Derek Jeter

The New York Yankees shortstop is set for another playoff appearance.

<p>The global superrich are not all bad. Good for much, no, but good for some things. They have innovated, for instance, in the fields of tax avoidance and on-demand jet procurement. And yacht seizure. Can’t forget that. More importantly, they have generally been responsible and ambitious sports-team owners, the sort who will invest in talent rather than try to win with less of it. </p><p>And as wealth continues to concentrate in the hands of a few, and franchises become as coveted as Modiglianis, teams have in recent years passed (at hefty premiums) from mere centimillionaires to billionaires. The Dodgers and Cubs, for instance, now belong to ownership groups bent on winning and nothing else, whatever the payroll cost. And the Red Sox, Yankees, Tigers, and Giants, among others, have operated that way for years.</p><p>Surely Miami Marlins fans thought this year they would be stumbling into the same spoils. The <a href="https://www.si.com/mlb/2017/07/11/all-star-game-marlins-jeffrey-loria" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:villainous Jeffrey Loria" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">villainous Jeffrey Loria</a>, who had swapped the Expos for the Marlins in 2002 and run them with a mixture of false hope and fire sales, was finally selling the team. The winning bid, announced in August, was financed by Bruce Sherman, a retired money manager, along with a handful of other putatively well-to-do folks. And it had as its public face the foremost avatar of winning in baseball: Derek Jeter, who would not be just an investor but the man in charge of the team. (Then again, his ownership stake is reportedly a piddling $25 million, and he is said to be paying himself a $5 million annual salary.)</p><p>While there was little reason to think at the time that the Marlins would immediately become south Florida’s Yankees—the team has terrible attendance figures, the result of alienating fans for years, and went 77-85 in 2017, necessitating a longer-term turnaround plan rather than splurges in this offseason’s flawed free-agent market—there was even less reason to think the Marlins would send the 28-year-old who just had the best season in franchise history, the reigning MVP…<em> to the Yankees.</em></p><p>But that is exactly what Jeter did early Saturday morning, if reports are to be believed, sending Giancarlo Stanton Bronxward (pending physicals) for an as-yet-unknown package of prospects and big-leaguers. Stanton, who has 10 years and $285 million remaining on the megadeal he signed in November 2014, had in recent days exercised his no-trade clause to veto proposed deals with San Francisco and St. Louis. The team traded second baseman Dee Gordon and his outstanding $38 million in salary to Seattle on Thursday.</p><p>The warning signs had manifested themselves before season’s end: Plenty of conveniently timed reports emerged that the Marlins were hemorrhaging money and needed to cut payroll. (When a professional sports franchise that sold for $1.2 billion with a publicly funded stadium claims to be losing gobs of money, ask to see the books.) Jeter himself was blamed for the callous sackings of <a href="http://www.miamiherald.com/sports/spt-columns-blogs/barry-jackson/article174950766.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:team legends like Jeff Conine and Andre Dawson" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">team legends like Jeff Conine and Andre Dawson</a> plus a veteran scout in <a href="https://sports.yahoo.com/derek-jeter-led-marlins-parted-ways-scout-hospital-undergoing-cancer-surgery-162134586.html" data-ylk="slk:the hospital awaiting a kidney transplant." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the hospital awaiting a kidney transplant.</a> And a pitch deck to <a href="https://www.fanragsports.com/heyman-marlins-seeking-investors-with-project-citrus/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:potential minority investors" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">potential minority investors</a> mentioned that the club would seek “player payroll discipline” for “enhanced financial flexibility.” </p><p>All seemed to foretell a Stanton trade. But the idea was still hard to fathom. Why liberate the Marlins from Jeffrey Loria, only to turn into Jeffrey Loria?</p><p>There is a legitimate baseball defense of the Marlins’ moving Stanton. While no one hits the ball with the force of Stanton—except perhaps his soon-to-be outfield-mate, Aaron Judge—the juiced ball has made power easy to come by in recent seasons. (Teams don’t get extra runs for their players hitting balls into the second or third decks, at least not until the rules change.) Stanton is also coming off his best-ever season, one that followed two disappointing injury-curtailed campaigns; Miami is selling high. </p><p>And the Marlins haven’t sniffed a playoff spot since 2003 and haven’t finished above .500 since 2009. Even with Stanton crushing every pitch, and a rejuvenated Marcell Ozuna, they were two to three starting pitchers short of where they needed to be. (In 2017, their starters had a 5.12 ERA, with the average outing lasting a little more than five innings.) With one of the game’s worst farm systems, any contention plan would have required heavy free-agent investment. Now, though, with prospects in Stanton’s place, Miami could reasonably claim to be in a better strategic position than they were before.</p><p>To hell with all that, though. The worst owner in baseball was finally replaced. His replacements waited two months before embarking on another signature Marlins fire sale. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. What a humiliation.</p>
Marlins' New Ownership Ripped Giancarlo Stanton From Jeffrey Loria's Playbook

The global superrich are not all bad. Good for much, no, but good for some things. They have innovated, for instance, in the fields of tax avoidance and on-demand jet procurement. And yacht seizure. Can’t forget that. More importantly, they have generally been responsible and ambitious sports-team owners, the sort who will invest in talent rather than try to win with less of it.

And as wealth continues to concentrate in the hands of a few, and franchises become as coveted as Modiglianis, teams have in recent years passed (at hefty premiums) from mere centimillionaires to billionaires. The Dodgers and Cubs, for instance, now belong to ownership groups bent on winning and nothing else, whatever the payroll cost. And the Red Sox, Yankees, Tigers, and Giants, among others, have operated that way for years.

Surely Miami Marlins fans thought this year they would be stumbling into the same spoils. The villainous Jeffrey Loria, who had swapped the Expos for the Marlins in 2002 and run them with a mixture of false hope and fire sales, was finally selling the team. The winning bid, announced in August, was financed by Bruce Sherman, a retired money manager, along with a handful of other putatively well-to-do folks. And it had as its public face the foremost avatar of winning in baseball: Derek Jeter, who would not be just an investor but the man in charge of the team. (Then again, his ownership stake is reportedly a piddling $25 million, and he is said to be paying himself a $5 million annual salary.)

While there was little reason to think at the time that the Marlins would immediately become south Florida’s Yankees—the team has terrible attendance figures, the result of alienating fans for years, and went 77-85 in 2017, necessitating a longer-term turnaround plan rather than splurges in this offseason’s flawed free-agent market—there was even less reason to think the Marlins would send the 28-year-old who just had the best season in franchise history, the reigning MVP… to the Yankees.

But that is exactly what Jeter did early Saturday morning, if reports are to be believed, sending Giancarlo Stanton Bronxward (pending physicals) for an as-yet-unknown package of prospects and big-leaguers. Stanton, who has 10 years and $285 million remaining on the megadeal he signed in November 2014, had in recent days exercised his no-trade clause to veto proposed deals with San Francisco and St. Louis. The team traded second baseman Dee Gordon and his outstanding $38 million in salary to Seattle on Thursday.

The warning signs had manifested themselves before season’s end: Plenty of conveniently timed reports emerged that the Marlins were hemorrhaging money and needed to cut payroll. (When a professional sports franchise that sold for $1.2 billion with a publicly funded stadium claims to be losing gobs of money, ask to see the books.) Jeter himself was blamed for the callous sackings of team legends like Jeff Conine and Andre Dawson plus a veteran scout in the hospital awaiting a kidney transplant. And a pitch deck to potential minority investors mentioned that the club would seek “player payroll discipline” for “enhanced financial flexibility.”

All seemed to foretell a Stanton trade. But the idea was still hard to fathom. Why liberate the Marlins from Jeffrey Loria, only to turn into Jeffrey Loria?

There is a legitimate baseball defense of the Marlins’ moving Stanton. While no one hits the ball with the force of Stanton—except perhaps his soon-to-be outfield-mate, Aaron Judge—the juiced ball has made power easy to come by in recent seasons. (Teams don’t get extra runs for their players hitting balls into the second or third decks, at least not until the rules change.) Stanton is also coming off his best-ever season, one that followed two disappointing injury-curtailed campaigns; Miami is selling high.

And the Marlins haven’t sniffed a playoff spot since 2003 and haven’t finished above .500 since 2009. Even with Stanton crushing every pitch, and a rejuvenated Marcell Ozuna, they were two to three starting pitchers short of where they needed to be. (In 2017, their starters had a 5.12 ERA, with the average outing lasting a little more than five innings.) With one of the game’s worst farm systems, any contention plan would have required heavy free-agent investment. Now, though, with prospects in Stanton’s place, Miami could reasonably claim to be in a better strategic position than they were before.

