Sunday Notes: Omar Vizquel Tips The Scales of Justice

Hall of Fame debate season is upon us, and subjectivity is inherent in the process. For every no-brainer candidate there are always several for whom a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down is largely in the eye of the beholder. Pushing bias aside — not always an easy exercise — one must weigh a ton of factors. Think “The Scales of Justice,” but with WAR, win totals, and DRS taking the place of a blindfold, a balance, and a sword.

Cutting to the chase, Omar Vizquel — arguably the most-polarizing player on the current ballot — probably deserves to be enshrined in Cooperstown. Attempting to not clumsily put a thumb in my eye while stating his case, I hereby offer the following statistical facts:

Vizquel ranks 43rd all-time with 2,877 hits. Nine of the 10 players directly below him on that list — Brooks Robinson among them — are in the Hall of Fame. The one who is not is Harold Baines. Vizquel had more hits as a shortstop than did Cal Ripken.

Vizquel has 3,727 total bases. That is more than the career totals of Edgar Martinez (3,718), Andruw Jones (3,690), Lou Whitaker (3,651), Mark McGwire (3,639) and Scott Rolen (3,628).

Vizquel had 7.676 assists as a shortstop, third-most in history behind Ozzie Smith and Luis Aparicio. He ranks first in both double plays and fielding percentage (minimum 6,000 innings). Official scorers charged him with just 183 errors.

Vizquel holds the record for most big-league games played as a shortstop. His 2,709 games at the position — a position near the top of the defensive spectrum, no less — ranks right in front of Derek Jeter’s 2,674. Vizquel played more games at shortstop than Ernie Banks and Lou Boudreau combined.

Here is a list of the players with the most defensive games at each position:

C: Ivan Rodriguez, 1B: Eddie Murray, 2B: Eddie Collins, SS: Vizquel, 3B: Brooks Robinson, LF: Barry Bonds, CF: Willie Mays, RF: Roberto Clemente.

With the exception of Vizquel and Bonds — a first-ballot selection were in not for extenuating circumstances — all of those players have been voted into the Hall of Fame. Is Vizquel the least-accomplished of the bunch? That is probably the case, but just how much should it matter?

Playing in the big leagues is hard. Playing in the big leagues long enough, and effectively enough, to accumulate high-number counting stats is harder. Far harder. Thus the conundrum; how exactly should one weigh counting stats vis-a-vis rate stats when assessing Hall of Fame worthiness? Again, subjectivity is inherent in the process. Lady Justice is an allegorical personification.

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It came out before he was born, so there’s a decent chance Nick Northcut isn’t familiar with the King Crimson album “Discipline.” He maybe should be. The 19-year-old Red Sox prospect approaches hitting — and life — in much the same way Robert Fripp approaches his guitar stylings. Northcut is all about technical expertise and structure, yet not afraid to explore boundaries.

Had he not signed with the Red Sox this summer as an 11th-round pick, he would have gone to Vanderbilt as a two-way player. He originally committed to the SEC powerhouse as a pitcher, but then his “hitting started taking off a little bit” and the Commodores changed their tune. Not that it ultimately mattered. With third base and hitting now his “bread and butter,” he decided to go pro.

Bypassing college to chase his dream wasn’t necessarily an easy decision. Education is important to the artistically-inclined family from Mason, Ohio. Northcut’s father has a doctoral degree and is a professor in the music department at the University of Cincinnati. His mother has a master’s degree and gives private flute lessons.

The apples didn’t fall far from the tree. Northcut plays the guitar, while his younger sister — “the one with the most talent in the family” — was runner up for Annie, on Broadway, when she was nine years old. As the proud older sibling put it, “She’s chasing her dream as well.”

Northcut’s dream chasing began this summer in the Gulf Coast League, and later with the short-season Lowell Spinners. His right-handed stroke is built for power, and the hitters he tries to learn from bear that out. He name-checked Josh Donaldson and Manny Machado when I asked who he most keeps his eyes on. Not surprisingly, he admires Joey Votto as well.

As for the approach he’s taken into pro ball, that circles back to the mathematical precision found in much of Fripp’s work, as well as what he learned watching his parents play.

