The 1990s ignited a Cleveland Indians fan base the city hadn't seen before.
The team's roster through the mid-90s became a dynasty that never quite took the crown. Jim Thome. Kenny Lofton. Manny Ramirez. Sandy Alomar. Omar Vizquel. The star-studded lineup bolstered sales of jerseys still commonly spotted at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario today.
Among those fan-favorites remains Vizquel.
Vizquel is eligible for election into the MLB Hall of Fame for the first time in 2018 alongside former teammate Thome.
But the case for Vizquel is as complicated as the advanced stats that may weigh against him. Let's take a look at some of the pros and cons of his candidacy.
Defense, defense, defense
When it comes to Omar Vizquel, the first thing anyone should think of is his stellar defensive play: Vizquel won 11 Gold Gloves during his career (8 with the Indians), and dazzled fans, teammates, and even opponents with scores of acrobatic plays.
Vizquel's.985 fielding percentage is the best of all-time among shortstops, and his marks for assists and putouts rank third and 11th, respectively. Even using more advanced metrics, he is in good company: His career total zone rating of 134 is fifth-best, and three of the four shortstops ahead of him are all in Cooperstown.
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Longevity and work ethic
No one in the history of baseball has played more games at shortstop than Omar Vizquel, a testament to his longevity in the sport: Vizquel played 24 seasons with six different teams, and even selflessly accepted utility roles late in his career. He accomplished this not only by remaining a good fielder and providing clubhouse leadership, but also by staying in top physical shape.
Omar's longevity also allowed him to build up on stats conventional writers love, especially his 404 stolen bases and 2,877 hits, a total that's 43rd-best in baseball history. Of the 42 players with more hits, the only ones not in the Hall of Fame are either still playing or have ties to performance-enhancing drugs. Vizquel's offensive numbers also display his strong work ethis: While never at the level of others like Thome and Ramirez, he worked to develop himself into a decent hitter in Cleveland and batted .283 during his 11 seasons with the team.
Complicated by sabermetrics
Unfortunately for Vizquel, many of the more advanced statistics of today hurt his candidacy, the most important of all being Wins Above Replacement. Vizquel's career WAR of 45.1 is good, but not stellar, especially since he played for so many years. And while there are shortstops in the Hall of Fame with a lower number, Omar is still near the bottom.
The main reason for the low WAR seems to be Vizquel's hitting: Despite the large hit total, he had a rather pedestrian .272/.336/.352 career slash line, and his OPS+ of 82 means he was 18 percent worse than the average offensive player during that time, although Vizquel's defenders claim he was much better than those numbers would indicate.
However, some sabermetric stats actually help Omar's case: We already mentioned that his zone fielding rating is fifth among shortstops, and his defensive WAR of 28.4 is tied for 10th among all position players in the game's history. Of those tied with or above him, only Mark Belanger and Bill Dahlen are not in the Hall. Additionally, while his offense wasn't where some would like it to be, his .688 OPS is higher than the marks put up by Ozzie Smith (.666) and Luis Aparicio (.653), both Hall of Famers who are considered among the best shortstops of all-time.
Will he get in this year?
Unlike Thome (who is considered a lock for Cooperstown), Vizquel's case is much trickier, and really embodies the modern debate between traditional and advanced metrics. He will almost certainly get the five percent of votes required to stay on the ballot, but with so many worthy names seeking induction in 2018, Omar is unlikely to receive a plaque on his first attempt, and may have to convince some people in the years ahead.
Still, while he was often overshadowed throughout his career by better hitting shortstops like Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez (only making three All-Star teams), Omar put them all to shame at the most important defensive position in the sport. Even the advanced statistics say Vizquel is one of the best defensive players in baseball history, and one would be hard-pressed to find anyone who didn't think the same just by watching him in the field. Indians fans can now only hope enough writers feel it was enough to put Vizquel's name amongst the game's all-time greats.