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Jack Morris
isn’t the
only player seeing his career burnished by friendly sportswriters trying to
make a Hall of Fame case
. The Cleveland Morning Journal‘s Jim
Ingraham is using the election of Ozzie Smith
to beat the drums for Omar
Vizquel
.

With all due respect to Ingraham, you cannot compare the achievements of the
two players. Superficially, they do seem similar: both are defensive
geniuses with decent offensive skills. However, the similarities exist more
in the mind than in reality. For example, Ingraham wrote:

"If you compare the career statistics of Vizquel to those of Ozzie
Smith you’ll find that Vizquel has a higher batting average (.274 to .262),
a higher on-base percentage (.340 to .337), a higher slugging percentage
(.351 to .328), a higher fielding percentage (.983 to .978), and a higher
postseason batting average (.250 to .236) than Smith.

"Smith has more career hits (2,460 to 1,761), more stolen bases (580 to
273), and has scored more runs (1,257 to 919), but Smith also played 800
more major league games than has Vizquel."


After making these observations, Ingraham concludes:

"Five years after he retires, Vizquel should follow Smith to
Cooperstown."


I’m not going to get into a Hall of Fame debate with the tired
"If so-and-so is in and my guy looks similar therefore he should get
in, too." (Well…I might do it a little.) What I would like to address
is the implication that Smith and Vizquel are similar as hitters.

Ingraham’s numbers, while correct, don’t tell the complete story. When
Vizquel played for the Seattle Mariners, he was basically the equivalent of
Felix Fermin (for whom he was once traded), albeit better with the
leather. Over the first six seasons of his career, Vizquel was slightly
better with the bat than Rey Ordonez is now: .254/.310/.305. Since
then, Vizquel is .286/.358/.374, a marked improvement. Nobody will mistake
him for Alex Rodriguez or Derek Jeter, but then again, Vizquel
is better than the likes of Ordonez or any flavor of Alex Gonzalez.

A .358 OBP is a nice number. If you have nine guys in your lineup with an
OBP over .350, you’re going to win a lot of ballgames. Of course, offensive
numbers have exploded since 1994: could the improvement in Vizquel’s numbers
simply be the result of rising league averages?

Over the first six years of Vizquel’s career, where he spent a good chunk
plying his defensive wizardry in a hitters’ park, the AL’s aggregate OPS was
727. Vizquel’s OPS was 615, a figure 15.4% worse than the league average.

Ouch.

That was then, this is now. The new and improved Vizquel has a 731
OPS since the strike. The AL’s OPS since then is 776. In other words,
despite still playing in a hitters’ park, Vizquel is still below the league
average offensively. To be sure, he has improved in relation to the league
(he’s now -5.6%; down from -15.4%), but he’s still a sub-par hitter.

To put that in some kind of Hall of Fame context, Lou Whitaker (a
fine glove man in his own right), was seven percent above the league average
over his entire career, and almost 12% better than the AL over his best ten
seasons. He went one-and-out on the Hall-of-Fame ballot.

How does Ozzie Smith compare to Omar Vizquel? Smith was a below average
hitter in relation to the NL over his career. (NL: .257/.321/.382. Smith:
.262/.337/.328; Smith was 5.4% worse than the league average.) Vizquel for
his career (.276/.342/.353) is 7.7% worse than the AL (.268/.336/.417). Two
quick points: one, Smith played in better pitchers’ parks (Qualcomm
Stadium/Busch Stadium) than Vizquel has (Kingdome/Jacobs Field). Two, Smith
enjoyed a seven-year stretch from 1985-91 in which he was better than the
league average, batting .278/.361/.350 in a league that was hitting
.253/.318/.377.


How do Vizquel and Smith compare? We’ll examine that using Lee Sinins’s
brainchild, Runs Created Against Position.
Smith has 188 RCAP, which means that over the course of his career, he
created 188 runs more than an average shortstop. Vizquel weighs in at five
more runs than an average SS, so Smith created 183 more runs over the
course of his career than Vizquel has.

What about peak value? We saw Vizquel’s percentages since the strike, which
have coincided with his best years. What’s Vizquel’s RCAP since the strike?
Fifty-three. Over his seven best seasons, Smith had a RCAP of 164–hardly
comparable.

Yes, you can argue that Vizquel suffers from playing in the same league as
Rodriguez, Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra, and Miguel Tejada, but
isn’t the Hall of Fame about dominance at a position? Who was more dominant
offensively in relation to his peers: Smith or Vizquel?

"Dominance at position for a prolonged period," is a vague term,
so at the risk of offending Bill James, I’ll use the following qualifiers
for Ozzie Smith’s career. Here they are with explanations:

  1. National League (because of different parks)

  2. 9,000+ plate appearances (to show "prolonged period" of
    dominance. For the record, Smith is well over the 9,000 qualifier–he had
    10,778 PA)

  3. From 1961-present (expansion era, also to show how he stacked up against
    his contemporaries)

  4. Use my favorite stat (RCAP)–using strictly offense as the guideline.

Smith’s RCAP is #1 at shortstop in the National League and fourth overall in
MLB from 1961-2001. The three players ahead of him–Robin Yount,
Cal Ripken, and Alan Trammell–padded their totals at other
positions. Smith was a full-time shortstop.

The top three offensive shortstops in the NL in the expansion era using RCAP
are Ozzie Smith (188), Dave Concepcion (136), and Larry Bowa
(-8). Smith is also second in OPS, just behind Concepcion (679 to 666).

Let’s do a quick check on Vizquel. We’ll have to lower the plate-appearance
standard to evaluate him according to his peers, because he has just over
7,000 PA:

  1. American League (because of different parks)
  2. 7,000+ PA
  3. From 1961-present

  4. Again, use RCAP as the guideline.

Vizquel ranks 22nd according to this standard, with 24 RCAP, behind such
luminaries as Freddie Patek, U.L. Washington, and Woodie
Held
. Remember when we said Smith was second in OPS using the above
qualifiers? Vizquel’s career OPS is ninth among his peers.


In short, although Vizquel’s stats look superficially comparable to Smith’s,
they’re really not. Stated another way, a .300, 30 HR, 100 RBI season is a
lot more impressive in 1968 in Dodger Stadium than it would be in 1930 at
Fenway Park. Ozzie Smith was a more dominant hitter than Vizquel has been.

Thanks to the good folks at baseball-reference.com
we can do another comparison. Ozzie Smith scores a 35 on the HOF Standards
Test (where an average HoFer score at 50; he scores 142 on the HOF Monitor,
where 100 indicates a likely Hall of Famer.

Vizquel is at 24.9 and 52, respectively.


As we’ve mentioned, "dominance at his position over a prolonged
period" is a good Hall of Fame criteria. Smith was regarded as the
finest National League shortstop from 1980-92 as evidenced by his 12
straight Gold Gloves (13 overall) and All-Star selections (15 overall) from
1981-92. Can Omar Vizquel, with nine Gold Gloves and two All-Star
selections, make such a claim? Ozzie Smith was the greatest all-around NL
shortstop in the expansion era. We can’t say that about Vizquel in the AL,
not with a straight face.

To compare Smith to Vizquel is insulting to the Wizard of Oz, and when that
comparison falls apart, so does Vizquel’s argument for being a Hall of
Famer.


John Brattain has covered
baseball for About.com, MLBtalk, Yankees.com, TOTK.com Sports, and
Bootleg Sports.