My article on Omar Vizquel's Hall of Fame candidacy published a couple weeks ago drew quite a bit of feedback, which can mostly be separated into two categories. The first and more important is what we all expect: The rapidly growing debate over just how good Vizquel was with the glove, and the corresponding, broader-scope question of how much the glove is worth relative to the bat, particularly for a shortstop. The second is best summarized by a poster on the Baseball Think Factory: “This dude has a seriously weird man-crush on Jay Bell.” Let's address both those questions at once.
First, I never want anyone to think I'm advancing Jay Bell as a serious candidate for the Hall of Fame. Bell is the player that draws the line: If you were better than Jay Bell, you probably belong in the Hall of Fame, and if you weren't, you probably don't. No Hall discussion is ever quite that simple, but it's a fine place to start, as we'll see shortly.
The Hall of Fame voters have, overall, done a fine job selecting shortstops. As far as mistakes go, they've made two glaring omissions. One, Bill Dahlen, a legit superstar in the late 19th century who towers over other candidates in any kind of sophisticated statistics. He's a very close match for George Davis, probably about 95% as good as Davis; George Davis was voted into the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1998, about sixty years late, thanks mostly to Bill James' book The Politics of Glory, which discussed in detail what a great player he was. But, to be perfectly honest about this, I don't really care whether or not they put Bill Dahlen in the Hall of Fame, and neither do you. Not a soul on earth remembers him. His career ended a hundred years ago.
The other glaring omission, then, is really the only serious mistake the BBWAA has made, and that, of course, is Alan Trammell. Setting Dahlen aside, Trammell is easily the best shortstop not in the Hall of Fame, and it's a near-guarantee that at some point, some version of the Veteran's Committee will rectify the voters' horrendous mistake. (This is another article, but as the BBWAA has been circling the wagons to battle against the slide-rule math nerds, their Hall of Fame decision-making, which was quite strong up through the mid-1990s, has been deteriorating.)
Among the guys who are in the Hall of Fame and shouldn't be, there are three glaring mistakes, all Veteran's committee mistakes: Joe Tinker, Travis Jackson and Phil Rizzuto. Using any of these three men as a comparison to argue someone's case for the Hall of Fame is ridiculous and should backfire in any intelligent argument. All in all, though, the list of shortstops in and out of the Hall of Fame doesn't make for a bad record, and it will look better once Trammell's ticket is punched.
Now, let's take a look at the candidates. Our goal here is to rank the best shortstops who are not in the Hall of Fame right now, and see where our friend Omar ranks among them, to get a feel for his candidacy.
First, the easy stuff. Here's how all shortstops not currently in the Hall of Fame, including active players and excluding Bill Dahlen, rank according to career WARP3:
Alex Rodriguez 142.3
Alan Trammell 123.2
Barry Larkin 122.2
Dave Concepcion 108.4
Omar Vizquel 107.5
Tony Fernandez 106.1
Derek Jeter 102.2
Bert Campaneris 98.6
Jay Bell 92.0
Now let's compare that to some Hall of Famers of interest:
Ozzie Smith 138.5
Rabbit Maranville 101.1
Luis Aparicio 98.9
Dave Bancroft 88.2
There are three obvious Hall of Famers on the list above, which comes as no surprise to anyone. I wonder how much trouble Barry Larkin's going to have getting into the Hall? Also, please note Ozzie Smith's career WARP3 total, which shows that he's a no-questions-asked Hall of Famer, and refrain from using him as a basis of comparison for guys like Vizquel. Vizquel was nowhere near the fielder or the hitter Ozzie Smith was.
Now, Alan Trammell and Barry Larkin had nearly identical overall career value, but in reality, Larkin was a significantly better player. Trammell had the longer, steadier career, but Larkin had a spectacular peak, and research by Bill James and others shows that given the choice, you want the spectacular peak, because it's more likely to result in flags that you can fly over your stadium long after the player is retired and/or dead.
So, while the raw career value totals are a good place to start, we need to factor in how they're distributed. A player who produces 7 WARP3 a year for 12 years is not as valuable as a guy who produces 11 WARP3 a year for four years and 5 WARP3 a year for the other eight.
In this particular case, a glance at each player's career helps divide them into the categories of “guys who amassed value by having a bunch of good years” and “guys who amassed value by having some great years”:
Bunch of Good Years:
Some Great Years:
Derek Jeter (assuming for our purposes his career ends today)
Ozzie Smith, Barry Larkin and Alan Trammell qualify in both categories, which is what makes them Hall of Famers.
These are to varying degrees, of course, but it helps us focus the argument a bit. WARP3 accounts for defense, but perhaps it doesn't account for it enough; let's imagine that it does not, just for the sake of it, and give a further little bump to the guys who played a really good short, who in this case are Concepcion and Fernandez and, we'll assume, Vizquel, even though his defensive stats aren't as good as theirs.
This, then, is the list of the best shortstops in history, excluding Bill Dahlen, who are not in the Hall of Fame.
