SweetSpot: Omar Vizquel
Jose Iglesias moves to Detroit in the trade and everyone knows Iglesias isn't anything near the .330 hitter he's been for the Red Sox. After a luck-fueled hot start, Jonah points out he hit .176 over his final 21 games with the Red Sox.
Iglesias wasn't acquired for his bat, of course, but his glove. The guy I compare him to is Omar Vizquel, as both have those wonderful hands and aesthetic beauty in the field. My question: Could Iglesias ever develop at the bat like Vizquel did? When Vizquel came up with the Mariners, he was, like Iglesias, a magician on defense with no physical strength at the plate. In his first three seasons with Seattle, Little O hit .230/.290/.283 with just four home runs in nearly 1,200 plate appearances. That's about what you would expect from Iglesias moving forward considering his .257/.307/.314 line in the minors.
Vizquel slowly improved, however. From ages 25 to 27, which covers his final two years in Seattle and his first in Cleveland, he hit .273, albeit still with little power. At 28, he hit six home runs and 28 doubles, and then from 1996 through 2002 he hit .287/.358/.388, averaging 41 extra-base hits per season. His OPS+ of 93 was still below the league average hitter, but certainly acceptable for a good defensive shortstop.
Ozzie Smith was a similar case as well. Through age 26 he hit .231/.295/.278. Traded to St. Louis and helped by the turf at Busch Stadium, his batting averages improved and he eventually topped out at 40 doubles one season.
One big difference between Vizquel and Smith and Iglesias, however: Both of them showcased a better walk rate. Smith was at 7.7 percent through age 26 and averaged over 10 percent every season except one from ages 27 trough 37. Vizquel was at 7.4 percent through age 26 and averaged 9.4 percent over the next decade. Iglesias owns a 4.7 percent walk rate so far in his major league career (6 percent in the minors). That plate discipline and bat control eventually helped them to become better hitters, as well post respectable on-base percentages.
I did a quick search on Baseball-Reference.com of players since 1969 who had at least 1,500 plate appearances through age 25 and an OPS+ of 75 or lower (where 100 is a league average hitter). How many of them developed into decent hitters? Here's the list of 23 players with their OPS+ through age 25 (Iglesias is 23) and then their career OPS+ in parenthesis.
Dick Schofield, 75 (73) ... became utility guy in his late 20s
Alex Gonzalez I, 74 (79) ... power but low OBPs
Rey Quinones, 74 (74) ... out of majors at 25
Terry Pendleton, 74 (92) ... NL MVP in 1991, runner-up in '92
Rod Gilbreath, 74 (74) ... out of majors at 25
Eddie Leon, 74 (69) ... last full season at 26
Carlos Gomez, 73 (89) ... breakthrough season at 26
Alex Gonzalez II, 71 (79) ... 157 career HRs, low OBPs
Omar Vizquel, 71 (82) ... 2877 career hits
Spike Owen, 71 (83) ... not much power but took some walks
Julio Cruz, 71 (71) ... second baseman with speed, no pop
Cesar Izturis, 69 (63) ... still hanging around
Ozzie Guillen, 68 (69) ... never improved, swung at everything
Alfredo Griffin, 68 (67) ... once drew four walks in 140 games
Glenn Hoffman, 67 (68) ... utility guy by age 25
Ozzie Smith, 67 (87) ... better than average OPS+ in four seasons
Roger Metzger, 67 (69) ... five career HRs in 4201 at-bats
Jerry Royster, 66 (76) ... had a few decent years as utility guy
Tom Veryzer, 65 (61) ... last year as regular at 26
Andres Thomas, 64 (61) ... epitome of bad Braves teams of late '80s
Tim Foli, 63 (64) ... Lots of these no-hit '70s shortstops here
Jack Wilson, 61 (76) ... Had 64 extra-base hits with Pirates at 26
Enzo Hernandez, 56 (61) ... Infamously had 12 RBIs in 618 PAs in '71
Not surprisingly, almost all these guys were shortstops. The two who developed the best at the plate were the two who didn't play shortstop or second base -- third baseman Pendleton and center fielder Gomez. Pendleton hit .240 at age 24 and .239 at age 25 with the Cardinals but later went to the Braves and won a batting title and hit 22 and 21 homers his two big seasons. We know the Gomez story.
Looking at the others, however, you can see that Vizquel and Smith are unique cases. Iglesias' glove should still make him a valuable asset for the Tigers, but I would bet against him becoming even a minor threat at the plate.
You can read the whole post and reader comments here. That idea leads me to Omar Vizquel, who is winding down the final days of his 24-year career. It's actually fairly easy to construct a Hall of Fame framework for Vizquel: Any position player with at least 10 Gold Gloves is clearly one of the greatest fielders of all time and merits a Hall of Fame selection purely on his fielding ability. The list of those with at least 10 Gold Gloves:
Brooks Robinson, 16
Ozzie Smith, 13
Ivan Rodriguez, 13
Roberto Clemente, 12
Willie Mays, 12
Omar Vizquel, 11
Keith Hernandez, 11
Johnny Bench, 10
Mike Schmidt, 10
Ken Griffey Jr., 10
Al Kaline, 10
Roberto Alomar, 10
Andruw Jones, 10
Ichiro Suzuki, 10
Most of those guys are already in the Hall of Fame or will eventually get elected. OK, you'd have to include Keith Hernandez (who peaked at 10.8 percent of the vote but was a fine player and MVP winner) and Andruw Jones (Willie Mays-like in center field and has more than 400 home runs).
So that wouldn't be so bad. We have to include the "10 Gold Gloves" corollary, because you once you get below that you start getting to names like Don Mattingly and Torii Hunter (nine Gold Gloves) or George Scott, Mark Belanger and Frank White (eight apiece), players who don't really fit a Hall of Fame profile.
Of course, Vizquel's Hall of Fame currency doesn't solely reside on his defense. You could add a few other things:
1. Played more games at shortstop than any other player.
2. Ranks 41st on the all-time hits list (2,874) and 78th all time in runs scored (1,444).
3. Key member of six division winners with Cleveland.
4. .272 career hitter with more than 400 stolen bases, so not a complete zero on offense.
