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Understanding the Vizquel Voters

Omar Vizquel, 2004 Cracker JackThere is growing sentiment that BBWAA members should be forced to make their Hall of Fame ballots public. In fact, most of us thought that was going to happen with the most recent election, but for whatever reason, the Hall chose to let the ballot privacy policy remain in effect.

To be honest, aside from wanting to collect the information, I don’t much care if ballots are public. For me, a ballot with no explanation is close to useless. If you withhold a vote for Johan Santana, for example, because he’s not among the top-75 pitchers ever, I disagree, but I can accept it. If you withhold a vote because he’s a peak candidate and you prefer more career value, I can accept that. If you withhold a vote because he belongs but isn’t one of the best ten on the ballot, I completely understand. But if you don’t vote for him because Jeff Suppan won more games, that’s an entirely different argument, one that suggests you need some level of training to become a credible voter.

Rather than just making ballots public, I wish BBWAA members who want to be allowed to continue voting should be required to publish ballots and justifications for each selection and non-selection. Otherwise, they lose their votes. Would that impose a pretty large hurdle? For a few, maybe. However, for something that’s as great an honor as writers say it is, I think some work is a reasonable expectation. I mean, there’s such a small and theoretically well-vetted electorate that they should have means and desire to share and justify.

Of course, were all ballots to be published with justifications, I think I might lose my mind.

Anyway, in this post, I’m going to look at Omar Vizquel voters – those who shared their ballots and those who shared their justifications – to try to figure out what makes someone vote for a player who’s wholly unqualified based on any reasonable standard of actual greatness. If you’ve read my stuff for a while, you know Omar is one of my favorite soapboxes. I compare him to Ozzie Smith, Andruw Jones, Mark Belanger, and run him through our Saberhagen List. Hint, he doesn’t grade out well.

Vizquel’s Support

In his first time on the ballot, Vizquel finished tenth, behind Trevor Hoffman and eight guys who are over-qualified for Cooperstown. He also finished ahead of seven guys in the Hall of Miller and Eric. Grrr. Vizquel garnered 156 votes, which is 37.0% of the electorate. However, of the pre-result public ballots, he received support of only 33.6%. A whopping 45.7% of private ballot voters voted for him. Interesting constituency, those voters too shy to go public. The chart below lists the top returning candidates by 2018 voting percentage of those who never revealed. It also includes the pre-ballot revealers and the difference.

                No Reveal | Reveal | Difference  
===============================================
Edgar Martinez    52.4%      77.3%     -24.9
Mike Mussina      46.7%      70.0%     -23.3
Omar Vizquel      45.7%      33.6%     +12.1
Roger Clemens     45.7%      64.4%     -18.7
Barry Bonds       41.9%      64.4%     -22.5
Curt Schilling    32.4%      60.3%     -27.9

In other words, those who don’t reveal like Vizquel far more than those who do, while at the same time, those who don’t show like virtually everyone else less. A lot less.

It is often said that voters who don’t reveal their ballots do a worse job voting than those who do. Above are six data points supporting that theory.

Our Sample

While 156 people voted for Vizquel, only 108 of them ever made their ballots public. For each of those 108, I looked through the links contained in Ryan Thibs’ Hall Tracker. To my disappointment, I could only find explanations for 21 of those votes. One more might have existed in Japanese, in The Athletic, or on a podcast. I left those out of my examination.

Vizquel Voters Trust Their Eyes

Bob Ryan: “…teamed with Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar to form the best DP combo I ever saw. Yes, I am partial to defensive whizzes, and I refuse to apologize for it.”

In his own words, he’s using the eye test to determine a Hall vote. As you might expect, Ryan thinks WAR is a garbage stat.

Nick Cafardo: “Omar Vizquel’s incredible defensive work at shortstop that led to 11 Gold Gloves, plus a respectable .272 batting average, put him on my ballot.”

While Cafardo didn’t use the eye test, he did cite batting average. And Gold Gloves. Dinosaur.

Dan Connolly: “In this instance, I’m more about my own eyes and “the narrative,” than purely the analytics.”

Well, he’d have to trust his own eyes rather than analytics. If he actually analyzed Vizquel, he couldn’t support him. He also explained that he trusted Mike Bordick’s opinion.

Bob Sherwin: “Vizquel deserves it, statistically the greatest defense player – not just shortstop – in the game’s history.”

Does anyone have a clue what this Golfers West writer is talking about? Vizquel was a very good putter, er, bunter. Maybe he thinks that’s defense?

Dennis Maffezzoli: “For those who do not think Vizquel is worthy, check out his fielding statistics and Rawlings Gold Gloves, since defense also is a key component of baseball.”

I’ve checked Rfield and DRA. Maffezzoli is wrong. And I suspect he doesn’t know what those things are. Hell, I’d bet he’s never heard of them. Also, When’s the last time you heard it referred to as a “Rawlings” Gold Glove?