To hell with all that, though. The worst owner in baseball was finally replaced. His replacements waited two months before embarking on another signature Marlins fire sale. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. What a humiliation.

<p>The Yankees and Marlins have <a href="https://www.si.com/mlb/2017/12/09/yankees-marlins-giancarlo-stanton-trade" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:reportedly agreed" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">reportedly agreed</a> to terms on a trade that would send reigning National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton to New York, <a href="https://twitter.com/JonHeyman/status/939477495606366210" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:according to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">according to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports</a>. And the internet, as it tends to do, went wild. </p><p>Stanton has a full no-trade clause in the 13-year, $325 million contract he signed back in 2014, but the Yankees are <a href="https://www.si.com/mlb/2017/12/08/giancarlo-stanton-trade-yankees" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:reportedly" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">reportedly</a> on the list of teams he&#39;d waive it for.</p><p>The 28-year-old hit .281 last year with 59 homers and 132 RBIs in a career-best 159 games. He is owed $295 million over the next 10 years with an opt-out clause in 2021.</p><p>With Stanton as the biggest name in the offseason next to Shohei Otani, naturally the news was huge. And since Otani didn&#39;t choose the Yankees, of course, New York fans are feeling a lot better this morning. Throw in some Derek Jeter secretly working to bring more championships to the Yankees, and it&#39;s all pure internet gold. </p><h3>Here&#39;s how players across the league reacted:</h3><h3>Here&#39;s how the rest of the internet reacted:</h3>
Players, Internet React to Giancarlo Stanton Trade

The Yankees and Marlins have reportedly agreed to terms on a trade that would send reigning National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton to New York, according to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports. And the internet, as it tends to do, went wild.

Stanton has a full no-trade clause in the 13-year, $325 million contract he signed back in 2014, but the Yankees are reportedly on the list of teams he'd waive it for.

The 28-year-old hit .281 last year with 59 homers and 132 RBIs in a career-best 159 games. He is owed $295 million over the next 10 years with an opt-out clause in 2021.

With Stanton as the biggest name in the offseason next to Shohei Otani, naturally the news was huge. And since Otani didn't choose the Yankees, of course, New York fans are feeling a lot better this morning. Throw in some Derek Jeter secretly working to bring more championships to the Yankees, and it's all pure internet gold.

Here's how players across the league reacted:

Here's how the rest of the internet reacted:

WQAM&#39;s Joe Rose on the Marlins starting to clean house by trading Dee Gordon to the Seattle Mariners. Also, new owner Derek Jeter is already getting backlash from fans.
Talkin' With Joe 12/8
WQAM's Joe Rose on the Marlins starting to clean house by trading Dee Gordon to the Seattle Mariners. Also, new owner Derek Jeter is already getting backlash from fans.
WQAM&#39;s Joe Rose on the Marlins starting to clean house by trading Dee Gordon to the Seattle Mariners. Also, new owner Derek Jeter is already getting backlash from fans.
Talkin' With Joe 12/8
WQAM's Joe Rose on the Marlins starting to clean house by trading Dee Gordon to the Seattle Mariners. Also, new owner Derek Jeter is already getting backlash from fans.
WQAM&#39;s Joe Rose on the Marlins starting to clean house by trading Dee Gordon to the Seattle Mariners. Also, new owner Derek Jeter is already getting backlash from fans.
Talkin' With Joe 12/8
WQAM's Joe Rose on the Marlins starting to clean house by trading Dee Gordon to the Seattle Mariners. Also, new owner Derek Jeter is already getting backlash from fans.
WQAM's Joe Rose on the Marlins starting to clean house by trading Dee Gordon to the Seattle Mariners. Also, new owner Derek Jeter is already getting backlash from fans.
Talkin' With Joe 12/8
WQAM's Joe Rose on the Marlins starting to clean house by trading Dee Gordon to the Seattle Mariners. Also, new owner Derek Jeter is already getting backlash from fans.
FILE - In this Sept. 30, 2017, file photo, Miami Marlins&#39; Dee Gordon hits a single during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves in Miami. Gordon has been traded to the Seattle Mariners for three prospects in a deal that marks the start of the Marlins latest payroll purge, this time under new CEO Derek Jeter. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)
Marlins' Dee Gordon traded to Mariners for 3 prospects
FILE - In this Sept. 30, 2017, file photo, Miami Marlins' Dee Gordon hits a single during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves in Miami. Gordon has been traded to the Seattle Mariners for three prospects in a deal that marks the start of the Marlins latest payroll purge, this time under new CEO Derek Jeter. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)
FILE - In this Sept. 30, 2017, file photo, Miami Marlins&#39; Dee Gordon hits a single during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves in Miami. Gordon has been traded to the Seattle Mariners for three prospects in a deal that marks the start of the Marlins’ latest payroll purge, this time under new CEO Derek Jeter. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)
FILE - In this Sept. 30, 2017, file photo, Miami Marlins' Dee Gordon hits a single during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves in Miami. Gordon has been traded to the Seattle Mariners for three prospects in a deal that marks the start of the Marlins’ latest payroll purge, this time under new CEO Derek Jeter. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)
FILE - In this Sept. 30, 2017, file photo, Miami Marlins' Dee Gordon hits a single during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves in Miami. Gordon has been traded to the Seattle Mariners for three prospects in a deal that marks the start of the Marlins’ latest payroll purge, this time under new CEO Derek Jeter. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)
<p><strong>Tom Verducci:</strong> Stanton is going to the Giants, even though he wants to go to the Dodgers. The idea that he will stay with a rebuilding team in which he earns about 30 percent of the payroll is not appealing to someone who has never seen the postseason. Ken Griffey wanted to be traded to the Braves, but when they didn’t want him, he took a deal to the Reds. Justin Verlander wanted to be traded to the Dodgers, Yankees or Cubs, but when those teams didn’t want him, he took a deal to the Astros. Sometimes you don’t get exactly what you want, but you get yourself in a better place.</p><p><strong>Jay Jaffe: </strong>I don&#39;t think he gets traded before the end of the winter meetings, but if he does, it will be to the Giants. Throughout the industry, the belief is that the Dodgers are Stanton&#39;s first choice, but they have yet to pursue the 28-year-old Los Angeles-area native wholeheartedly. His remaining salary may be too much to fit into their already massive payroll unless Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi can reprise their 2014 winter meetings whirlwind and clear payroll quickly. Thus, the most likely near-term Stanton deal is to the Giants; they already have the framework in place and the move would at least get the slugger back on the west coast. But Stanton is the one with the leverage, and if he wants to hold out for the Dodgers—perhaps until next summer or even winter—sooner or later Derek Jeter and company will capitulate and take what they can get.</p><p><strong>Stephanie Apstein: </strong>Yes. They were reportedly very close to terms with the Giants, and I think that will happen.?</p><p><strong>Jack Dickey:</strong> Yup, Stanton will be traded. Hell, he’s <em>already been</em> traded, <a href="http://www.knbr.com/2017/12/06/bobby-evans-we-have-worked-out-the-terms-with-marlins-on-deal-for-stanton/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:to judge by the words from Giants general manager Bobby Evans on Wednesday." class="link rapid-noclick-resp">to judge by the words from Giants general manager Bobby Evans on Wednesday.</a> He just hasn’t waived his no-trade clause. Only Stanton knows what he wants, but both San Francisco and St. Louis present more appealing baseball opportunities than the tanking Marlins. (How do we know they’re tanking? They’re trading Giancarlo Stanton!) My guess is the Giants get it done.</p><p><strong>Jon Tayler: </strong>He shouldn’t be—please, Derek Jeter, turn away from this madness—but he will be, because the Marlins are hell-bent on embracing their south Florida con artist destiny. But I don’t think either of the two reported frontrunners, the Giants and Cardinals, is bringing home the hulking slugger. Instead, I bet Stanton, though his no-trade clause, will ultimately force a deal to his hometown Dodgers, who have the payroll wherewithal to accommodate the NL MVP.?</p><p><strong>?Gabriel Baumgaertner: </strong>Count me as one of the crazy few who does not think Stanton is going anywhere. By trading Dee Gordon to the Mariners, the Marlins are keen on stripping the team to pieces, but that doesn&#39;t change the fact that Stanton retains a full no-trade clause. Instead, I think Stanton waits and is traded next season, when a desperate team on the cusp of playoff contention will sell its farm system to acquire the slugger. If he is traded, he&#39;d be smart to pick St. Louis instead of San Francisco, where his power will be decimated by the spacious AT&#38;T Park and foggy San Francisco nights.</p><p><strong>?Connor Grossman: </strong>Stanton will end up waiving his no-trade clause to play in San Francisco. It’s well known at this point that his first choice is the Dodgers, but LA doesn’t seem hell-bent on getting a deal together this offseason to take on his monstrous contract. </p><p>Stanton’s desire to get out of Miami will ultimately drive him to make a decision this offseason, and the Giants seem to align with more of his reported preferences than the Cardinals. It’ll be San Francisco’s most significant acquisition since yanking Barry Bonds from Pittsburgh in December 1992.</p>
Will Giancarlo Stanton be Traded?