There are probably a few other things you could add on his ledger, but those are the big ones.
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When Vizquel joins the ballot in a few years, his candidacy -- like the one with Morris -- will spark an intense debate, divided among old-school purists and new-school statheads. When it comes to career Wins Above Replacement, Vizquel does not fare particulary well: His 40.6 Baseball-Reference WAR, while higher than some of the more marginal Hall of Famers, is well-below the general threshold of most Hall of Famers.
Compared to his contemporaries at shortstop, Ozzie was a little more productive at the plate: 44.5 offensive Wins Above Replacement compared to Vizquel's 27.8. Compared to an average hitter of his time, Smith was 119 runs below average over his career while Vizquel was 243 runs below average. Of course, this gets back to the steroid era argument. Vizquel is being evaluated against all those big hitters (and players at his position that included Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra and Miguel Tejada), while Ozzie gets Garry Templeton and Shawon Dunston.
Still, this brings the argument back to Vizquel's fielding. How good was he? Baseball-Reference does rate him as a superb fielder, 29th among all players since 1947 in runs saved and fifth among shortstops (behind Belanger, Ozzie, Cal Ripken and Luis Aparacio). Belanger (240 runs saved) and Ozzie (239 runs saved) rank second and third overall behind Brooks Robinson. You may not like advanced fielding metrics, but it's hard to argue with the rest of Baseball-Reference's top-10 list: Jones, Clemente, Adrian Beltre, Carl Yastrzemski, Mays, Ripken and Barry Bonds. Maybe you don't recognize Belanger's name, but he was the shortstop for the Orioles during the Earl Weaver dynasty years, a tall, think shortstop with great range but even less of a bat than Ozzie or Omar. He won those eight Gold Gloves despite a .228 career average, so was certainly recognized as a great fielder during his time.
Even if you believe the metrics underrate Vizquel a bit, is there enough there? Even at his peak, he was the fifth-best shortstop in the American League. He received MVP votes just once in his career (16th in 1999), which isn't a reason to dismiss him entirely, but doesn't equate with a player viewed in his own time as one of the best in the league (Ozzie once finished second in the MVP vote).
Vizquel's longevity, while unique, doesn't increase his value; he just managed to hang a long time. Since turning 40, he's scratched out 400 more hits while batting just .250/.305/.310. Many voters will cite his career hits total, but that ignores that he hung on for six seasons as basically a replacement-level player.
Two more issues to raise. Personally, I would find it hard to see Vizquel as a Hall of Famer while Alan Trammell (67.1 career WAR) remains unelected. Any easy rule for any Hall of Fame debate: Is he the best player at his position not in the Hall of Fame? But Trammell doesn't have that one signature element to his career like Omar ("Best shortstop other than Ozzie!") and besides he'll be off the ballot in four years.
Finally, there are players like Jones and Hunter, who nobody seems to really consider as Hall of Fame-caliber even though they were regarded as terrific fielders (remember, Hunter has won nine Gold Gloves) and contributed more at the plate than Vizquel, even for their positions. What makes Vizquel a better candidate than them?
You can probably see where my opinion sits. It's been an amazing career, no doubt; as someone who watched him when he first came up with Seattle, I can guarantee you that there wasn't one Mariners fan who believed Little O would someday turn into a Hall of Fame candidate. I actually think he will get elected after a few years on the ballot.
Maybe Jack Morris will be sitting behind at the induction ceremony.
1. Not only can Glanville wax poetic about pitchers and defense and youth baseball, but he’s a French toast connoisseur!
2. The theme of Thursday’s baseball was obviously the terrific starting pitching, but we also discuss relief usage and the great Omar Vizquel.
3. Emailers chime in with more thoughts about strange uses for baseball ballparks, as well as thoughts on Miami’s new home and players appearing in the most games in a season.
4. Mark and I pick teams for yet another draft, choosing which teams will win the most games this season. Which side do you like? Listen and check the results on our show home page!
5. With a big weekend of baseball pending, we preview the big series and tell you where you can find baseball on ESPN and ESPN Radio!
So download and listen to Friday’s excellent Baseball Today podcast, and enjoy your baseball this weekend!
88.2 IP, 49 H, 15 R, 14 ER, 27 BB, 77 SO, 2 HR, 1.44 ERA
That's the collective work of Thursday's 14 starting pitchers. Eleven of the 14 allowed one run or zero runs. Justin Verlander and Roy Halladay affirmed their status as baseball's top pitchers with eight scoreless innings each. Justin Masterson and Ryan Dempster each struck out 10. Clayton Kershaw, with his own claim as baseball's best, started despite a bad case of the flu and still pitched three scoreless innings before exiting. Johnny Cueto shut down the Marlins on three hits over seven innings.
Starting pitchers: Dominant.
Hitters: Still working on their timing.
The bullpens weren't quite as effective, leading to an exciting ninth inning in Detroit as Jose Valverde, a perfect 49-for-49 in save opportunites in 2011, blew a 2-0 lead; Kerry Wood couldn't hold a 1-0 lead for the Cubs, walking three consecutive batters; and Cleveland's Chris Perez collapsed in a flurry of walks and hits to surrender a 4-1 lead. That blown save eventually led to Toronto's 7-4 victory in 16 innings, the longest Opening Day game in history.
Baseball, welcome back.
If anything, the dominant form of the pitchers raises the obvious question: Will offense decline again in 2012? Check out the runs-per-game totals in recent seasons:
Of course, one day -- especially when guys named Verlander, Halladay, Kershaw and Jon Lester are pitching -- doesn't signify anything. Still we had three shutouts and nearly had two others. That isn't necessarily unusual, as there were many days in 2011 with three shutouts and May 14 with six such games. Still, three of the seven games were shutouts and we nearly had four 1-0 games.
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Fun fact of the day: In the bottom of the 12th inning the Indians put runners at the corners with one out. Blue Jays manager John Farrell brought in Omar Vizquel as a fifth infielder. Technically, since he replaced Eric Thames, Vizquel was listed as a left fielder, just his second major league appearance as an outfielder. The first one came in a remarkable game in 1999. The Indians scored 10 runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, capped by Richie Sexson's three-run homer off Troy Percival, to take a 14-12 lead against the Angels. Due to various moves in that inning, Vizquel moved from shortstop to right field in the ninth inning.