John Delcos: “Defense is also a part of the game, but often overlooked by the new age stats. But, if Ozzie Smith is a Hall of Famer, then so is Vizquel,…”

First, new age stats absolutely do not overlook defense. Second, have we somehow established that Omar was as good as Ozzie? No? We haven’t? Get outta here with your foolishness.

Jose Ortiz: “…Vizquel was a defensive magician at a premium position who racked up more than 2,800 hits and 400 steals.”

Okay, Ortiz isn’t wrong. Of course, of all players with 2800 hits and 400 steals, Vizquel ranks last in both categories. He’s also last among that group in batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage. In other words, he’s nothing like the guys with those statistics. Ortiz made up his mind first and looked for statistical support afterwards. Thanks Play Index. You should subscribe!

Phil Rogers: “He is like Ozzie Smith in a lot of ways — a defensive wizard who played for some great teams and a threat with his bat after turning 30.”…. Vizquel was the most reliable player on the Indians from 1994-2004, when they were positioned to be Ohio’s second Big Red Machine if only they’d had better pitching. His run of nine consecutive American League Gold Glove Awards allowed Mike Hargrove’s teams to get the most out of pitching staffs that were rarely better than middle-of-the-pack quality.”

Rogers is just making crap up. From age-30 on, Vizquel had an OPS+ of just 85. That’s a threat with the bat? Let’s compare. After turning 30, Vizquel came to the plate a little over 8,000 times. So what I did was look up all hitters who came to the plate at least 6,000 times after that age and had an OPS+ below 100. Ozzie Smith (95), Maury Wills (90), and Maury Wills (90) were all better than Vizquel. Only Doc Cramer (84) and Rabbit Maranville (73) were worse.

More crap that he made up had to do with the Cleveland pitching staffs. They were rarely better than middle-of-the-pack? To check on that, I looked at runs allowed per game as a measure. Here’s how things shook out.

1994   5th (closer to 4th than average)
1995   1st
1996   1st
1997   7th (just about league average)
1998   5th (closer to 4th than average)
1999   8th (just about league average)
2000   3rd
2001   9th
2002  10th
2003   7th (just about league average)
2004  13th

He says that they were rarely better than league average, but that’s just silly. In more than half of the seasons, they were better than average. And in two they had the very best pitching in the AL. Rogers made the decision to vote for Vizquel than made crap up to support that position, not caring if it was true.

Steve Simmons: “…the best American League shortstop I’ve ever seen play the field, Omar Vizquel.”

Hello eye test. Narrow eye test.

Richard Griffin: “I’m a sucker for great shortstops, great defence, great athletes and players who show imagination in their play.”

This is essentially a confession that P.T. Barnum was right. Every minute.

Seth Livingstone: “To me, he was one of the greatest defensive shortstops I ever saw….I remember a night in Seattle when on the final out of Chris Bosio’s no-hitter he barehanded a ball behind the mound and threw out the runner for the final out. That was just the kind of defensive confidence and talent he had.”

Eye test alert. Anecdotes aren’t evidence, Seth.

Pete Caldera: “From what I saw, he was the finest defensive shortstop for the longest time (11 Gold Gloves) plus he nearly had 3,000 hits.”

Eye test. Sensing a trend?

Randy Miller: “Going by what I saw and what I’ve been told by respected talent evaluators, Vizquel is deserving of a plaque in Cooperstown.”

The eye test plus the likely made up “respected talent evaluators.” Special.

Carrie Muskat: “Jones, Thome and Vizquel were easy selections….Vizquel was so gifted athletically, he was someone I never wanted to miss playing shortstop.”

The eyes have it. You must use your eyes when any level of statistical analysis would render your predetermined conclusion incorrect.

Chris Haft: “Covering Vizquel during his National League stint with the Giants prompted my vote for him.”

This is a trend we’re going to look at later in the post. I assume this is the eye test and not just voting for someone you know.

Jim Street: “Watching Omar play defense on a diamond was like watching Picasso paint on canvas.”

I wish I knew enough about art to name a dozen painters greater than Picasso. Oooh! I know what I can do. Picasso has had five paintings go for over $100 million at auction. Omar never made more than $6 million in a season. In fact, there wasn’t a single season in his career when Vizquel made even 40% of the game’s leader. If they wouldn’t pay him, um, maybe he wasn’t that good.

Rick Telander: “A beautiful, acrobatic shortstop…He was a great little shortstop all kids should know about.”

Eye test, eye test, eye test.

Terry Pluto: “I know, some analytics types have a huge case against Vizquel. I also know Vizquel was the best defensive shortstop I’ve ever seen.”

Do people understand where the term “analytics” comes from? It’s from people who analyze the game. Pluto seemingly doesn’t (understand or analyze), but he’s willing to use the eye test.

Bill Livingston: “How in good conscience could I not vote for Omar Vizquel, the best shortstop I ever saw…”

Eye test. Also, he’s the guy who voted for only Indians. More on that type of decision later in the post.