Tom Verducci: Stanton is going to the Giants, even though he wants to go to the Dodgers. The idea that he will stay with a rebuilding team in which he earns about 30 percent of the payroll is not appealing to someone who has never seen the postseason. Ken Griffey wanted to be traded to the Braves, but when they didn’t want him, he took a deal to the Reds. Justin Verlander wanted to be traded to the Dodgers, Yankees or Cubs, but when those teams didn’t want him, he took a deal to the Astros. Sometimes you don’t get exactly what you want, but you get yourself in a better place.

Jay Jaffe: I don't think he gets traded before the end of the winter meetings, but if he does, it will be to the Giants. Throughout the industry, the belief is that the Dodgers are Stanton's first choice, but they have yet to pursue the 28-year-old Los Angeles-area native wholeheartedly. His remaining salary may be too much to fit into their already massive payroll unless Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi can reprise their 2014 winter meetings whirlwind and clear payroll quickly. Thus, the most likely near-term Stanton deal is to the Giants; they already have the framework in place and the move would at least get the slugger back on the west coast. But Stanton is the one with the leverage, and if he wants to hold out for the Dodgers—perhaps until next summer or even winter—sooner or later Derek Jeter and company will capitulate and take what they can get.

Stephanie Apstein: Yes. They were reportedly very close to terms with the Giants, and I think that will happen.?

Jack Dickey: Yup, Stanton will be traded. Hell, he’s already been traded, to judge by the words from Giants general manager Bobby Evans on Wednesday. He just hasn’t waived his no-trade clause. Only Stanton knows what he wants, but both San Francisco and St. Louis present more appealing baseball opportunities than the tanking Marlins. (How do we know they’re tanking? They’re trading Giancarlo Stanton!) My guess is the Giants get it done.

Jon Tayler: He shouldn’t be—please, Derek Jeter, turn away from this madness—but he will be, because the Marlins are hell-bent on embracing their south Florida con artist destiny. But I don’t think either of the two reported frontrunners, the Giants and Cardinals, is bringing home the hulking slugger. Instead, I bet Stanton, though his no-trade clause, will ultimately force a deal to his hometown Dodgers, who have the payroll wherewithal to accommodate the NL MVP.?

?Gabriel Baumgaertner: Count me as one of the crazy few who does not think Stanton is going anywhere. By trading Dee Gordon to the Mariners, the Marlins are keen on stripping the team to pieces, but that doesn't change the fact that Stanton retains a full no-trade clause. Instead, I think Stanton waits and is traded next season, when a desperate team on the cusp of playoff contention will sell its farm system to acquire the slugger. If he is traded, he'd be smart to pick St. Louis instead of San Francisco, where his power will be decimated by the spacious AT&T Park and foggy San Francisco nights.

?Connor Grossman: Stanton will end up waiving his no-trade clause to play in San Francisco. It’s well known at this point that his first choice is the Dodgers, but LA doesn’t seem hell-bent on getting a deal together this offseason to take on his monstrous contract.

Stanton’s desire to get out of Miami will ultimately drive him to make a decision this offseason, and the Giants seem to align with more of his reported preferences than the Cardinals. It’ll be San Francisco’s most significant acquisition since yanking Barry Bonds from Pittsburgh in December 1992.

<p>Just as the Giancarlo Stanton trade situation appears to be coming to a head, a wrench may be thrown into its complicated works. The Marlins’ attempt to deal the NL MVP has been a slow and fitful process, but over the last two weeks, two teams have emerged as finalists: the Giants and Cardinals. Both San Francisco and St. Louis have gotten far enough along in talks <a href="http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2747308-giancarlo-stanton-reportedly-attended-giants-cardinals-trade-meetings" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:to meet with Stanton face to face" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">to meet with Stanton face to face</a>, and both teams <a href="http://m.mlb.com/news/article/262789910/giancarlo-stanton-pondering-his-future-home/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:have terms worked out with Miami" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">have terms worked out with Miami</a> with regards to compensation. But according to NBC Sports Bay Area reporter Alex Pavlovic, while the Giants expect a resolution by the end of the week, a familiar foe could jump into the running at the last minute.</p><p>It’s fitting that the Dodgers might be the stumbling block for the Giants, but just how likely a destination is southern California for Stanton? It’s unwise to write the Dodgers out of any competition where money is involved, but reality isn’t as straightforward.</p><p>Since a Stanton trade first floated into consciousness at the start of the offseason, the Dodgers have been a popular destination, yet the team has been more on the periphery of talks for him than front and center. On Tuesday night, <a href="https://twitter.com/jonmorosi/status/938258415612256256" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:MLB Network’s Jon Morosi tweeted" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">MLB Network’s Jon Morosi tweeted</a> that Los Angeles and Miami had stayed in touch with regards to a Stanton deal, but that “discussions … are not serious” (albeit with an ominous “for now” added at the end of that tweet). Beyond that, though, there’s been no link between the Dodgers and Stanton—no leaked discussions, no rumored prospect packages, and no Los Angeles-colored invocations of a #mysteryteam still in the running.</p><p>Instead, what’s got Dodgers fans dreaming of Stanton in blue and white is where he’s from. The 28-year-old outfielder was born in Panorama, Calif., a northern suburb of Los Angeles, and went to high school in nearby Sherman Oaks. He grew up a Dodgers fan and lives in southern California during the offseason; when the Giants and Cardinals met with him to talk trade, they came to Los Angeles. And while Stanton hasn’t publicly said that he wants to be a Dodger, <a href="https://twitter.com/jonmorosi/status/935214135687737347" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:that’s the industry-wide belief" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">that’s the industry-wide belief</a> (again, per Morosi). And beyond coming home, the Dodgers offer Stanton something he’s never had: a stable, contending organization. To go from the Marlins’ perpetual rebuild to a team fresh off 103 wins and a pennant is as sharp and desirable a 180-degree turn as possible.</p><p>It helps that, while it’s the Marlins who want to move him, Stanton holds all the cards thanks to his no-trade clause. The big slugger gets final say on where he goes, and if it’s Los Angeles he wants, then he can simply reject all deals otherwise. In fact, he doesn’t even have to say no; <a href="https://twitter.com/Buster_ESPN/status/938270699277504512" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:as ESPN’s Buster Olney reported" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">as ESPN’s Buster Olney reported</a>, Stanton can simply ignore whatever proposal Miami sends his way—a “pocket veto,” as Olney puts it.</p><p>All of that would seem to put the Dodgers in the driver’s seat if they want to make an offer, or at least make them the favorites. While Los Angeles is a team wary of sacrificing top prospects despite its loaded farm system, neither San Francisco nor St. Louis could top them in terms of a potential package, especially given the financial demands of Stanton’s contract.</p><p>But the Dodgers have stayed on the sidelines, and the money will likely keep them there. There are still 10 years and $275 million left on Stanton’s deal, unless he opts out of it after the 2020 season—unlikely, barring the greatest three-year run in MLB history. And that’s not including the $25 million team option in 2028 or, more likely, the $10 million buyout after that year, Stanton’s age-38 season. For as good as Stanton is now, the prospect of paying him at least $25 million every single season for the next decade—particularly for a player who will be in his 30s for the majority of it—has to be scary, even for the richest team in baseball.</p><p>That also doesn’t take into account Los Angeles’ already existing financials. For 2018 alone, the Dodgers already have $185.8 million on the books in guaranteed deals. Add in the projected $25 million they’ll be spending in arbitration, and you’re looking at a payroll of $214 million before the team does any offseason spending. There are ways the Dodgers can offload or offset some of Stanton’s cost, but it won’t be easy. They’re already <a href="http://m.mlb.com/news/article/262603388/dodgers-may-consider-trading-yasmani-grandal/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:reportedly looking to deal" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">reportedly looking to deal</a> former starting catcher Yasmani Grandal, who is looking at a 2018 salary of close to $8 million via arbitration. Los Angeles could also try to unload declining veteran Adrian Gonzalez ($22.36 million next year) or the oft-injured Scott Kazmir ($17.67 million). But barring some kind-hearted front office doing the Dodgers a favor, it’s unlikely either of those two would depart without some other bad contract coming back in exchange.</p><p>Adding Stanton without a counter move would rocket the Dodgers’ payroll to close to $250 million next year. For a team that pulled in nearly half a billion dollars in revenue in 2016, that figure isn’t all that problematic on its own. But you also have to take into account Los Angeles’ mortal enemy, the luxury tax. There’s no way the Dodgers will get under 2018’s threshold of $197 million, and with every dollar over that figure taxed and with repeat offenders—which the Dodgers are, having surpassed the limit in 2016 and ‘17—penalized extra, that disincentives large expenditures like Stanton.</p><p>Ultimately, though, what may stay the Dodgers’ hand is what’s coming next winter: the free-agent apocalypse that will be Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Charlie Blackmon and a dozen other stars hitting the market all at once. And that group could include resident ace Clayton Kershaw, who is signed through 2020 but has an opt-out clause after next season. Kershaw would have no trouble beating the $69 million due to him after 2018 in free agency; at the very least, he should be able to squeeze another big multi-year deal out of the Dodgers. Stanton is a definite upgrade in leftfield over the combo of Kiké Hernandez and Joc Pederson, but considering they’ll combine to make around $3–4 million next year, is it worth tacking on Stanton’s contract and potentially hamstringing future offseasons or losing Kershaw to accomplish that?</p><p>So while the Giants may be looking over their shoulders in a panic, it’s unlikely that the Dodgers are creeping up on them to snatch Stanton away. In the end, though, it may not be the Dodgers who scuttle San Francisco’s (or St. Louis’) hopes, but Stanton himself. His no-trade clause gives him all the power, and while leaving Miami’s endless dysfunction is probably plenty appealing by now, there’s no reason for him to accept a trade to anything but his preferred team just to spare Derek Jeter’s checkbook. The prospect of another year with a franchise that actively doesn’t want him can’t be fun, but he could always hold out and hope for better next year. In which case, maybe we’ll be going over this same series of issues and breaking down the Dodgers’ chances yet again next December.</p>
Giancarlo Stanton Probably Isn't Going to the Dodgers