Fun fact No. 2: There were two previous 15-inning games on Opening Day. The Tigers beat the Indians 4-2 in 1960 and in 1926 Walter Johnson outdueled Eddie Rommel 1-0. That's right, both pitchers went the distance.
Hero of the day: How about Toronto reliever Luis Perez? He got out of that first-and-third jam with a double play and went on to pitch four hitless innings.
Good sight of the day: Johan Santana back on the mound for the Mets, throwing five scoreless innings.
Spring-training-doesn't-matter note of the day: Matt Kemp looked horrible all spring for the Dodgers, finishing with 26 strikeouts and two walks. He went 2-for-5 with a two-run home run and no whiffs.
Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.
1. What are the Cincinnati Reds thinking in locking up Joey Votto for 10 years? Keith explains why the Reds will regret the contract extension.
2. However, the Matt Cain deal in San Francisco looks a bit better. We compare the Cain deal to how it affects Cole Hamels, a similar pitcher but one that throws with his left hand.
3. Keith reminds us what the 20-80 scouting scale means, pointing out some players at either side of the extreme for certain categories. Oh, and he’s not a fan of Dusty Baker, but you probably knew that already.
4. Apparently we’re biased against the New York Yankees and Milwaukee Brewers, since we didn’t pick them to win the World Series. How could we! It’s a dynamite set of silly emails today!
5. Keith explains some of his 2012 predictions, including why Yu Darvish is not only going to be the AL Rookie of the Year ...
So download and listen to Tuesday’s Baseball Today podcast, and we remind you that no cats were harmed in the production of the show. Just feelings.
1. Which teams are playoff-bound in the tough AL, and could the Blue Jays or any team not named Detroit make noise as well?
2. Yoenis Cespedes was the Athletics' hero in their Thursday win, but what does KLaw expect from him in his rookie season?
3. Omar Vizquel has made a big league roster again, but is he really on the path to the Hall of Fame? You might be surprised!
4. With all the talk about Neftali Feliz and Daniel Bard moving from the bullpen to the rotation, why isn’t anyone talking about the Cubs’ Jeff Samardzija?
5. In our email segment we discuss when baseball games start, both this morning and in the World Series, why bunting isn’t generally a wise idea, the Rule 5 draft picks that could stick and more!
So download and listen to Thursday’s memorable Baseball Today podcast, with special thanks to producer Frank "The Closer" Dale and congrats to newly engaged shortstop Brendan Ryan!
There was a point at which a team could contend with Theriot at short, as the Cubs did in 2007 and 2008. But after consecutive .321 OBPs, his value as an offensive patch at the position seems dubious. He used to walk around 10 percent of the time, but that’s down to six percent these days. He’s lost speed on the bases, and what little power he had disappeared shortly after a five-homer May in 2009 that only seemed to encourage him to leap from his shoes, swinging for the fences forever after. As mighty mites go, Theriot was no Jimmy Wynn, so this wasn’t going to end well, and hasn’t.
That’s not even the worst of it as far as Giants history goes. Not that they’re asking, but where have you gone … Johnnie LeMaster? For some or all of seven seasons, LeMaster was the Giants’ shortstop, from 1978-1984. LeMaster hit .222/.277/.289 (or a .566 OPS), for his career. He holds the worst single-season WAR from a regular shortstop since before integration, before Pearl Harbor, since before FDR’s second term as president. Advanced analysis has yet to invent a metric with a kind stat or word to offer in defense of his glove work. The all-time all-bad team has a shortstop, and his name is almost certainly Johnnie LeMaster.
Unfortunately, Brandon Crawford’s .584 OPS last year looks downright LeMaster-ly, especially with the neat feat of not reaching a .300 OBP or SLG. Dan Szymborski of ESPN Insider projects Crawford to take a big step forward offensively -- all the way up to a .629 OPS, thanks to slugging .341 while putting up a .288 OBP.
Surely the Giants have some other alternative? They surely do, but you can’t really grace with them with any reassuring adjectives like “adequate.” Emmanuel Burriss has struggled to stick at short since getting out of A-ball almost five years ago, lacking the range, hands or arm, and drifting into a utilityman’s aspirations. Mike Fontenot has wound up a shortstop by coming at it from the other direction -- he couldn’t hold down a semi-regular job at second base for the Cubs, and has been shunted into a utility role to hang onto his career.
At least Crawford’s defense gets reasonable marks, but it had better, because the alternatives on hand are almost universally execrable. Theriot’s days as a passable shortstop appear to be history -- he’s spent the past two seasons delivering un-glovely work afield according to Plus-Minus, UZR, Defensive Runs Saved on Baseball-Reference.com and Baseball Prospectus’ Fielding Runs. Between Crawford’s bat and Theriot’s glove, you’d think Brian Sabean was trying to assemble FrankenLeMaster.
However, to be charitable to Sabean’s design you could flip-flop that idea: Get Crawford’s glove and Theriot’s bat in an ad hoc offense-defense platoon. That might work thanks to baseball’s best pitching staff when it comes to keeping balls out of play: Thanks in large part to Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and the since-dealt Jonathan Sanchez in particular, the Giants have led the majors in strikeout rate in both of the past two seasons. That was while posting two of the seven highest staff-wide strikeout rates ever in major league history. In the current Age of Strikeouts, more Ks equal fewer balls in play, making lead-gloves a little more affordable -- like using former DH Aubrey Huff in the outfield.
So maybe, just maybe, the Giants can get away with starting Theriot at short when fly-ball/strikeout like Lincecum and Bumgarner or Matt Cain are on the mound. Maybe the less dominating Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong need a little more help from their friends in the infield, and that’s Crawford’s role, starting on their days, and coming in for Theriot on defense on the others.
The problem is that Theriot’s bat isn’t really some great boon you really want to plug in. Rising to the standard of “hits better than Johnnie LeMaster” really isn’t one you should gun for. Maybe if Theriot ever got his walk rate back up around 10 percent, you might see a reason why, but there’s a reason why the Cubs moved him off short (and dealt him), and it’s the same reason the Cardinals traded for Rafael Furcal last summer. Ryan Theriot simply isn’t a shortstop. Adding him to the shortstop mix in San Francisco just makes plain that they still don’t really have one.
Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.
And yet I love this deal for the Toronto Blue Jays: They signed Morrow to a three-year deal for $20 million, plus a $10 million option. If the fourth year is exercised, the Jays will buy out the first two seasons of Morrow's free agency.
After averaging 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings in 26 starts in 2010, Morrow led the American League with 10.2 K's per nine in 2011. That's precisely why this deal has big upside for the Jays, despite Morrow's 4.72 ERA.
In the past 10 seasons, we've had 66 pitchers who threw at least 162 innings and averaged at least 9.0 strikeout per nine. Only Ricky Nolasco with a 5.06 ERA in 2009 and Brandon Duckworth with a 5.41 ERA in 2002 had a higher ERA than Morrow's 4.72. Here's how those 66 pitchers break down in regards to ERA:
2.00 to 2.49: 11
2.50 to 2.99: 16
3.00 to 3.49: 17
3.50 to 3.99: 12
4.00 to 4.49: 6
4.50 or higher: 4
Now, I'm not saying Morrow will turn into Justin Verlander. Maybe he's more A.J. Burnett than ace. But I like his chances to improve. His big problem in 2011 was pitching from the stretch. With the bases empty, he dominated hitters with a line of .217/.292/.340. With men on base, opposing batters hit .267/.346/.466, including .288 with a .523 slugging percentage with runners in scoring position. He had similar issues in 2010, when batters hit .222 with the bases empty and .280 with runners on.
I'm not sure what's going on there, if it's a focus issue or not relaxing or relying too much on his fastball or what. It seems like something that can be corrected. Look, Morrow still has a lot to prove: He has to pitch deeper into games (he averaged fewer than six innings per start in 2011) and there is still room to improve his command. Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos talks about Morrow's contract and work ethic here. All in all, a wise move to lock him up now; if he busts out this season he'd be even more expensive to sign.
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In the midst of the Prince Fielder hysteria, the Blue Jays also announced that they signed former Reds closer Francisco Cordero to a one-year, $4.5 million deal. Cordero had 37 saves and a superficially low 2.45 ERA in 2011. He's unlikely to match that number in 2012 as he likely serves as set-up man to Sergio Santos. The Blue Jays' bullpen had a 3.88 ERA in 2011, ninth in the AL. They've added Santos, Cordero and Darren Oliver while losing Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch and Shawn Camp. That should be a net gain, as Francisco, Rauch and Camp combined for a 4.21 ERA. If Morrow and Brett Cecil improve and Brett Lawrie takes the league by storm and Colby Rasmus reaches his potential ... well, the Blue Jays could be very interesting.
* * * *
Finally, the Jays signed Omar Vizquel to a minor-league contract. Vizquel will turn 45 in April. Maybe he'll play as long as Julio Franco, who hit .309 at age 45 and played until he was 48. I hope so. Vizquel once played with Paul Assenmacher, who played with Phil Niekro, who played with Warren Spahn, who played with Si Johnson, who played with Edd Roush, who played with Jimmy Callahan, who played with Cap Anson, who hit .285 at age 45 for the 1897 Chicago Colts. Vizquel is 13th on the all-time games played list. He needs 79 games to pass Barry Bonds and move into the top 10 all time. Go get 'em, Little O.
Baltimore Orioles: Mike Cuellar of Cuba. Cuellar only had an eight-year run in Baltimore, and arrived well after he’d turned 30, but the O’s saw a workhorse, and innings and wins are what they got. Cuellar became the first Latin pitcher to win the Cy Young Award when he split it with Denny McClain in 1969 -- his first year as an Oriole. He went on to notch 143 wins during his time in Baltimore, and also delivered WAR seasons worth 2.5 wins or more in five of his first six seasons.
Chicago White Sox: Minnie Minoso of Cuba. In his various stints with the White Sox, the Cuban Comet managed to miss the team’s lone pennant in 1959, but the vast majority of his career value (42.7 WAR) came from his the nine seasons in his first two incarnations with the Sox (1951-57, 1960-61); there were three more yet to come. There’s room for an honorable mention for Venezuelan shortstop Luis Aparicio (31.5 WAR), but like Minoso, he spent chunks of his career in other unis.
Cleveland Indians: In another full field, you could pick Venezuela’s Omar Vizquel or Mexican-American Mike Garcia; Garcia was a rotation regular for the 1950's Tribe, and he’s a reasonable choice for the 32.4 WAR, 3.27 ERA and 142 wins he gave them. However, his value on the mound was essentially equal to Manny Ramirez’s 32.8 WAR he produced with his bat in almost eight seasons with the Indians. Surprising nobody, Manny’s WAR numbers go down when you count his defense, but that production at the plate puts the Dominican immigrant among the 10 most productive Indian bats of all time.
Detroit Tigers: It might be cause for surprise, but the Tigers are one of the very few teams from among the league’s original eight who have yet to boast a long-term Latin star. Venezuela’s Miguel Cabrera has only just become the franchise’s first Latin player to accumulate 20 career WAR with the Kitties, and he still hasn’t spent half of his career in Detroit. One man worthy of an honorable mention is Willie Hernandez, for his MVP- and Cy-winning 1984 season, but the Motor City was the Puerto Rican Hernandez’s third stop, and his career didn’t make it to the ’90s.
Kansas City Royals: It’s been so long since Carlos Beltran of Puerto Rico played for the Royals that you might forget he was almost every bit the MVP-caliber player there as he’d get more recognition for in Houston and New York. His 2003 season (7.3 WAR) rates among the 10 greatest seasons by a Royals position player, a list that has five different George Brett seasons and four other guys besides Beltran on it. Before the season, you might have wanted to lean towards Mexico’ Joakim Soria, but a bumpy 2011 was enough for me to play wait and see.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: The Angels’ roster has been characterized by so much turnover historically that it’s been hard for anyone to settle in and pile up big career totals as a Halo, something that only recently changed with Tim Salmon and Garret Anderson. So while Vladimir Guerrero of the Dominican Republic has played less than half of his career in Anaheim, he’s pretty much by his lonesome for spending so much of his productive career there.