“Coming from the background that I do, I learned at a young age to do things like a professional,” Northcut told me. “I was knee high to a grasshopper, going to my parents’ concerts and watching people take care of their business. They stuck to their routines and performed. They were disciplined. That’s what I try to be, but at the same time, you have to let yourself have fun. You have to play this game with a man’s mind and a kid’s heart.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Minnie Minoso went 7 for 8 against Bunky Stewart.

Ping Bodie went 7 for 20 against Boardwalk Brown.

Bingo Binks went 7 for 32 against Bobo Newsom.

Johnny Gooch went 7 for 30 against Johnny Couch.

Skeeter Newsome went 7 For 34 against Spud Chandler.

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Frank Howard and Larry Sherry were Dodgers teammates from 1958-1963. They were later rivals, “Hondo” slugging for the Senators, Sherry pitching for the Tigers. How did they do when matched up against each other? Glad you asked. Howard went 5 for 6 with four home runs against Sherry.

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Steven Brault led this column two Sundays ago, at least to the extent that he offered some opinions and his name was in the title. As much as anything, the subject at hand was Shohei Ohtani and future of two-way players. Brault’s ability to hold his own with the bat — and more than hold his own in the quote department — gave him top billing in the piece.

This week we hear from Pittsburgh left-hander on a different subject: himself. More specifically, his pitching self. Brault made a career-high 45 appearances for the Pirates this year — five of them starts — and went 6-3 with a 4.61 ERA. I asked him how he goes about attacking hitters.

“What makes me effective is when I attack the zone and just have fun with it,” responded the anthem-singing southpaw. “I can’t nibble. I’m not a Tom Glavine, a guy with pinpoint accuracy, but I do hide the ball well and kind of make people uncomfortable. When I’m good, I’m tapping into that and saying, ‘Hit this.’”

For Brault, hiding the ball well isn’t a contrived talent. It’s his natural motion.

“I throw like a weirdo, I guess,” Brault said with a shrug. “That’s always been one of my things. My fastball is faster than it is.”

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NEWSY STUFF

Kieran Lovegrove, who led last Sunday’s column, has signed a minor-league deal with the San Francisco Giants. Lovegrove spent his first seven professional seasons in the Cleveland Indians organization.

October 21st’s column noted that NPB’s Seibu Lions were amenable to posting Yusei Kikuchi. Earlier this week, Seibu announced that the 27-year-old southpaw will be posted in early December.

Geelong-Korea is off to a 1-7 start in their first Australian Baseball League season. On Saturday, they were obliterated by the Perth Heat, losing by scores of 15-2 and 23-2. Tim Kennelly, who played in the Phillies system from 2005-2012, went 7 for 10 with two doubles, a triple, and two home runs for the Heat in the double-dip slaughter.

The eighth annual SABR Analytics Conference will be held March 8-10, 2019 at the Hyatt Regency, in Phoenix. All fans are welcome to attend, and information can be found here.

Joe Siddall has been inducted into the Baseball Ontario Hall of Fame in the Player category. Currently a member of the Blue Jays broadcast team, Siddall caught for the Montreal Expos, Florida Marlins, and Detroit Tigers from 1993-1998.

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A random 50-year-old snapshot of the pitcher with the most career appearances (545) in Detroit Tigers history:

On August 20, 1968, Tigers southpaw John Hiller threw a one-hit shutout against the White Sox. Three days later, the Scarborough, Ontario native came out of the bullpen to throw nine scoreless innings against the Yankees in a game that ended in a 3-3, 19-inning tie.

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An addendum to last Sunday’s look at “The Walking Man”:

In 1956, Washington Senators third baseman Eddie Yost had a .231 batting average and a .412 on-base percentage. In one nine-game stretch that year he went 4 for 27 with 17 walks.

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Prompted by a recent Twitter post by Adam Darowski (@baseballtwit) a J.D. Drew story:

Section 40 at Fenway Park is in the lower bleachers, right behind the Red Sox bullpen. I watched a large number of games from there in 2007, and a constant was the loud jeering of Drew from a fan seated a few rows behind me. He called him Nancy, and despite being an obvious Red Sox fan, reveled in the right fielder’s every failure.

