FIRE JOE MORGAN: Don't Forget, Experts Know Better Than You


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Monday, May 29, 2006


Don't Forget, Experts Know Better Than You

Experts love writing about baseball like it's an art -- something subjective to be pored over by qualified Baseball Men with the genius and experience to ponder and catalog its beautiful vicissitudes. And certainly, the game can be appreciated like poetry, music, literature, or theater. The difference is, baseball has winners and losers. Everyone marvels when Omar Vizquel makes a spectactular diving catch. But when it comes to actual value, I think the general public may have a better grasp of who's contributing to wins than the people paid to inform the general public about the game. Case in point: Yahoo!'s Jeff Passan, who's written an article extolling Omar Vizquel's virtues unblushingly titled "Vizquel an artist at work."

In a perfect world, the Steroid Era would have begat the Fundamental Era.

I can already see that Jeff Passan's perfect world is a lot different from mine.

More applause for a rangy fielder than a one-dimensional home run hitter, and more credit to someone who can advance a runner with a bunt than to a pull-hitting beast who doesn't know the definition of sacrifice.

See what I mean about the presumably ignorant fans knowing more than the experts? A "one-dimensional home run hitter" is very likely vastly more valuable than a "rangy fielder." Why chide the public for applauding home runs, the single most valuable play in the game? Because it takes a more refined palate to appreciate a defensive play?

Instead, there is shortstop Omar Vizquel, the embodiment of everything modern-day baseball isn't, sitting by himself in the San Francisco Giants clubhouse while a glut of people, yours truly included, watch Barry Bonds to see if he – gasp! – wiggles his big toe.

We've talked a lot about Barry Bonds in this space. Everyone's talked a lot about Barry Bonds in every space. You know why? Because he's probably the most important player of this era. And even though he took steroids, and he's not a nice guy, and his TV show is unfailingly boring, and sometimes he threatens to kill people, he's probably the best player of this era. Omar Vizquel is a very good fielding shortstop. He's never been the best player at his position in any single year.

"They always have Bonds here, Bonds doing this, Bonds doing that, Bonds with the home runs," Vizquel said recently. "The biggest show in baseball now is the home run. It doesn't matter what you do on the defensive side or how many records or how many Gold Gloves you have. People like talking about the longball."

And again, are people so wrong? Come on, Omar. If people didn't like home runs so much, baseball might not have such a huge TV contract and you might have become a dental technician in Caracas instead of a man who's made 44,555,500 American dollars in his career (not including this year).

So, for one day at least, allow us to indulge his wishes, to celebrate artistry in the field and, amid the present-day smashball, to make the case that Omar Vizquel, Punch-and-Judy hitter, belongs in the Hall of Fame.

First, an anecdote.

I love -- love love love -- that Omar Vizquel's Hall of Fame case begins with an anecdote. Truly perfect.

The sun at Jacobs Field in Cleveland, where Vizquel spent 11 seasons, casts a glare at the shortstop even the best Oakleys can't deflect. On pop-ups, this poses a problem. So Vizquel came up with a solution: He turned his back to the infield to shield his face from the sun and caught fly balls backward.

Hall of Fame. Put 'im in.

Every Hall of Famer did something unique.

Yep, every Hall of Famer did something unique. Mike Schmidt played with his hat sideways. Roberto Clemente chewed other people's fingernails. Tris Speaker was Japanese. Lou Boudreau rode a dolphin into the batter's box. Nap Lajoie would only use John Wilkes Booth's dismembered leg as a bat. And he corked it. Johnny Mize was from the future.

Babe Ruth hit home runs.

Now hold on a second, Jeff! I can think of at least two other players who hit home runs. Three. Four. Man, there are a lot of players who have hit more than one "home run," or as you put it, "home runs."

Ozzie Smith backflipped.

Catfish Hunter breathed nitrogen. Don Drysdale invented the mandolin. Stan Coveleski ... zzz ...

Vizquel will be the one who caught balls backward and nipped runners by half a step.

Or he won't make it. Either way.

Hall of Famers, by and large, can hit, and they tend to do it well.

Now why would you bring this up in an article making the Hall of Fame case for Omar Vizquel? I would be busily trying to Swiffer this under the nearest rug you could find, even a rug from IKEA that is more a blanket than a rug, but you put it on the floor anyway, and it just kind of slides around and doesn't do much for anyone, and then you just throw it out because it's dirty, and who wants to clean this poor excuse for a rug? Not me.

Even though Vizquel has fewer homers in his 18-year career (72) than Bonds had in 2001 (73*),

Good point. Great asterisk. Very clever.

he has acquitted himself well enough to merit consideration.

I actually give you kudos, Jeff Passan, for the restraint shown in this clause. Look at all the excuse-me phrases and words in here: "acquitted himself," "well enough," "consideration." It's almost like you just checked the numbers for the first time and realized maybe this article wasn't such a great idea after all, but hey, what the hell, he still merits "consideration."

Vizquel's .275 career batting average is 13 points better than Smith's,

But his career EQA is 8 points worse, his career OPS+ is 2 points lower, and he still has many more post-38-years-old at bats to come.

and his 209 sacrifice bunts are only five shy of Smith, who ranks first in that category among the last two generations of players.

I'm not even going to touch that.

Baseball is a numbers game, and though sabermetricians' work with defensive numbers have broken ground, there's still no easily digestible fielding statistic equivalent to the home run or the batting average.

Yes, yes, yes, and what? Home runs and batting average, taken individually, should not be used to measure hitters. Period. They can help supplement other statistics, sure, but they're terrible on their own. I don't care if they're easily digestible or if they digest like a Crunchwrap Supreme. And since you didn't bother to look up any of the non-easily digestible fielding statistics, I did.

Ozzie Smith's career FRAR (fielding runs above replacement): 838
Omar Vizquel's FRAR: 601

Ozzie Smith's career WARP3 (includes a fielding component): 135.5
Omar Vizquel's career WARP3: 98.2

If Gold Gloves are a barometer, only seven players in history – including Smith, a first-ballot Hall of Famer – won more than Vizquel's 10.

They're not.

Teams made conscious decisions to sacrifice fielding for hitting, and it spawned Derek Jeter, Miguel Tejada, Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra, all peers of Vizquel's and the only reason he hasn't made more than three All-Star teams.

Four players who play Omar Vizquel's position and who, when healthy, have been his superiors. In the same era. Thank you, Jeff Passan, the man arguing the case for Omar Vizquel.

Post-script: if you're interested in a good Ozzie or Omar Hall of Fame breakdown, check this out.

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posted by Junior  # 6:49 PM
I like that being Japanese somehow makes you unique.
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