New York Yankees: You might fidget over Lefty Gomez, who was Portuguese and Spanish on his father’s side and all-Californian enough to merit the nickname “Goofy,” and Dominican Alex Rodriguez and Puerto Rico’s Jorge Posada would be easy choices in other organizations. But with almost 56 WAR contributed to one pinstriped contender after another, the man who has delivered the most career value is Panama’s Mariano Rivera.
Oakland Athletics: It’s important not to forget that Reggie Jackson claims Hispanic heritage on his mother’s side, but the key player from the Big Green Machine of the ’70s who deserves a shoutout here is Cuba’s Bert Campaneris. With 649 career steals, Campy leads all Latin ballplayers while ranking 14th overall, and his 43.1 career WAR suggests how much value he added in the field as well as on the bases.
Seattle Mariners: Perhaps no player more perfectly captures Puerto Rico’s complicated relationship with the United States than Edgar Martinez, who was born in New York City but grew up on the island. Whatever label you care to apply, anyone can take pride in the definitive DH’s career after he hit .312/.418/.515 while producing 66.9 WAR at the plate.
Tampa Bay Rays: With an existence that doesn’t even stretch back two full decades yet, it might be premature to tab an all-time great Latin Ray, but Dominicans Carlos Pena and Julio Lugo lead the pack of notables, with Cuba’s Rolando Arrojo leading the pitchers.
Texas Rangers: Ivan Rodriguez’s career may well be winding down, and he might be a decade removed from his last full season in Arlington, but Pudge has been the pride of Puerto Rico as the greatest position player in Rangers history, topping all Texas players with 48.6 WAR. He’s long since punched his own ticket to Cooperstown.
Toronto Blue Jays: As one of the first franchises to truly invest in Dominican talent, it should come as no surprise that some of the best ballplayers in Blue Jays history came from the island: infielder Tony Fernandez, slugger George Bell and pitcher Juan Guzman. But the Jays also came away with a ton of talent from Puerto Rico, starting with Carlos Delgado and Roberto Alomar. If you go by WAR, it should be Delgado, but Alomar’s Gold Glove-studded career as a fielder is one of the great causes for debate over the strengths and limitations of both scouting and statistical analysis of defense. For the purposes of this sort of exercise, let’s give the new Hall of Famer his due and tab Alomar.
On Friday, we’ll turn to the National League and give the 16 greats of those franchises their props.
Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.
Between them, Barry Larkin and Nomar Garciaparra started exactly 3,100 major league games at shortstop through careers that included batting titles and Gold Glove, Silver Slugger and MVP awards. Larkin hit .295 over 19 big league seasons in Cincinnati, from 1986 through 2004. In 2009, Garciaparra retired with a .313 career batting average after 14 years in the majors, nine of them in Boston. Over the course of their careers and now into retirement, they've watched their position evolve.
"I think my era was more of a transition to Nomar's time," said Larkin, who played until he was 40 years old, when he still hit .289. "There was more of an emphasis on defense when I came up as opposed to, I think, than when Nomar came up."
Garciaparra, who hit a staggering .372 in 2000, said the position prototype didn't change from Mark Belanger to Troy Tulowitzki overnight. "Shortstop has always been about defense first," he said. "That's what made the transition you talked about, why our eras connected, because the guys still played defense. That was first and foremost. When I was playing it was still about defense. The Jeters, the A-Rods, the Tejadas, it was all about defense first. They just happened to be able to hit as well."
Larkin and Garciaparra were both much more than shortstops; both were organizational icons, the face of a franchise. Jeter is such a player in New York, as is Jimmy Rollins in Philadelphia. That list, however, is shorter now than it's been in decades, so I asked both former shortstops about the evolution of the position and the players they watch play shortstop today.
Shortstop you most enjoy watching right now
Larkin -- Starlin Castro, Cubs: "This guy has all kinds of ability. Offensively. Defensively, you can see the plays he makes with flashes of brilliance here and there. He's gonna be successful in Chicago for many, many years. I love watching guys and see them develop in the big leagues."
Garciaparra -- Hanley Ramirez, Marlins: "I just love watching Hanley Ramirez play. First and foremost as a shortstop, he plays great defense. He makes the plays behind his pitcher. But he can run, steal bases and he can hit third and fourth in any lineup in the major leagues. He supplies that power, supplies that leadership on the offensive side."
Shortstop who might outgrow the position based on offensive production
Larkin -- Ian Desmond, Nationals: "I got a chance after I retired in 2005 to go work with the Washington Nationals and I saw this guy as an 18-year old kid just develop. He's put on over two inches and probably 20 pounds of maturation and has unbelievable ability. My question is, he's growing so quickly, is he gonna ever stop?"
Garciaparra -- Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies: "He can play a Gold Glove shortstop but he's also a very big guy. I don't think people realize how big he is, probably because he played shortstop so well as a little guy with a great glove. He's a max-effort guy over there at shortstop so I can see him moving over maybe to third base (eventually), maybe to first base if they have somebody up and coming, to give him kind of a blow and last longer, especially with what his bat does in that lineup."
The best pure glove man
Larkin -- Alex Gonzalez, Braves: "I just marvel at this guy. When we'd play against him, I would come out and watch him take ground balls at shortstop and you could see him turn the double play. Strong arm. His thing has been health. A great, great glove man."
Garciaparra -- Alcides Escobar, Royals. "This guy has range. He covers everything. You think it's a base hit? Nope, he's got it. And he's got a hose to go with it. He can go to the backhand and still have enough on it to whip it over there. When he does throw that ball? I know I had a lot of movement on my ball and I felt bad for the first baseman. But he throws the ball and it stays straight and on a line and it hits him right in the chest."
Most unheralded shortstop you played with or against
Larkin -- Jack Wilson, Mariners: "He's now playing second base for Seattle, but when he was in Pittsburgh and playing shortstop he was just absolutely unbelievable. Jack Wilson is a guy that no one really talks about; unbelievable defensive shortstop."
Garciaparra -- John McDonald, Blue Jays: "This guy has been kind of a utility guy. I can just have a video of all his Web Gems. His range and the plays he makes are just truly unbelievable and I can just sit there and watch him over and over again. He makes plays at shortstop, he makes them down at second, he makes them at third. He's just a great glove."