Just as the Giancarlo Stanton trade situation appears to be coming to a head, a wrench may be thrown into its complicated works. The Marlins’ attempt to deal the NL MVP has been a slow and fitful process, but over the last two weeks, two teams have emerged as finalists: the Giants and Cardinals. Both San Francisco and St. Louis have gotten far enough along in talks to meet with Stanton face to face, and both teams have terms worked out with Miami with regards to compensation. But according to NBC Sports Bay Area reporter Alex Pavlovic, while the Giants expect a resolution by the end of the week, a familiar foe could jump into the running at the last minute.

It’s fitting that the Dodgers might be the stumbling block for the Giants, but just how likely a destination is southern California for Stanton? It’s unwise to write the Dodgers out of any competition where money is involved, but reality isn’t as straightforward.

Since a Stanton trade first floated into consciousness at the start of the offseason, the Dodgers have been a popular destination, yet the team has been more on the periphery of talks for him than front and center. On Tuesday night, MLB Network’s Jon Morosi tweeted that Los Angeles and Miami had stayed in touch with regards to a Stanton deal, but that “discussions … are not serious” (albeit with an ominous “for now” added at the end of that tweet). Beyond that, though, there’s been no link between the Dodgers and Stanton—no leaked discussions, no rumored prospect packages, and no Los Angeles-colored invocations of a #mysteryteam still in the running.

Instead, what’s got Dodgers fans dreaming of Stanton in blue and white is where he’s from. The 28-year-old outfielder was born in Panorama, Calif., a northern suburb of Los Angeles, and went to high school in nearby Sherman Oaks. He grew up a Dodgers fan and lives in southern California during the offseason; when the Giants and Cardinals met with him to talk trade, they came to Los Angeles. And while Stanton hasn’t publicly said that he wants to be a Dodger, that’s the industry-wide belief (again, per Morosi). And beyond coming home, the Dodgers offer Stanton something he’s never had: a stable, contending organization. To go from the Marlins’ perpetual rebuild to a team fresh off 103 wins and a pennant is as sharp and desirable a 180-degree turn as possible.

It helps that, while it’s the Marlins who want to move him, Stanton holds all the cards thanks to his no-trade clause. The big slugger gets final say on where he goes, and if it’s Los Angeles he wants, then he can simply reject all deals otherwise. In fact, he doesn’t even have to say no; as ESPN’s Buster Olney reported, Stanton can simply ignore whatever proposal Miami sends his way—a “pocket veto,” as Olney puts it.

All of that would seem to put the Dodgers in the driver’s seat if they want to make an offer, or at least make them the favorites. While Los Angeles is a team wary of sacrificing top prospects despite its loaded farm system, neither San Francisco nor St. Louis could top them in terms of a potential package, especially given the financial demands of Stanton’s contract.

But the Dodgers have stayed on the sidelines, and the money will likely keep them there. There are still 10 years and $275 million left on Stanton’s deal, unless he opts out of it after the 2020 season—unlikely, barring the greatest three-year run in MLB history. And that’s not including the $25 million team option in 2028 or, more likely, the $10 million buyout after that year, Stanton’s age-38 season. For as good as Stanton is now, the prospect of paying him at least $25 million every single season for the next decade—particularly for a player who will be in his 30s for the majority of it—has to be scary, even for the richest team in baseball.

That also doesn’t take into account Los Angeles’ already existing financials. For 2018 alone, the Dodgers already have $185.8 million on the books in guaranteed deals. Add in the projected $25 million they’ll be spending in arbitration, and you’re looking at a payroll of $214 million before the team does any offseason spending. There are ways the Dodgers can offload or offset some of Stanton’s cost, but it won’t be easy. They’re already reportedly looking to deal former starting catcher Yasmani Grandal, who is looking at a 2018 salary of close to $8 million via arbitration. Los Angeles could also try to unload declining veteran Adrian Gonzalez ($22.36 million next year) or the oft-injured Scott Kazmir ($17.67 million). But barring some kind-hearted front office doing the Dodgers a favor, it’s unlikely either of those two would depart without some other bad contract coming back in exchange.

Adding Stanton without a counter move would rocket the Dodgers’ payroll to close to $250 million next year. For a team that pulled in nearly half a billion dollars in revenue in 2016, that figure isn’t all that problematic on its own. But you also have to take into account Los Angeles’ mortal enemy, the luxury tax. There’s no way the Dodgers will get under 2018’s threshold of $197 million, and with every dollar over that figure taxed and with repeat offenders—which the Dodgers are, having surpassed the limit in 2016 and ‘17—penalized extra, that disincentives large expenditures like Stanton.

Ultimately, though, what may stay the Dodgers’ hand is what’s coming next winter: the free-agent apocalypse that will be Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Charlie Blackmon and a dozen other stars hitting the market all at once. And that group could include resident ace Clayton Kershaw, who is signed through 2020 but has an opt-out clause after next season. Kershaw would have no trouble beating the $69 million due to him after 2018 in free agency; at the very least, he should be able to squeeze another big multi-year deal out of the Dodgers. Stanton is a definite upgrade in leftfield over the combo of Kiké Hernandez and Joc Pederson, but considering they’ll combine to make around $3–4 million next year, is it worth tacking on Stanton’s contract and potentially hamstringing future offseasons or losing Kershaw to accomplish that?

So while the Giants may be looking over their shoulders in a panic, it’s unlikely that the Dodgers are creeping up on them to snatch Stanton away. In the end, though, it may not be the Dodgers who scuttle San Francisco’s (or St. Louis’) hopes, but Stanton himself. His no-trade clause gives him all the power, and while leaving Miami’s endless dysfunction is probably plenty appealing by now, there’s no reason for him to accept a trade to anything but his preferred team just to spare Derek Jeter’s checkbook. The prospect of another year with a franchise that actively doesn’t want him can’t be fun, but he could always hold out and hope for better next year. In which case, maybe we’ll be going over this same series of issues and breaking down the Dodgers’ chances yet again next December.