In Game 6 of that’s year’s ALCS — a must-win game for the Red Sox — Drew came up to bat in the first inning with two outs and the bases loaded. I said to the friend sitting next to me, “If Drew hits one out, I’m turning around and telling The Nancy Guy to go F himself.”

Drew drove the ball out to give the Red Sox a 4-0 lead, and I did as promised. The fan, with whom I’d never before interacted, predictably responded with a stunned look. I proceeded to explain myself, at which point he admitted that the crude admonishment was very much deserved.

The Red Sox proceeded to win that game, and the next day they triumphed in Game 7. Drew then slashed .333/.412/.467 in the World Series. Apparently appeased, “The Nancy Guy” henceforth quit dogging Drew.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

Over at Our Game, John Thorn wrote about how the sky Is falling, baseball is dying, and the roof may leak.

Ashley MacLennan wrote about the reality of the blockbuster contract at Bless You Boys.

Tom Dakers paid homage to erstwhile Blue Jays and Angels sidearmer Mark Eichhorn at Bluebird Banter.

Over at The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Derrick Goold explored several off-season options for the Cardinals, including Paul Goldschmidt and a bevy of lefty relievers.

Kaz Matsui has walked into the sunset, and Jim Allen wrote about his long and illustrious career at jballallen.com.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

(The first two items in this week’s list come courtesy of Aidan Jackson-Evans, who is a great follow on Twitter if you enjoy this kind of baseball esoterica.)

Bruce Chen is the only player in MLB history to have a 1.000 batting average in as many as three seasons. Playing in the DH-less American League, the itinerant southpaw went 1 for 1 in 2006, 2009, and again in 2010. Two of those three hits came against Livan Hernandez.

Ron Mahay holds the record for most seasons with a 1.000 winning percentage. The journeyman reliever, who pitched from 1997-2010, had six such seasons. His records in those loss-free campaigns were 5-0, 3-0, 3-0, 3-0, 2.-0, and 2-0.

Glenn Williams played in 13 big league games — all with the Minnesota Twins in 2005 — and hit safely in all of them. The native of New South Wales, Australia went 17 for 40 while setting the obscure record he still holds. No other player in MLB history has appeared in more than three games and recorded a hit in each one.

Adrian Beltre batted .286 with 237 home runs and an .820 OPS in home games. He batted .286 with 240 home runs and an .818 OPS in away games.

Stan Musial had 3,630 hits — 1,815 in home games, and 1,815 in away games.

From 1911-1918, Brooklyn first baseman Jake Daubert batted .310 and struck out 310 times in exactly 4,000 at bats.

Terry Mulholland had three hits in his first 71 at bats. He then had three hits in his next five at bats. He followed that up with… three hits in his next 71 at bats.

Mariano Rivera made 96 post-season performances and allowed 86 hits in 141 innings. His post-season ERA was 0.70.

Brian Doyle slashed .161/.201/.191 in 214 plate appearances over parts of four big league seasons. He went 7 for 16 for the New York Yankees in the 1978 World Series.

In 1903, Pittsburgh Pirates left-hander Ed Doheny went 16-8 with a 3.19 ERA. That September, while his team was playing in the first modern World Series, Doheny suffered a nervous breakdown. He was subsequently committed to an asylum, and remained institutionalized for the remainder of his life.

We hoped you liked reading Sunday Notes: Omar Vizquel Tips The Scales of Justice by David Laurila!

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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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seels24
Member
seels24

David, I love your writing, but I don’t know how you can make a legitimate argument about Vizquel and the hall of fame. He was never one of the best at his position in the league. He averaged about 2.5 WAR per 162 games, which I’d imagine would have him at or near the bottom of any hall of famer. Even guys universally recognized as bad picks like Rabbit Maranville and Bill Mazeroski edge him out by a fair amount. He received MVP votes in one year — an 8th place vote in 1999. His JAWS is 42nd for a shortstop.

