGwire landed on the 2007 ballot, it was never really used to exclude anyone; meanwhile, the various electoral bodies have admitted a parade of spitballers, sign-stealers, racists, cheaters, and abusers. The clause was the brainchild of Kenesaw Mountain Landis, a man who brimmed with such integrity that he spent his entire 24-year term as commissioner upholding the game’s shameful color line. The history of that hypocrisy and so many others — witness the election of Bud Selig, himself steeped in the collusion of the 1980s as well as the overseeing of the so-called Steroid Era — leads me to avoid putting any stock in the clause, which isn’t to say that I don’t have my own ways of dealing with the darker aspects of players’ candidacies, such as my “Wild West”/testing era distinction when it comes to PED allegations.

Vizquel may be the test case for the electorate when it comes to domestic violence. Some have asked why his allegations have cost him votes despite other candidates with past allegations, such as Jones, faring better. A few possibilities come to mind, and they’re not necessarily exclusive. One is that while the allegations did not surface until after he became a candidate, once they did, they shattered the “good guy” reputation that was a certain part of his appeal. Another is that it’s the combination of two different categories of allegations, where a single one might be easier to overlook. A third is the baseball connection, in that the sexual harassment allegation specifically pertains to Vizquel’s workplace conduct while serving as a team employee. What’s more, MLB opened investigations into both matters, and while the league might not be able to discipline Vizquel on either one unless he’s hired again, the possibility of him receiving substantial punishment may deter teams from doing so. Some combination of these factors may be deterring voters from including him as well.

As noted, there’s room to find fault with Vizquel’s candidacy even while sticking to a performance-only viewpoint. His longevity-driven counting stats and reputation for great defense are offset by his modest advanced statistics. He’s 46th in JAWS among shortstops, below both current candidate Jimmy Rollins at no. 34 and Rabbit Maranville, the lowest-ranked Hall shortstop, at no. 40. Those rankings have fallen since he first became eligible, but his relative standing even at that point was enough to keep him off my ballot long before all of this ugly stuff came to light.

You can read more about Vizquel’s career, his performance, and the details regarding the aforementioned allegations within his 2023 profile here.

Francisco Rodríguez (10.8% in 2023)

2024 BBWAA Candidate: Francisco Rodríguez
Francisco Rodríguez 24.2 24.4 14.7 21.1 976 437 2.86 148
Avg HOF RP 39.1 30.1 20.0 29.7
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

From the profile:

Francisco Rodríguez was the October Surprise. As the Angels went on their 2002 postseason run, they introduced a secret weapon out of their bullpen, a 20-year-old Venezuelan righty with an unholy fastball-slider combination and the poise of a grizzled veteran despite him having all of 5.2 major league innings under his belt. Often throwing multiple innings and quickly graduating into a setup role in front of closer Troy Percival, Rodríguez set a number of records, including one for the most strikeouts by a reliever in a single postseason (28) while helping the Angels to their first (and to date only) championship in franchise history.

Though he endured some growing pains at the major league level, by 2004 Rodríguez was an All-Star, and from ’05-08 he led the American League in saves three times, setting a still-standing single-season record with 62 in the last of those campaigns. His mid-90s fastball and mid-80s slider befuddled hitters, while his demonstrative antics — “a melange of pirouettes, fist pumps and primordial screams,” as one writer put it — sometimes got under their skin.

Rodríguez cashed in via free agency, signing a three-year, $37 million deal with the Mets, but he was rarely the same pitcher he’d been in Anaheim. He made three more All-Star teams, but was arrested twice, once for assaulting his girlfriend’s father (and tearing ligaments in his thumb in the process) and once for domestic abuse. He pled guilty to the former and attended anger management classes, while the charges for the latter were dropped when the woman left to return to Venezuela. Both incidents likely would have interrupted his career to an even greater degree had they occurred after Major League Baseball and the Players Association adopted its domestic violence policy in 2015.

Inevitably, teams kept paying Rodríguez to pitch, and by the time his 16-year career was over, he ranked fourth on the all-time saves list, behind Hall of Famers Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, and Lee Smith, and ahead of the five other enshrined relievers. That standing, as well as his number 12 ranking in R-JAWS, makes him [the 2023] ballot’s only newcomer besides Carlos Beltrán who has a plausible Hall of Fame case…

More here.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky @jayjaffe.bsky.social.

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5 months ago

With Vizquel, part of why his case tanked so hard in my opinion is that a certain level of intangibles was baked into the case, and when the various indicidents came to light, it took — if not more — that little extra bit that carried him onto many ballots. Basically, he needed the help of his reputation to carry him over the top, and once that tanked, so did his candidacy.

With Jones, there’s less of a pattern of horrific abuse, and he was already dealing with a negative reputation due to his time in LA. His personal reputation wasn’t what was “carrying” his case.

Despite some very impressive save statistics, K-Rod never seemed to have a real chance at the HOF. Frankly, his electric debut put a lot of expectations around him, and the perception in general seems to be one of him being a disappointment. Even when racking up a record amount of saves, he rarely had that feeling of inevitability that of Rivera, Hoffman, Wagner, et al. His case, for many voters, was likely worse than Vizquel’s (on a strictly baseball basis). So he didn’t need the “help” from his awful off-the-field incidents to tank an already sketchy case.

Cool Lester Smoothmember
5 months ago

Yeah, K-Rod was already on the wrong side of the Nathan line before being exposed as a truly awful person.