<p><em>The following article is part of my ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2018 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year&#39;s ballot, please see </em><a href="https://www.si.com/mlb/2017/11/20/hall-of-fame-ballot-chipper-jones-jim-thome" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:here" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><em>here</em></a><em>. For an introduction to JAWS, see </em><a href="https://www.si.com/mlb/2017/11/27/hall-fame-jaws-intro-2018-ballot" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:here" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><em>here</em></a><em>.</em></p><p>In the eyes of many, Omar Vizquel was the successor to Ozzie Smith when it came to dazzling defense. Thanks to the increased prevalence of highlight footage on the internet and cable shows such as ESPN’s <em>SportsCenter</em> and <em>Baseball Tonight</em>, the diminutive Venezuelan shortstop’s barehanded grabs, diving stops and daily acrobatics were seen by far more viewers than Smith’s ever were. Vizquel made up for having a less-than-prototypically-strong arm with incredibly soft hands and a knack for advantageous positioning. Such was the perception of his prowess at the position that he took home 11 Gold Gloves, more than any shortstop this side of Smith, who won 13.</p><p>Vizquel’s offense was superficially akin to Smith’s: he was a singles-slapping switch-hitter in lineups full of bigger bats, and at his best, he was a capable table-setter who got on base often enough to score 80, 90 or even 100 runs in some seasons. His ability to move the runner over with a sacrifice bunt or a productive out delighted purists, and he could steal a base, too. While he lacked power, he dealt in volume, piling up more hits (2,877) than all but four shortstops, all of them in the Hall of Fame or heading there: Derek Jeter (3,465), Honus Wagner (3,420), Cal Ripken Jr. (3,184) and Robin Yount (3,142). During his 11-year run in Cleveland (1994–2004), he helped the Indians to six playoff appearances and two pennants.</p><p>To some, that makes Vizquel an easy call for the Hall of Fame now that he has reached the ballot, but these eyes aren’t so sure. Via WAR and JAWS, Vizquel’s case isn’t nearly as strong as it is on the traditional merits, and his candidacy has the potential to be the next point of friction between old-school and new-school thinkers when it comes to the Hall of Fame. Is he the next Jack Morris?</p><p>Born to an electrical company technician and a kindergarten teacher in Caracas, Venezuela in 1967, Vizquel grew up in the poor neighborhood of Santa Eduvigis, where baseball was a constant. As a youngster he honed his quick reflexes and extraordinary hands by carrying around a rubber ball or tennis ball, which he would constantly bounce off of nearby objects and snare barehanded. Those skills were put to great use as he played on the rocky sandlots of his hometown, where preventing ground balls from hitting him in the face was a necessary survival tactic.</p><p>When Vizquel cut his teeth on those sandlots, the presence of his countrymen in the major leagues had begun to ramp up significantly. The first Venezuela-born major leaguer was pitcher Alex Carrasquel, who spent 1939–45 with the Senators, with a brief cameo with the White Sox in ’49. The third was his nephew, Chico Carrasquel, who spent 1950–59 in the majors, including six years with the White Sox alongside Nellie Fox as one the era’s great double play combos. The younger Carrasquel became the first Venezuela-born All-Star in 1951 and would make three more Midsummer Classic squads before being traded to the Indians for Larry Doby in October 1955. The White Sox replaced him with another Venezuelan, Luis Aparicio, who immediately validated the deal by winning AL Rookie of the Year and leading the league in stolen bases for the first of nine straight years. He would eventually win nine Gold Gloves, though one could quibble with the rest of his Cooperstown credentials. Through 1966, nine Venezuela-born players had reached the majors, but in ’67 alone, the year of Vizquel’s birth, five more did, the start of a steady stream that continues to this day.</p><p>The Mariners signed Vizquel in 1984, just short of his 17th birthday, for a mere $2,000 bonus and brought him to the U.S., where he lived with three other young Venezuelans. His parents had forced him to take a three-month crash course in English to prepare for his career, which began in Butte, Montana, with Seattle’s Pioneer League affiliate. He climbed the organizational ladder methodically: Low-A Bellingham in 1985, A-level Wausau in &#39;86 (the year he began switch-hitting), A-level Salinas in &#39;87, Double A Vermont and Triple A Calgary in &#39;88, and finally the Mariners on Opening Day 1989, filling in for incumbent Rey Quiñones, who had sprained his ankle in spring training.</p><p>The 22-year-old Vizquel wasn’t an immediate success. He made a throwing error in his first game, added another error in his third, and was sent back to Calgary after going just 3-for-24. Quiñones returned from the disabled list and reclaimed his job but was traded to the Pirates on April 21. Vizquel returned for the rest of the season, and while he was above-average defensively (+6 runs via Total Zone), he hit just .220/.273/.261 in 431 plate appearances for an anemic 50 OPS+, the majors’ worst mark for any hitter with at least 400 PA that year.</p><p>After he sprained the medial collateral ligament of his left knee the following spring, the team left Vizquel at Calgary through his rehab and into early July. He went 2-for-3 with a homer in his July 5 return, and while he still hit just .247/.295/.298 for a 67 OPS+ in 285 PA, he was 13 runs above average afield en route to 1.5 WAR. His bat remained similarly sluggish in 1991, but in a lineup where Ken Griffey Jr., Jay Buhner and Edgar Martinez were developing into forces, the Mariners could afford to carry Vizquel. His defense (+14 runs) played a part in helping Seattle to a 83–79 record, their first season above .500.</p><p>The team regressed to 64–98 the following year, even as Vizquel hit a relatively robust .294/.340/.352 en route to a 95 OPS+ and 3.5 WAR, but he couldn’t maintain that gain, slipping back to .255/.319/.298 (67 OPS+) in 1993. He did claim his first Gold Glove via defense that was 16 runs above average—a mark that would stand as his career best—and bolstered by the notoriety he gained for sealing Chris Bosio’s April 22 no-hitter against the Red Sox. With Bosio’s no-no hanging in the balance, Vizquel barehanded a chopper behind the mound on the second-base side and threw out batter Earnest Riles by two steps at first base.</p><p>In 1993, the Mariners drafted Alex Rodriguez with the No. 1 pick. Though they weren’t teammates yet, the contrast between the light-hitting 5’9” Vizquel and the powerful 6’3” Rodriguez couldn’t have been more striking. Big men had played the position before, but not until 6’4” Ripken came along in the early 1980s had one flourished as a two-way threat. With Rodriguez waiting in the wings, the Mariners traded Vizquel to the Indians for stopgap shortstop Felix Fermin and DH Reggie Jefferson in December 1993.</p><p>It was an astute move by Cleveland general manager John Hart. The Indians had cracked .500 just once in the previous 12 seasons, but they were in the process of assembling a powerhouse lineup featuring youngsters Manny Ramirez, <a href="http://on.si.com/2AtE1tg" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Jim Thome" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Jim Thome</a> and Carlos Baerga, as well as Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton and others. Though he missed seven weeks early in the season due to a right knee sprain, Vizquel solidified the defense, and the lineup could more than support his limp bat. The team went 64–47 during the strike-shortened season and the following year went an MLB-best 100–44 en route to Cleveland&#39;s first pennant since 1954.</p><p>Vizquel hit just .266/.333/.351 for a 71 OPS+ that season and snagged his third Gold Glove, though for what it’s worth, Total Zone valued his defense that year at just one run above average, part of a four-year stretch (1994–98) in which he was barely in the black. Still, he gained no small amount of attention for his fieldwork in the postseason, with <em>Sports Illustrated</em>’s <a href="https://www.si.com/vault/1996/04/01/211538/playmaker-as-millions-of-fans-discovered-in-last-years-world-series-indians-shortstop-omar-vizquel-is-such-a-good-fielder-he-sometimes-doesnt-even-need-a-glove" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Tim Kurkjian" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Tim Kurkjian</a> gushing the following spring, calling Vizquel “the Indians’ most fascinating player to watch.”</p><p>The Indians lost that World Series to the Braves, but Hart’s foresight in signing Ramirez, Thome, Baerga, Lofton, Charles Nagy and Sandy Alomar Jr. to long-term extensions—many of which bought out players’ arbitration years—enabled the small-market team to afford its top players, creating a core that would win six division titles and two pennants from 1995 to 2001. That included Vizquel, who was heading into his age-29 season; Hart signed him to a five-year, $15.35 million extension that December.</p><p>Working with hitting coach Charlie Manuel (who would take over from Mike Hargrove as manager in 2000), Vizquel matured considerably as a hitter. From his debut through 1995, he batted .256/.315/.314 for a 72 OPS+ and a combined -106 batting runs (the offensive component of WAR). From &#39;96 to 2004—a high-offense era—he hit a composite .286/.356/.385 for a 93 OPS+; for the period, he was just 29 runs below average at the plate, with four seasons either at zero or in the black. In 1999, he set across-the-board career bests with a .333/.397/.436 line, a 111 OPS+, 42 steals and 6.0 WAR.</p><p>Vizquel collected Gold Gloves every year from 1996 to 2001—the last three while paired with Roberto Alomar for one of the most visually arresting double play combos in recent memory—though the advanced metrics suggest his defense wasn’t so exceptional. Here it’s worth yet another reminder that single-season defensive data captures a fair bit of noise along with the signal, and it’s better to consider in the context of multiple seasons. Via Total Zone, Vizquel’s defensive value ranged from +14 to -8 runs relative to average in this six-year span. His 16 runs above average for the period ranked just 15th in the majors, far behind Rey Sanchez (+89) and Rey Ordonez (+62), the top two at the position.</p><p>Despite repeatedly winning their division, the Indians couldn’t nab that elusive championship. They came agonizingly close in 1997, despite just an 86–75 record. After defeating the defending champion Yankees in the Division Series and the Orioles in the ALCS, they took a 2–1 lead into the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series against the Marlins. Alas, closer Jose Mesa surrendered the tying run in the bottom of the ninth via two singles and a sacrifice fly, and an error by second baseman Tony Fernandez on Craig Counsell’s grounder in the 11th inning led to the series-winning run.</p><p>The sting of that loss lingered, and became part of the biggest controversy of Vizquel’s career. Though he had been close to Mesa to that point—“We lived five minutes away from each other. We fooled around a lot. We cooked together,” <a href="http://www.cleveland.com/tribe/index.ssf/2014/06/omar_vizquel_never_got_the_cha.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:he later" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">he later </a><a href="http://www.cleveland.com/tribe/index.ssf/2014/06/omar_vizquel_never_got_the_cha.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:said" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">said</a>—Vizquel’s subsequent actions towards his teammate were anything but friendly. First he irritated Mesa by cartwheeling across home plate after homering off him during an intrasquad game in 1998—that’s right, an <em>intrasquad</em> game. In exchange, after the pitcher was traded to the Giants in midseason and signed with the Mariners the following winter, he brushed his old friend back during a 1999 encounter.</p><p>Things came to a head when on <em>the opening page</em> of his 2002 autobiography, <em>Omar! My Life On and Off the Field</em>, Vizquel wrote of Game 7:</p><p>Mesa, by that point a member of the Phillies, was understandably livid. He plunked Vizquel during a 2002 interleague game and was fined $500. In the spring of 2003, <a href="http://forums.thesmartmarks.com/lofiversion/index.php?t28016.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:he told reporter Randy Miller" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">he told reporter Randy Miller</a>, “I will not forgive him. Even my little boy (Jose Jr.) told me to get him. If I face him 10 more times, I’ll hit him 10 times. I want to kill him.”