Shortstop lifetime achievement award
Larkin -- Dave Concepcion: "Growing up in Cincinnati I used to imitate and emulate Davey Concepcion. He actually taught me the bounce throw to first base, but he was my guy. If you weren't a Reds fan growing up in Cincinnati there was something wrong with you and I was a huge Davey Concepcion fan. He got it done defensively and he could swing the bat a little bit as well."
Garciaparra -- Omar Vizquel: "I don't think he's ever got a bad hop in his career. We talked about going out there early and watching somebody take infield? He was one of them. I just wanted to know one day ... one day, even for maybe just three ground balls, to feel what his hands really feel like. It's incredible."
It's long been expected that a shortstop provide his team with a sense of leadership, or at least dependability. Even with a greater emphasis on offensive production the men who spent professional careers playing shortstop still go back to defense as the very nature of the position. "The standard is making the routine play," Larkin says. The days of an Ed Brinkman playing 15 seasons at shortstop while hitting .224 are almost certainly over. After all, the infamous "Mendoza Line" is named after a man who made 420 of his 424 career starts at shortstop. However, even the relatively recent arrival of the slugging shortstop -- guys like Alex Rodriguez and Miguel Tejada -- still has its link to the past. "The offense was so good that people overlooked that they were also great defensive shortstops," said Garciaparra. "That's why they played shortstop and I think now we see these new up-and-coming guys are continuing that trend."
Follow Steve on Twitter: @SBerthiaumeESPN.
Nearly all good players at some point receive a vote or even have a season that places them in the top 10. Corey Hart had two points last year. Jeremy Affeldt received a 10th-place vote in 2009. So did Brad Hawpe. Nate McLouth had a 10th-place vote in 2008, Placido Polanco has twice received votes and Gary Matthews Jr. and A.J. Pierzynski each got a vote in 2006. You get the idea.
Eric and Mark mentioned guys like Jay Bruce, Nelson Cruz and Drew Stubbs as the best candidates to get a vote for the first time in 2011.
Thanks to the genius of Baseball-Reference.com, we spent a little time cross-checking this kind of stuff. Here are a few random nuggets:
- The active leader in WAR (wins above replacement) without a vote is Jason Kendall. And I'm thinking he's not about to get one. Kendall was a terrific player with the Pirates in the late '90s (he hit .314/.402/.456 his first five seasons), but played on a bad team and his on-base skills were underappreciated in the barrage of home runs.
- The No. 2 guy is ... Randy Winn. He did once make an All-Star team with the Devil Rays.
- The best players without a top-10 overall finish in the voting are Johnny Damon and Mike Cameron. Damon has received votes four times, but his best finish was 13th in 2005. Damon still has a small chance to reach 3,000 hits (2,571). If that happens, his Hall of Fame vote will be interesting. Cameron had a terrific season in 2001, the year the Mariners won 116 games. B-R rates him the seventh-best player in the league, but he received just four points in the voting, fewer than Doug Mientkiewicz, who scored fewer runs, drove in fewer runs and played first base.
- Omar Vizquel is a surefire Hall of Famer? He's received just three MVP points in his career, all in 1999.
You can see all the MVP voting history here at Baseball-Reference.
Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter at @dschoenfield. Follow the SweetSpot blog at @espn_sweet_spot.
And we're not alone. Bernie Miklasz gets it. So do some others.
That said, most baseball fans born after 1970 can't figure out why the Hall of Fame voters are doing what they're doing, and some of them wonder if maybe the job of choosing Hall of Famers shouldn't just be handed to the players themselves. After all, who's better qualified to judge greatness?
Then you read something like this, from Mike Schmidt:
- Here's the telling numbers: Jim Rice, a Hall of Famer over 16 seasons, averaged 30 home runs and 109 RBIs in his prime and had a lifetime .298 average. Jeff Bagwell, over 15 seasons, averaged 36 home runs and 115 RBIs in his prime and had a .297 lifetime average. These career numbers are nearly identical.
Here's another morsel to chew upon: Bagwell and Rice each drove in 100 runs eight times.
Again, 41.7 percent of the vote. Are these writers/voters serious?
Now, compare my stats to both Bagwell and Rice — not much different, except my lifetime batting average was .267. Yes, a few more RBIs and a couple Gold Gloves, but not enough for me to go first ballot with more than 96 percent while Rice, and it looks like Bagwell, had to sweat.
By the way, Rice and Bagwell each played for one team. And one more, Bagwell played in the Astrodome for a few years, which had to cost a few home runs.
Well, it's nice that Schmidt threw in that little bit about park effects there at the end. But is this really someone you want deciding who belongs in the Hall of Fame? Does Schmidt really not understand the difference between Bagwell's defense and Rice's? Does Schmidt really believe that Bagwell and Rice were really as good as Schmidt himself was? Mike Schmidt is the greatest third baseman who's ever walked this planet. Bagwell's maybe the fifth or sixth greatest first baseman, and Rice is ... well, let's just say he's one of the five or six greatest Red Sox outfielders.
All you need to know about the players is that they weren't smart enough to elect Ron Santo when they had the chance. Of course, the writers weren't, either. And they had more chances. Which sort of leaves us where we started ...
Even leaving steroids (and amphetamines) aside, there's an awful lot of fuzzy thinking when it comes to Hall of Fame voting ...
I know, I know, stop the presses.
Stick with me, though. There's a payoff at the end, honest (but no skipping ahead!).
Recently in response to a question about Omar Vizquel's Hall of Fame prospects, Paul Hoynes wrote this:
- I have said this many times, Vizquel is the best shortstop I've seen and I believe he is a Hall of Famer. I think it will be tough for Vizquel to be a first-ballot selection, but I do think he'll get enough votes to eventually make it.
First, however, he has to retire. Vizquel, 43, is of the opinion that he can play forever. In case you're curious, he needs one hit to reach 2,800.
Hoynes' opinion is popular. Exactly how popular, I really don't know. I thought Bagwell would make a strong showing in this year's Hall of Fame balloting, so what do I know. But when Vizquel becomes eligible for the Hall, presumably in 2017 or '18, you're going to read a lot of passionate arguments for him, mostly along the lines of He's the best shortstop I ever saw or He was just as good as Ozzie Smith, look at all the Gold Gloves!