1. Alex Rodriguez
Rodriguez, if his career ends today, is the third-greatest shortstop who ever played the game. He'll pass Cal Ripken for the #2 spot with another 4-5 quality years, and if he shows good longevity he has an outside shot at Honus Wagner for #1. (Rodriguez is at 142.3 career WARP3, Ripken at 170, Wagner at 200; the number one player in history is Barry Bonds, at 241 and counting.) And before you get all snotty and point out Rodriguez is a third baseman, let me reassure you that his plaque in Cooperstown will say he was a shortstop. Did you know Ernie Banks played more games at first base than shortstop? How do you remember him?
2. Barry Larkin
Larkin's going to do better in the voting than Trammell did—maybe he'll get residual credit for ushering in the Rodriguez/Jeter era or something—but I really don't know that he's going to go in first-ballot like he ought to. Larkin probably ranks 7th or 8th among all shortstops all-time.
3. Alan Trammell
The Hall of Fame's lack of Alan Trammell is a mockery of a sham of a travesty.
4. Derek Jeter
At this point it's safe to say, with certainty, that if Derek Jeter's career ends today he will be elected to Cooperstown in 2012. And he deserves it.
I don't think anyone can put up much argument with that list. Now we get into the guys that we all enjoy bantering about:
5. Tony Fernandez
Fernandez, like Trammell, got barely any attention when he hit the ballot, but once the four obvious guys above him go in, he will be the best shortstop not in the Hall of Fame. Fernandez would have been a Hall of Famer with one more great season, but he didn't quite get there, and
I couldn't support his candidacy, or that of anyone below him on this list.
Shortstop is very well-represented in the Hall of Fame. I said at the beginning of this article that Jay Bell was the player that draws the line between Hall of Fame and Hall of Very Good, but having dug through the various very good shortstops, I'm convinced Tony Fernandez is the
man we're looking for on that score. Bell was much better than you think, but I have him down a couple slots here.
6. Dave Concepcion
Looking at career stats, Concepcion and Vizquel are almost a dead match both with the bat and with the glove, but their careers have different shapes. Vizquel has hung around forever, but Concepcion had six seasons better than Vizquel's best, which was a (for a Hall of Famer) middling 8.2 WARP3. I still don't advocate his selection, but Concepcion's candidacy is stronger than I've given it credit for in the past.
7. Bert Campaneris
8. Jay Bell
It's very, very close between Campaneris and Jay Bell. As you know, I have a seriously weird man-crush on Jay Bell, so I really wanted to rank him ahead here. And he has a case: Campaneris had more good seasons (five years with 8+ WARP3, including a 9.9 and a 9.3, and two more over 7), Bell had three great seasons (11.2, 10.7 and 9.7, and none of them was his fluky 38 HR season, since you asked; the 10.7 was his one year in Kansas City) and three other good ones (over 7). That's a dead heat, and looking at their defensive stats doesn't help, either. Both of them were very good defensive shortstops, in my opinion just as good as Omar Vizquel. I'm going to give Campaneris the edge only because he stayed at shortstop longer than Bell did. Arizona moved Bell to second base one year after acquiring him, even though the stats don't bear out any reason why he needed to move off short. Either it was because he bulked up and got too slow (the year he moved to second was the 38 HR year) or Arizona made a mistake. I'm going to assume the former, and give Campy the photo finish.
9. Omar Vizquel
Yes, Omar is well ahead of Campaneris and Bell in career WARP3 or career whatever-stat-you-want-to-use, Win Shares or Zone Ratings or just plain hits, whatever. But that's because Vizquel has been good enough to play forever, while never being good enough to be an MVP candidate, as Campy and Bell were in their better years. Vizquel's career, as I studied in depth in my previous article, was a roller coaster, featuring a few very good years, a few atrocious ones, and mostly just-above-mediocrities. FRAR/FRAA and Win Shares both rate his glove as good-not-great, about even with guys like Bell and Campaneris and distinctly inferior to Tony Fernandez and Dave Concepcion, who had a few years when he was truly great with the leather.
Take it all together, and there's simply nothing to recommend Vizquel over any of these guys above him. This is where he rates; no one else in history that I can find really should rate ahead of him. His election to the Hall of Fame—and for the record, I think he eventually will be elected—won't be quite as bad a mistake as Phil Rizzuto's, but it will be a mistake.
Comparing these guys to some Hall of Famers that Omar's supporters often bring up, Rabbit Maranville and Luis Aparicio: My opinion is that Dave Concepcion was probably better than Luis Aparicio, and Tony Fernandez was definitely better. Maranville was really substantially similar to Vizquel, maybe 10 percent better on the surface, but Vizquel gets the nod in my book on account of facing significantly stronger competition.
In my last article, I identified Jay Bell as a guy whose Hall of Fame candidacy was really stronger than Vizquel's. I took that a step further by describing Bell as “probably the best [eligible] shortstop not in the Hall of Fame other than Trammell”. I stand by my assertion that Bell was a better player than Omar Vizquel. He was. Having more exhaustively looked at the issue, I think the best eligible shortstop not in the Hall is Tony Fernandez. I landed on Bell because I was studying Vizquel's career, which overlaps Bell's best seasons.
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