</p><p>The two didn’t face each other again until 2006, but in their first encounter, Mesa, by then with the Giants, again hit Vizquel. He was suspended for four games. They squared off three more times without incident, with Mesa retiring him twice but Vizquel collecting a garbage-time–two-run single in the last encounter. They never did mend fences, and the shortstop somehow remained puzzled even <a href="http://www.cleveland.com/tribe/index.ssf/2014/06/omar_vizquel_never_got_the_cha.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:while saying" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">while saying</a> in 2014, “It was kind of sad that I never got to tell him that I didn’t really mean anything bad about what I said in the book.”</p><p>While Vizquel generally got high marks for his comportment throughout his career, his ongoing feud with Mesa was a low point. Game Sevens are inevitably filled with heroes and goats, but it takes some <a href="http://www.jewish-languages.org/jewish-english-lexicon/words/119" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:chutzpah" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><em>chutzpah</em></a> for a player to try to humiliate one of the latter—let alone one he called a close friend—in the opening page of his memoir.</p><p>In February 2001, Vizquel signed a two-year, $15 million extension with the Indians, one that also raised his salary for that season from $3 million to $4.5 million and included a $5 million mutual option for 2005. His streak of Gold Gloves ended in 2002, but he set a career high with 14 homers and earned All-Star honors for the third time; the first two had been in 1998 and ’99, no small achievement with Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra in their collective heyday as “the trinity.” A pair of surgeries to repair the meniscus of his right knee—he tore it again while rehabbing—limited Vizquel to 64 games in 2003, and, after he failed a physical, prevented a trade of the 36-year-old shortstop back to the Mariners that winter.</p><p>At 37, Vizquel enjoyed a solid rebound with the Indians, batting .291/.353/.388 for a 99 OPS+ en route to 4.0 WAR, the second-highest total of his career. The Indians declined their end of the mutual option, but Vizquel parlayed that performance into a three-year, $12.25 million deal with the Giants. He won Gold Gloves in the first two of those years, albeit with Defensive Runs Saved totals of just +1 and +7, and WAR totals of 1.5 and 2.9. His bat fell off the table in 2007, his age-40 season (.246/.305/.316/61 OPS+), and despite a career high +16 DRS, his total value was just 0.6 WAR.</p><p>While the Giants re-signed Vizquel, his performance slipped even further in 2008. That year began with a seven-week stint on the DL for surgery to repair the meniscus in his left knee, as well as a bone bruise, and finished with career worsts in OPS+ (45) and WAR (-0.5). One highlight: On May 25, 2008, he surpassed Aparicio for the most games played at shortstop with 2,584.</p><p>Moving into a utility role that included ample time at second and third as well as short, Vizquel spent four more years in the majors with the Rangers (2009), White Sox (&#39;10–11, while wearing Aparicio’s No. 11, un-retired with his blessing) and Blue Jays (’12), the last of those coming at age 45. He hit a combined .262/.312/.320 for a 70 OPS+ in 931 PA, and only in 2010 did he play regularly. In June 2012, he announced that he would retire at season’s end; on Oct. 4 in Toronto, with former teammate Baerga and fellow Venezuelans Aparicio and Andres Galarraga on hand, he threw out the ceremonial first pitch and collected a single in the final at-bat of his 24-year career.</p><p>Vizquel’s longevity, which allowed him to play a record 2,709 games at shortstop, collect 2,877 hits (higher than all but the aforementioned quartet of Jeter, Wagner, Ripken and Yount among shortstops) and win 11 Gold Gloves (more than all but Smith), is perhaps the best point in his favor when it comes to the Hall of Fame. But beyond those standings, his résumé is a mixture of good news/bad news. Vizquel helped his teams reach the playoffs six times and the World Series twice, though he was less productive at the plate there (.250/.327/.316 in 264 PA) than in the regular season. Thanks in large part to the presence of the shortstop trinity, he made just three All-Star teams, a comparatively low total for a modern Hall of Famer, and the entirety of his MVP consideration consisted of a 16th-place finish in 1999. Still, his <a href="https://www.baseball-reference.com/about/leader_glossary.shtml#hof_monitor" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Hall of Fame Monitor" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Hall of Fame Monitor</a> score of 120, while not indicating a slam dunk, is on the side of “more likely than not.”</p><p>Then there’s the defense. Vizquel’s flair afield produced countless <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73N_JJpuqKE" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:highlight loops" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">highlight loops</a> that got their share of attention thanks to the Internet and cable TV, not to mention the routine exposure he got in the postseason from 1995 through 2001. Observers like Kurkjian weren’t shy about using superlatives, and Vizquel was a fan favorite, albeit not enough of one to be voted to start a single All-Star Game. Having written more than once on <a href="https://www.si.com/mlb/strike-zone/2012/06/27/why-omar-vizquel-is-not-a-hall-of-famer" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the pros and cons" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the pros and cons</a> of his case, I can attest that his defenders will come out of the woodwork to drop a good word on his behalf (along with a few unprintable ones on mine).</p><p>Baseball-Reference.com credits Vizquel as being 128 runs above average for his career defensively, via a combination of Total Zone (+80 runs through 2002) and Defensive Runs Saved (+48 from &#39;03 to &#39;12). Ultimate Zone Rating credits him as 48 runs above average as well for the latter period. The combined total, while very good, doesn’t blow the doors off the shrine; it <a href="https://bbref.com/pi/shareit/7J52z" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:ranks 18th all-time" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">ranks 18th all-time</a> among shortstops, better than 12 of the 20 enshrined.</p><p>Should it be better? Advanced fielding statistics aren’t easy to penetrate, but feel around the margins of the basic stats and you can begin to see why the metrics don’t put Vizquel on the same level as Ozzie Smith. In Vizquel’s favor, he holds the edge in fielding percentage, .985 to .978, but both were 12 points higher than their respective leagues’ shortstops during the course of their careers. From there, the comparison becomes more lopsided in the Wizard’s favor.</p><p>While Vizquel is third all-time in assists for a shortstop (7,676), that’s a product of his longevity. He never led his league in the category, and while he ranked in the top five eight times, six of those were fourth or fifth. Smith, the all-time leader among shortstops with 8,375 assists—in 1,175 fewer innings, roughly 130 games—led his league eight times, and was second in four others. The story is similar when it comes to double plays: Vizquel, the all-time leader at 1,734, led his league once and was third three times; Smith, second all-time with 1,590 double plays, led his league five times and was second six times.</p><p>True, Smith played in an era with more balls in play and fewer strikeouts. Via B-Ref, during his time in the field, 83% of his pitching staff’s plate appearances ended with a ball in play; for Vizquel’s teams, the rate was 77%, so there would have been fewer chances for him to make a play. Likewise, his staffs faced a smaller proportion of righthanded batters, whose natural pull tendency would be to the left side of the infield: 58%, in line with the league average. Smith’s teams faced 61% righties, two points above average.</p><p><a href="https://twitter.com/sean_forman/status/935951711763607553" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Calculations" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Calculations</a> such as those go into the <a href="https://www.baseball-reference.com/about/war_explained_position.shtml" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Total Zone" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Total Zone</a> defensive metrics. While it’s an oversimplification to say that the difference between Smith and Vizquel can be boiled down to range factor (putouts plus assists per nine innings) relative to their league averages, such a comparison gets the point across. The Wizard averaged 5.22 plays per nine while the league’s shortstops were at 4.78, a difference of 0.44 per nine. Vizquel averaged 4.62 per nine for his time at shortstop while the league was at 4.61—a difference of just 0.01. Aparicio and Rabbit Maranville, who are both enshrined for the way their glove work offset similarly light sticks, both have larger gaps as well; the former was 0.16 above his leagues, the latter 0.28 above.</p><p>Via the advanced stats, Smith has an edge of 111 runs over Vizquel on the defensive side, and that’s before considering offense. Vizquel’s .272/.336/.352 line translates to an 82 OPS+, five points lower than Smith, who played in the lower-scoring era. Over the course of his 12,013 plate appearances, Vizquel was 244 runs below average with the bat, the 13th-lowest total among players who spent the majority of their careers at shortstop. That’s 16 runs worse than Maranville, the worst among current Hall of Fame shortstops, and 127 runs worse than Smith. What’s more, where Smith made up 79 runs on the bases (steals as well as advancement on hits and outs) and 23 more on avoiding double plays, Vizquel—who stole 404 bases, albeit with just a 70.8% success rate—was one run below average in the former and nine above in the latter. His net offense was -236 runs to Smith’s -15.</p><p>Thanks to his defense, Vizquel was still worth 45.3 WAR for his career, which <a href="https://www.baseball-reference.com/leaders/jaws_SS.shtml" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:ranks 29th among shortstops" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">ranks 29th among shortstops</a>, but is higher than just four of those enshrined, and 21.4 WAR below the position standard. Within 2.0 WAR of him on either side are Art Fletcher, Miguel Tejada, Jimmy Rollins, Vern Stephens, Tony Fernandez, Roger Peckinpaugh, Garciaparra and Travis Jackson, of whom only the last is enshrined, and that’s thanks to <a href="http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=19799" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:some Veterans Committee cronyism" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">some Veterans Committee cronyism</a>. For all of his Gold Gloves, Vizquel ranked in the top 10 in his league in WAR just once, with a career-high 6.0 in 1999. Smith, for a point of comparison, made his leagues’ top 10 six times, Maranville five times, Aparicio twice.</p><p>The news is even harsher when it comes to Vizquel’s peak score of 26.6: it ranks 61st all-time. Of the 16 players within two wins on either side, there are notable names, including Cecil Travis, Marty Marion and Edgar Renteria, but of the lot, only Monte Ward, whose career is so bifurcated between pitching and shortstop that I exclude him from the JAWS set entirely, is enshrined. Thus Vizquel’s 36.0 JAWS ranks 42nd, just ahead of popular Era Committee candidates such as Davey Concepcion and Maury Wills but lower than all of the enshrined shortstops, with Maranville (42.8/30.4/36.6) bringing up the rear.</p><p>Those just aren’t numbers that can support a Hall of Fame case, though Vizquel appears poised to garner a good amount of support. Even on a crowded, top-heavy ballot where many voters feel constrained by the 10-slot rule, Vizquel was included on 13 of the first 22 ballots cast at <a href="http://bit.ly/hof18" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Ryan Thibodaux’s ballot tracker" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Ryan Thibodaux’s ballot tracker</a>. That’s only about five percent of the electorate, but it certainly points to the possibility of a long stay on the ballot for Vizquel, which will inevitably cause a ruckus in the battle between the eye-test crowd and the statheads, <em>à la </em>Morris. It would be a shame if the debate becomes as shrill and polarizing as it did for Morris. Omar Vizquel was a fine ballplayer and an icon to his countrymen. He deserves to be remembered with respect, but his road should stop short of the Cooperstown dais.</p>
Omar Vizquel Was a Defensive Wizard, but he's not a Hall of Fame Shortstop