Which are intertwined, obviously. First of all, it's hard for me to believe that Hoynes really thinks Vizquel is the best he's seen, because I saw Ozzie Smith and I'm pretty sure Hoynsie's got a few years on me. But most of the voters who remember Ozzie Smith won't actually argue that Vizquel was Ozzie's equal. Rather, they'll argue that Vizquel, who won 11 Gold Gloves to Ozzie's 13, was almost as good.
Except he wasn't. Even if we assume that both players deserved all those Gold Gloves, it's silly to assume that all Gold Gloves are created equal. Ozzie Smith is probably the greatest defensive shortstop who's ever walked the planet. Among shortstops with real careers, anyway. Vizquel was good, maybe very good, maybe even excellent. But as good as Ozzie Smith? The Gold Gloves and the salaries and the statistics all suggest that Ozzie was the better defensive player.
Still, the argument will be that both of them won a lot of Gold Gloves, both of them were a lot of fun to watch, and both of them were subpar hitters. All of which is true. Again, though, that doesn't make them the same. Ozzie's career OPS+ was 87; Omar's was (is) 83. It's not a large difference, but it's a difference. Ozzie stole 580 bases and was caught 148 times; Omar has stolen 400 bases and been caught 163 times. Again, not a huge difference in terms of actual scoring, but it's a difference. And one might reasonably assume that Ozzie was the better baserunner otherwise, too.
My point being that Ozzie was the better fielder, the better hitter, and the better baserunner. And that when you add everything up, Ozzie belongs in the Hall of Fame and Omar ... well, he wouldn't be the worst shortstop in the Hall of Fame, but he wouldn't be among the top 15 or 20, either. Essentially, it's intellectually indefensible to trumpet Vizquel's candidacy while Alan Trammell's still on the outside, getting his piddly 20-some percent from the voters every year.
What I find particularly strange is how many writers are now arguing that Omar Vizquel was a great player, considering how few of them thought he was great when he was actually playing shortstop every day.
I mean, seriously. Vizquel's been around forever. Would you care to guess how many times he showed up on someone's MVP ballot? Remember, MVP voters are asked to list 10 players on their ballot. Same as the Hall of Fame ballot.
So, how many times in 22 seasons?
In 1999, Vizquel finished 16th. He batted .333 and won a Gold Glove, and the 28 MVP voters -- many of whom will have Hall of Fame ballots in five or six years -- believed that Vizquel was just the 16th best player in the American League. But that's really not so instructive. Vizquel got three points, which means he might have appeared on just one ballot; probably just one, or perhaps two.
I think they were wrong. I think Vizquel was actually one of the six or eight best players in the league that season. But 1999 was Vizquel's best season, by far. There was never another season in which he showed up in the MVP voting at all, or deserved to.
So the vast majority of MVP voters never thought Vizquel was great enough to rank among the top 10 players in his league, but now a number of them -- again, many of the MVP voters from Vizquel's career are now Hall of Fame voters -- are willing to rank him among the 10 best players on the Hall of Fame ballot in a few years? Remember, many voters are now complaining that 10 slots isn't enough, and the ballot will only get more crowded with qualified candidates in the next few years.
So, the Obvious Question: Why are so many baseball writers so excited about Omar Vizquel?
It's simple, I think. The writers desperately want to do something for Vizquel, and they just can't think of anything except the Hall of Fame. Roger Maris had two great seasons, a few good ones, and in 1988 43 percent of the Hall of Fame voters voted for him. Essentially, Maris got the same support in his last year on the ballot that Jeff Bagwell just got in his first year. Don Larsen had zero great seasons, a few decent ones, and one year 53 Hall of Fame voters voted for him. Today, roughly half the Hall of Fame voters fervently believe that Jack Morris belongs in the Hall of Fame ... even though Morris, with the exception of one brief moment in 1991, was never considered a great pitcher by many of these same voters.
What the writers need is something for Vizquel, and I think I've got just the thing (sorry, but I haven't come up with anything for Morris yet) ...
I'll let you in on a Dirty Little Secret, that I wasn't actually supposed to mention for a long time but recent developments have conspired to give me a little wiggle room.
The dirty little secret is that there's no such thing as "the writers' wing" or "the broadcasters' wing" of the Hall of Fame. Those places don't exist. If you've been to Cooperstown and weren't paying attention, you would have seen absolutely no proof that the winners of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award (writers) or the Ford C. Frick Award (broadcasters) ever existed, because their names simply don't appear in the Hall of Fame, which is a big room covered with the plaques depicting all the men (and one woman) who are actually, you know, in the Hall of Fame.
There's no wing. There are a couple of plaques, one for each award, hanging on a wall just outside the Hall's research library. The Spink and Frick Award winners are not "enshinees" (i.e. Hall of Famers) but rather "honorees," which is a completely different thing.
The confusion is partly the Hall of Fame's fault, because for some years the Hall of Fame has allowed the honorees to give an acceptance speech the same afternoon as the enshrinees give theirs.
But the confusion is mostly our fault, and by "our" I mean my colleagues in the business and our employers. Obviously, it makes everyone happy to add "Hall of Fame" in front of "writer" or "broadcaster." It's gratifying to the ego, and it's gratifying to whoever's signing the checks.
It's just not true.
The "wings" are largely imaginary places, invented for everyone's convenience.
So why not imagine one more wing, for our convenience?
What I am proposing is a Wing of the Amazing, for players who really don't belong in the Hall of Fame because they weren't good enough, but did some things that do deserve to be celebrated. A few criteria:
Now, it seems to me that while Omar Vizquel might not be the best candidate for the Wing of the Amazing, he is a fine candidate.
Why? Because what he's done over the past five or six seasons really has been amazing. I don't think there would be any Hall of Fame talk without the past five or six seasons. Which might seem strange, considering Vizquel has a .266/.330/.340 line in the past six seasons, and hasn't been an every-day shortstop in the past three of them. But before those past six seasons, Vizquel was sitting on slightly more than 2,000 hits and nobody was really talking about him. What really got writers jazzed about him was the two Gold Gloves he won at the ages of 38 and 39, and the ability to play respectably well in a utility role at 42 and 43. And he's coming back for another season at 44, and the writers will get even more jazzed if he manages to hang on to his roster spot.
