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The Peak-less Wonder: Omar Vizquel and the Hall

Omar Vizquel is still plugging along in what seems like his 113th season. He isn’t any good at this point, but it wasn’t all that long ago that he was still a defensive standout at shortstop. He was so good in his prime that some people think he should (and will) eventually be inducted into the Hall of Fame. I disagree. Vizquel’s case is particularly relevant to the issue of “peak value,” something we occasionally discuss with regard to players with shorter careers like Sandy Koufax or Duke Snider. That isn’t to say that a player has to be as good as Koufax or Snider to get in the Hall, it is simply to say that players in the Hall should have a truly great peak. Vizquel does not.

If you want to read about traditional counting stats, MVPs, All-Star selections, Gold Gloves, and stuff like that as baselines for the Hall of Fame, you’ve come to the wrong place. As you might expect, here at FanGraphs we like to discuss these matters in terms of Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Nor am I going to be discussing whether or not Vizquel will make it into the Hall of Fame, only whether he should.

Let me also make clear that I’m not denying that Omar Vizquel was a very good Player. He was a poor hitter (only four seasons at league average [100 wRC+] or better], but he wasn’t completely useless at the plate, either. He added value on the bases. And, of course, he was a tremendous defender at the toughest position behind the pitcher. Naturally, much of his case rests on how good you think his defense was.

As you probably know (or will know if you read the linked article above) WAR puts all of these numbers together to give a picture of the player’s total value. Generally, average Hall of Famers have total career WAR around 60. Vizquel’s total is 48.3. That falls short of the rough baseline, but that’s not really the issue I’m here to discuss today. After all, if a player had, say, six seasons of eight wins, I’d be more friendly to his induction (although it would be dicey). This isn’t the case with Vizquel (Johnny Damon is a similar case).

We want “greatness” in the Hall of Fame. On its own, “greatness” is a vague term. But let’s start by remembering the basic notches on the WAR scale: 0 = AAA scrub, 1 = bench player 2= league average, 3-4 above average 5-6 great seasons, 8 average Pujols season. Now let’s look at Vizquel’s career: one season over six WAR, and no others even over four. Even with his glove, according to TotalZone and UZR, Vizquel was very good for a long time, but only really “great” in one season (1999). Due to that one season, calling Vizquel “The Peak-less Wonder” is a bit unfair, but compared to what we really look for in a great “peak” (something around three seasons of at least six WAR, at the least), it isn’t that impressive. Indeed, let’s say you think that the defensive metrics have underestimated Vizquel’s fielding. Let’s say they were off by one win in each of his best 10 seasons, and add that in. That would bring Vizquel close to 60 wins. Even with that sort of help, I still don’t think he should be in. He would have one season at about seven wins, and still wouldn’t have any others over five wins. Vizquel had some good seasons, and has lasted a long time, but I don’t really think “accumulation” is enough for the Hall.

To the WAR graphs! The “nth best season” graphs give a sense of each player’s relative peak value. First, let’s look at the Hall of Famer with whom Vizquel is most often compared, another “all-glove, no-hit” shortstop that pretty much everyone agrees is deservedly in the Hall.

As you can see, Vizquel only has one season that compares to Ozzie Smith‘s three best, and while Ozzie has a number of seasons over 5 wins, as discussed above, Vizquel wouldn’t still only have that one season even we added a win to each of his best ten seasons.

To finish up, let’s compare Vizquel to some of his teammates on the late-1990s Cleveland teams.

Of the three other former Cleveland players on this graph, two are “yes, but” cases for the Hall, and the other is probably not thought of as a Hall of Famer. All three of them, at least according to WAR, have a far better case than Vizquel. Manny Ramirez‘s idiosyncratic nature, controversial incidents, and awesome hitting ability have been discussed too many times for me to add to it here: you know both the “for” and “against” cases. I think he should be in. I also think Jim Thome should be in: his hitting easily outweighs his defensive limitations.

The most interesting case to me is Kenny Lofton‘s. His peak value and career value blow away Vizquel’s, but also compares quite well with Ramirez and Thome’s. Yet he gets very little hype as a potential Hall of Famer relative to the other three (maybe I’ve missed it). If you want to make a Hall of Fame case for an under-appreciated Cleveland star from the 1990s, Lofton is far more worthy than Vizquel.