The following article is part of my ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2018 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year's ballot, please see here. For an introduction to JAWS, see here.

In the eyes of many, Omar Vizquel was the successor to Ozzie Smith when it came to dazzling defense. Thanks to the increased prevalence of highlight footage on the internet and cable shows such as ESPN’s SportsCenter and Baseball Tonight, the diminutive Venezuelan shortstop’s barehanded grabs, diving stops and daily acrobatics were seen by far more viewers than Smith’s ever were. Vizquel made up for having a less-than-prototypically-strong arm with incredibly soft hands and a knack for advantageous positioning. Such was the perception of his prowess at the position that he took home 11 Gold Gloves, more than any shortstop this side of Smith, who won 13.

Vizquel’s offense was superficially akin to Smith’s: he was a singles-slapping switch-hitter in lineups full of bigger bats, and at his best, he was a capable table-setter who got on base often enough to score 80, 90 or even 100 runs in some seasons. His ability to move the runner over with a sacrifice bunt or a productive out delighted purists, and he could steal a base, too. While he lacked power, he dealt in volume, piling up more hits (2,877) than all but four shortstops, all of them in the Hall of Fame or heading there: Derek Jeter (3,465), Honus Wagner (3,420), Cal Ripken Jr. (3,184) and Robin Yount (3,142). During his 11-year run in Cleveland (1994–2004), he helped the Indians to six playoff appearances and two pennants.

To some, that makes Vizquel an easy call for the Hall of Fame now that he has reached the ballot, but these eyes aren’t so sure. Via WAR and JAWS, Vizquel’s case isn’t nearly as strong as it is on the traditional merits, and his candidacy has the potential to be the next point of friction between old-school and new-school thinkers when it comes to the Hall of Fame. Is he the next Jack Morris?

Born to an electrical company technician and a kindergarten teacher in Caracas, Venezuela in 1967, Vizquel grew up in the poor neighborhood of Santa Eduvigis, where baseball was a constant. As a youngster he honed his quick reflexes and extraordinary hands by carrying around a rubber ball or tennis ball, which he would constantly bounce off of nearby objects and snare barehanded. Those skills were put to great use as he played on the rocky sandlots of his hometown, where preventing ground balls from hitting him in the face was a necessary survival tactic.

When Vizquel cut his teeth on those sandlots, the presence of his countrymen in the major leagues had begun to ramp up significantly. The first Venezuela-born major leaguer was pitcher Alex Carrasquel, who spent 1939–45 with the Senators, with a brief cameo with the White Sox in ’49. The third was his nephew, Chico Carrasquel, who spent 1950–59 in the majors, including six years with the White Sox alongside Nellie Fox as one the era’s great double play combos. The younger Carrasquel became the first Venezuela-born All-Star in 1951 and would make three more Midsummer Classic squads before being traded to the Indians for Larry Doby in October 1955. The White Sox replaced him with another Venezuelan, Luis Aparicio, who immediately validated the deal by winning AL Rookie of the Year and leading the league in stolen bases for the first of nine straight years. He would eventually win nine Gold Gloves, though one could quibble with the rest of his Cooperstown credentials. Through 1966, nine Venezuela-born players had reached the majors, but in ’67 alone, the year of Vizquel’s birth, five more did, the start of a steady stream that continues to this day.