We should be jazzed. As Chris Jaffe writes -- at the conclusion of a long piece in which he concludes that Vizquel will wind up in the Hall of Fame -- Vizquel's career has been "bizarrely unique" ... which is another way of saying it's been amazing. He deserves a place, and it's a real place if we believe that it's real.
My message to all the writers who so desperately want to reward Omar Vizquel for his amazing career?
- One last thing … my friend Keith Law seems to be taking a beating because he has said that Omar Vizquel is not a Hall of Famer in his book. I certainly don’t want any of Keith’s angry e-mail, but it’s just worth pointing out that one argument I often hear for Vizquel is that he compares well with Ozzie Smith. I really don’t think that’s true. I think Ozzie Smith was a much better player than Vizquel. There’s no question that Omar was a defensive wiz, but he was certainly no Wizard. He did not have Ozzie’s range, his remarkable ability to make the great play, his double play talents, etc.
This is no knock — Ozzie is the best defensive shortstop in the history of baseball, I believe. And while Vizquel was a terrific defensive player, I don’t think he’s anything close to second-best — I think he’s in a massive pile with a lot of terrific defensive players ranging from Belanger to Burleson to Bowa to Barry ... and those are just the Bs. And though Smith was widely viewed as a weak hitter ... he was actually a better offensive player in context than Vizquel. I’m using WAR a lot here, which might simply not be persuasive to you. But Ozzie Smith ranks 74th all-time among every day players in WAR. Vizquel ranks 209th. I simply don’t think if Ozzie Smith is a Hall of Fame standard, that Vizquel has a great Hall of Fame case.*
If Jim Rice is the standard, however ...
* Update: Since several people have misunderstood the paragraph, let me clarify here: I am NOT saying that I will not vote for Vizquel. I am not ready to make that judgment yet … Vizquel has been a fabulous player and I’ll take the five years after retirement to let his career settle. I am only saying that the Ozzie Smith comparison, to me, does not hold up. Ozzie Smith is not my line of demarcation when it comes to Hall of Fame shortstops.
I'm NOT saying I won't vote for Vizquel, either.
Joe's right, though: Based on the information that's available to us NOW, Vizquel isn't anywhere close to Ozzie Smith, or for that matter the great majority of the other Hall of Fame shortstops.
Sure, Rice won an MVP Award and Dwight Evans didn't ... but Dale Murphy won twoMVP awards and hasn't drawn nearly the support Rice did. Sure, Andre Dawson, for all his faults, was for a time an impressive blend of power and speed. So were Jimmy Wynn and Bobby Bonds and Reggie Smith.
There was something different about Rice. Something different about Dawson. And perhaps -- we'll known in seven or eight years, I guess -- something different about Omar Vizquel. But it's hard to find the differences in the raw numbers. I'm convinced that if you want to figure out how Jim Rice was deemed a Hall of Famer by 30 percent of the voters in 1995 and 76 percent in 2009, you'll have to engage in a sort of archaeological and anthropological expedition. Because in strange cases like these, your usually considerable powers of logic just won't be enough.
- Hey, if Omar Vizquel keeps playing like this, I might have to reconsider my Hall of Fame stance. (I mean, if he keeps playing like this for a few more years ...)
- It's worth taking at least a moment to consider what Carlos Marmol's doing this season (or has done, anyway). He's a marvel.
- I think the contest is closed, but the video is still a great deal of fun (especially if you're a Yankees fan. Or grew up hating the Yankees. Both are fine. (You late-coming frontrunners, on the other hand ...)
- Speaking of fun, there's so much fun in this post about clutch hitting that I can't do it justice in a simple Wangdoodle, but don't want to diminish it with an excerpt in a normal blog entry. When in doubt, though, I like to link and stand aside.
- If it hadn't been such a weird night for Don Mattingly, everybody would be talking about Tim Lincecum, who had his own issues.
- One of my favorite things about baseball is that it's a meritocracy. One of my least favorite things about baseball is when it isn't. Free Kila Ka'aihue.
- Hey, nobody's perfect (especially when it doesn't work). Not even Joe Mauer.
- You ever notice Nick Blackburn's 2008 and 2009 seasons? They might be the two most similar consecutive seasons that any starting pitcher's ever had. He was the epitome of consistency. Until 2010. Which would have been great if he pitched better. He didn't. And now he's out of the rotation. Supposedly it's temporary. I'm not sure why.
- To this day, Google is still directing people (mostly those who look for information on "Jim Thome and steroids" or "Jim Thome and the Hall of Fame") to a little post where I suggested that Jim Thome might not make it into the Hall of Fame on his first ballot.
Since then, he's hit 66 more home runs and is sitting at 564 for his career. That's right, the guy is now 12th all-time, but I still stand by my claim ... Thome will NOT be a first ballot Hall of Famer.
Why? My reasoning is the same as it was two years ago.
His home run total, while incredible, will not be as eye popping five years after Thome's retirement.
Basically, we've got a guy who smacked the Hell out of the ball, but was never the most dominant, much less feared, player of his era. And because of that, he'll get lost in the mix.
Sorry to cue up that broken record, but when the news of Thome heading to Los Angeles to join former Indian teammate and fellow bomber Manny Ramirez leads SportsCenter ... I'm compelled to chime in.
I am not using Thome's relatively poor showings in the MVP balloting to make the case against him. I'm just saying that the same guys who vote for the MVP's have Hall of Fame ballots, and to this point they've not showed Thome a great deal of love. Of course, those same guys seem to have a great deal of enthusiasm for Omar Vizquel's Hall of Fame case, and Vizquel fared a LOT worse in the MVP balloting than Thome.
So, who knows? There's never been a player with Thome's numbers who hasn't either been elected to the Hall of Fame or been considered a solid candidate. For a lot of reasons, I agree that Thome won't make it on the first ballot. Most Hall of Famers don't make it on their first try. But for just as many reasons, I believe that he'll make it someday. Particularly if he can hit another 36 home runs. And keep his name off any unfortunate lists.