Mark Purdy: “I usually vote for just 2 or 3 players per year, with rare exceptions—and often just one in each of my self-created categories. (Great hitter, great pitcher, fielding genius.)”

Seriously? C’mon, Mark.

Paul Gutierrez: “Vizquel might as well have been pulling rabbits out of a hat the way he was making magic while fielding grounders during batting practice one summer day at the San Francisco Giants’ AT&T Park in 2008. Except … the smooth-fielding Vizquel was not using a leather glove. Instead, he was wearing a makeshift glove he constructed out of cardboard, much like he fashioned as a kid growing up in Caracas, Venezuela, to better prepare his hands to transfer the ball, which he compared to an egg. And you cannot crack the egg.”

Combining the eye test, covering the player, and a silly anecdote.

Vizquel Voters Covered Him Regularly

I also went through the affiliations of each Vizquel voter. Sometimes it was easy to determine, sometimes hard, and sometimes I couldn’t figure it out. Overall, I could determine the affiliation of exactly 100 Vizquel voters. Amazingly, 39 of them (I think) worked for a paper in a city in which Vizquel played while he played there (excluding Cub or Athletic beat writers when he played for the White Sox and Giants). I wish I knew how many writers overall saw Vizquel play on a near-everyday basis for a period of time. I think that number would make the 39 look especially outlandish. To be honest, it already looks pretty outlandish for me.

Vizquel Voters Are Latino/Hispanic

I know I’m on somewhat risky ground here. I hope I am not accused of bigotry for completing this research or for its imperfection that I acknowledge up front. I am simply trying to understand what makes someone a Vizquel voter.

What I did was look at all voters who made their ballots public, all 312 of them. Then I went through the task of determining who was of Hispanic or Latino heritage. When I wasn’t confident, I looked up the writer as best I was able. While I’m confident my list is imperfect, I’m nearly as confident it’s close to accurate. With the help of my wife, a teacher of English as a Second Language, we came up with sixteen voters who fit our criteria. There is one about whom we are unsure, so we just skipped him.

To reiterate, we’re dealing with only sixteen human beings. No absolute conclusions at all can be drawn from this sample. Yet some numbers are striking.

Fifteen of this group voted for Vlad Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, and Chipper Jones. Fourteen voted for Jim Thome. And Omar is next, garnering thirteen votes from this group, or 81.3%. That’s versus only 37.0% of the overall vote, a conspicuous difference. Other interesting results include Curt Schilling receiving only 18.8% of this vote versus 51.2% of the total. Larry Walker got 34.1% of the total vote, yet he saw support from only 6.3% of these guys. And Sammy Sosa did a lot better with this group – 31.3% versus 7.8%.

Again, we’re dealing with only sixteen human beings. These numbers may or may not be meaningful.

Conclusions

Well, I conclude that writers who support Vizquel don’t do so by analyzing his record. Maybe they care about what their eyes told them. Maybe its narrative. It could be covering someone who, by all accounts, is a really nice guy. Or maybe its sharing a language or a heritage.

So should writers be forced to explain their ballots? Yes, they should. And I shouldn’t be allowed to read any of them if I care about my own mental health.

Miller

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Discussion

6 thoughts on “Understanding the Vizquel Voters

  1. Jeter is going to get into the Hall of Fame in a couple of years (and probably should), but part of the reason will be the flip play at home in the playoffs (still the most amazing play I ever saw, considering how out of position he was) and because of the diving into the stands foul that made all the highlight reels. People remember spectacular (Brooks Robinson in the 1970 World Series comes to mind for me) and those special moments remain in their minds longer than Rfield and DRA.
    I’m a little surprised at the reveal/non-reveal gap, not just for Vizquel but in general.
    v

    Posted by verdun2 | July 6, 2018, 8:39 am
    • There’s no doubt you’re right about Jeter and Brooks. However, those two would be in without the highlights. You’re also right, I think, that those moments last longer than Rfield or DRA. And for a fan, they should. They’re awesome! However, voters shouldn’t be fans, at least in my opinion. Voters should try to get it right. And moments don’t equal historical greatness. For me, that’s what the Hall should be about. Brooks and Jeter were historically great. Vizquel was an ordinary player who played for a long, long time.

      Posted by Miller | July 6, 2018, 10:46 am
  2. The quotes inspire projectile vomit, I couldn’t finish the article…but thank you for highlighting the flaws in Vizquel’s HOF resume.

    Posted by Ryan | July 6, 2018, 2:48 pm
    • Yeah, it’s really unbelievable (in a way that’s disappointing but totally believable).

      If you’re being serious about not being able to finish, I recommend you skip ahead the last two sections. To me, the “finding” in the last one is pretty interesting.

      Posted by Miller | July 6, 2018, 2:53 pm
      • Interesting angle on the heritage. IF people ignore analytical defensive measures, and he’s seen as an all-time defender at short, then I can understand looking closely at his candidacy. But all data we have points to him being woefully short.

        Posted by Ryan | July 7, 2018, 10:46 pm

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