I truly do not understand the Vizquel argument. Compilation numbers are weird since he was basically a replacement level player for significant points in time in his career. He would immediately be the worst non Veteran’s Committe pick ever. People like to compare him to Ozzie Smith, but Vizquel wasn’t in Ozzie’s world defensively, was a significantly worse base runner, and a worse hitter. Omar is just a dude that stuck around way longer than he should have.

FrancoLuvHateMets
Member
FrancoLuvHateMets

Right, comparing him to Ozzie isn’t fair because Ozzie had a peak where he was elite for basically 8 years. Omar had one great season and was average for 15 years.

sadtrombone
Member
sadtrombone

Omar Vizquel stands in a league of his own in terms of compiling appearances without providing a ton of value: He’s 15th in PAs since 1960, but only had one season with an fWAR higher than 4. The biggest reason, as far as I can tell, is a career ISO is .080.

It’s almost impossible to find a player who played so long without also having a somewhat high peak, because players (mostly) decline as they get into their mid-30s. So the guys who put up 10,000+ PAs are often guys who were so good in earlier eras they could hang around…their diminished skills were still good enough to play. That’s the story of guys like Biggio (and Jeter, too)–tons of PAs, but that was partially because they were so good that they could hang around in diminished form and still be good enough MLBers (the icon status probably didn’t hurt either, but still…). Vizquel was never that dominant, but just hung around anyway (he had about 1200 PAs at the end where he was below-replacement, but so did guys like Paul Molitor).

baubo
Member
baubo

Vizquel has absolutely zero merit being in the Hall of the Very Best Players. But I think it’s arguable that he should be in a Hall of Fame. I have no opinion one way or another in regards to a compiler vs peak performance, but Vizquel during his playing career definitely stood out, even for a young NL fan growing up in the 90s as myself.

But then usually whenever I see a “is he a HOFer” I think yes so I’m definitely more lenient than most people.

The Great Cust
Member
The Great Cust

Many people tend to misuse WAR and implicitly accept it as the definition of baseball value. The goal of baseball is to win games, and value is defined in this context as a player’s contribution to winning ball games. It is impossible to quantify exactly how much a player contributes . Remember when catcher framing was “discovered” a few years ago? What if a similar “discovery” were made regarding hitting, one that completely changed our perspectives on how we value hitters?

Take, for example, a perceptive hitter who could figure out if a pitcher was tipping his pitches a la Chase Utley; I don’t know how to run the numbers on it, but intuitively, this hitter would benefit his team greatly by helping his team’s hitters read the pitcher as well as help his pitching staff be more deceptive. Or what if a player had the ability to butter up the umpire so as to get one or two beneficial calls per game? Or what if, dare I say it, a player’s personality or leadership actually DID affect his team? These types of value are impossible to quantify though logically they could be very substantial.

The game is played by humans, it is officiated by humans, and it was created by humans. The beauty of humanity is in its imperfection, in that our faculties of cold logic can only approximate this strange and immeasurably complex reality we are born into. This is what makes sabermetrics so wonderful, as the impossibility of perfect valuation ensures that there will always be new ways to analyze the game.

With regard to the Hall debate, the logical conclusion is that we need to rely on the good ‘ol eye test and educated observers, and I didn’t see Omar Vizquel enough to give a decent opinion.

soddingjunkmail
Member
soddingjunkmail

Seels24:
The argument is that compiling stats over a long career is a legitimate path to the hall. Now, I don’t know if I subscribe to that argument, but that’s the case Vizquel has. And to be fair, the voting guideline is sufficiently vague to allow for such an argument:

“Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”

And for clarity (and before the avalanche of downvotes arrives), I’m not saying I’d vote for him, only that it’s possible to construct an argument consistent with the voting rules.

stan
Member
Member
stan

Maybe if they had a special hall for best defenders? However, he wasn’t even as good defensively as fellow nominees Scott Rolen and Andruw Jones and isn’t in shouting distance of them offensively. The fact that Vizquel got so many votes last year while Jones and Rolen struggled makes me seriously question the validity of the voting system. Rolen and Jones are borderline candidates, its true. However, Vizquel shouldn’t even have stayed on the ballot.