The Mariners signed Vizquel in 1984, just short of his 17th birthday, for a mere $2,000 bonus and brought him to the U.S., where he lived with three other young Venezuelans. His parents had forced him to take a three-month crash course in English to prepare for his career, which began in Butte, Montana, with Seattle’s Pioneer League affiliate. He climbed the organizational ladder methodically: Low-A Bellingham in 1985, A-level Wausau in '86 (the year he began switch-hitting), A-level Salinas in '87, Double A Vermont and Triple A Calgary in '88, and finally the Mariners on Opening Day 1989, filling in for incumbent Rey Quiñones, who had sprained his ankle in spring training.

The 22-year-old Vizquel wasn’t an immediate success. He made a throwing error in his first game, added another error in his third, and was sent back to Calgary after going just 3-for-24. Quiñones returned from the disabled list and reclaimed his job but was traded to the Pirates on April 21. Vizquel returned for the rest of the season, and while he was above-average defensively (+6 runs via Total Zone), he hit just .220/.273/.261 in 431 plate appearances for an anemic 50 OPS+, the majors’ worst mark for any hitter with at least 400 PA that year.

After he sprained the medial collateral ligament of his left knee the following spring, the team left Vizquel at Calgary through his rehab and into early July. He went 2-for-3 with a homer in his July 5 return, and while he still hit just .247/.295/.298 for a 67 OPS+ in 285 PA, he was 13 runs above average afield en route to 1.5 WAR. His bat remained similarly sluggish in 1991, but in a lineup where Ken Griffey Jr., Jay Buhner and Edgar Martinez were developing into forces, the Mariners could afford to carry Vizquel. His defense (+14 runs) played a part in helping Seattle to a 83–79 record, their first season above .500.

The team regressed to 64–98 the following year, even as Vizquel hit a relatively robust .294/.340/.352 en route to a 95 OPS+ and 3.5 WAR, but he couldn’t maintain that gain, slipping back to .255/.319/.298 (67 OPS+) in 1993. He did claim his first Gold Glove via defense that was 16 runs above average—a mark that would stand as his career best—and bolstered by the notoriety he gained for sealing Chris Bosio’s April 22 no-hitter against the Red Sox. With Bosio’s no-no hanging in the balance, Vizquel barehanded a chopper behind the mound on the second-base side and threw out batter Earnest Riles by two steps at first base.

In 1993, the Mariners drafted Alex Rodriguez with the No. 1 pick. Though they weren’t teammates yet, the contrast between the light-hitting 5’9” Vizquel and the powerful 6’3” Rodriguez couldn’t have been more striking. Big men had played the position before, but not until 6’4” Ripken came along in the early 1980s had one flourished as a two-way threat. With Rodriguez waiting in the wings, the Mariners traded Vizquel to the Indians for stopgap shortstop Felix Fermin and DH Reggie Jefferson in December 1993.

It was an astute move by Cleveland general manager John Hart. The Indians had cracked .500 just once in the previous 12 seasons, but they were in the process of assembling a powerhouse lineup featuring youngsters Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome and Carlos Baerga, as well as Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton and others. Though he missed seven weeks early in the season due to a right knee sprain, Vizquel solidified the defense, and the lineup could more than support his limp bat. The team went 64–47 during the strike-shortened season and the following year went an MLB-best 100–44 en route to Cleveland's first pennant since 1954.

Vizquel hit just .266/.333/.351 for a 71 OPS+ that season and snagged his third Gold Glove, though for what it’s worth, Total Zone valued his defense that year at just one run above average, part of a four-year stretch (1994–98) in which he was barely in the black. Still, he gained no small amount of attention for his fieldwork in the postseason, with Sports Illustrated’s Tim Kurkjian gushing the following spring, calling Vizquel “the Indians’ most fascinating player to watch.”

The Indians lost that World Series to the Braves, but Hart’s foresight in signing Ramirez, Thome, Baerga, Lofton, Charles Nagy and Sandy Alomar Jr. to long-term extensions—many of which bought out players’ arbitration years—enabled the small-market team to afford its top players, creating a core that would win six division titles and two pennants from 1995 to 2001. That included Vizquel, who was heading into his age-29 season; Hart signed him to a five-year, $15.35 million extension that December.

Working with hitting coach Charlie Manuel (who would take over from Mike Hargrove as manager in 2000), Vizquel matured considerably as a hitter. From his debut through 1995, he batted .256/.315/.314 for a 72 OPS+ and a combined -106 batting runs (the offensive component of WAR). From '96 to 2004—a high-offense era—he hit a composite .286/.356/.385 for a 93 OPS+; for the period, he was just 29 runs below average at the plate, with four seasons either at zero or in the black. In 1999, he set across-the-board career bests with a .333/.397/.436 line, a 111 OPS+, 42 steals and 6.0 WAR.

Vizquel collected Gold Gloves every year from 1996 to 2001—the last three while paired with Roberto Alomar for one of the most visually arresting double play combos in recent memory—though the advanced metrics suggest his defense wasn’t so exceptional. Here it’s worth yet another reminder that single-season defensive data captures a fair bit of noise along with the signal, and it’s better to consider in the context of multiple seasons. Via Total Zone, Vizquel’s defensive value ranged from +14 to -8 runs relative to average in this six-year span. His 16 runs above average for the period ranked just 15th in the majors, far behind Rey Sanchez (+89) and Rey Ordonez (+62), the top two at the position.

Despite repeatedly winning their division, the Indians couldn’t nab that elusive championship. They came agonizingly close in 1997, despite just an 86–75 record. After defeating the defending champion Yankees in the Division Series and the Orioles in the ALCS, they took a 2–1 lead into the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series against the Marlins. Alas, closer Jose Mesa surrendered the tying run in the bottom of the ninth via two singles and a sacrifice fly, and an error by second baseman Tony Fernandez on Craig Counsell’s grounder in the 11th inning led to the series-winning run.

The sting of that loss lingered, and became part of the biggest controversy of Vizquel’s career. Though he had been close to Mesa to that point—“We lived five minutes away from each other. We fooled around a lot. We cooked together,” he later said—Vizquel’s subsequent actions towards his teammate were anything but friendly. First he irritated Mesa by cartwheeling across home plate after homering off him during an intrasquad game in 1998—that’s right, an intrasquad game. In exchange, after the pitcher was traded to the Giants in midseason and signed with the Mariners the following winter, he brushed his old friend back during a 1999 encounter.

Things came to a head when on the opening page of his 2002 autobiography, Omar! My Life On and Off the Field, Vizquel wrote of Game 7:

Mesa, by that point a member of the Phillies, was understandably livid. He plunked Vizquel during a 2002 interleague game and was fined $500. In the spring of 2003, he told reporter Randy Miller, “I will not forgive him. Even my little boy (Jose Jr.) told me to get him. If I face him 10 more times, I’ll hit him 10 times. I want to kill him.”

The two didn’t face each other again until 2006, but in their first encounter, Mesa, by then with the Giants, again hit Vizquel. He was suspended for four games. They squared off three more times without incident, with Mesa retiring him twice but Vizquel collecting a garbage-time–two-run single in the last encounter. They never did mend fences, and the shortstop somehow remained puzzled even while saying in 2014, “It was kind of sad that I never got to tell him that I didn’t really mean anything bad about what I said in the book.”

While Vizquel generally got high marks for his comportment throughout his career, his ongoing feud with Mesa was a low point. Game Sevens are inevitably filled with heroes and goats, but it takes some chutzpah for a player to try to humiliate one of the latter—let alone one he called a close friend—in the opening page of his memoir.

In February 2001, Vizquel signed a two-year, $15 million extension with the Indians, one that also raised his salary for that season from $3 million to $4.5 million and included a $5 million mutual option for 2005. His streak of Gold Gloves ended in 2002, but he set a career high with 14 homers and earned All-Star honors for the third time; the first two had been in 1998 and ’99, no small achievement with Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra in their collective heyday as “the trinity.” A pair of surgeries to repair the meniscus of his right knee—he tore it again while rehabbing—limited Vizquel to 64 games in 2003, and, after he failed a physical, prevented a trade of the 36-year-old shortstop back to the Mariners that winter.

At 37, Vizquel enjoyed a solid rebound with the Indians, batting .291/.353/.388 for a 99 OPS+ en route to 4.0 WAR, the second-highest total of his career. The Indians declined their end of the mutual option, but Vizquel parlayed that performance into a three-year, $12.25 million deal with the Giants. He won Gold Gloves in the first two of those years, albeit with Defensive Runs Saved totals of just +1 and +7, and WAR totals of 1.5 and 2.9. His bat fell off the table in 2007, his age-40 season (.246/.305/.316/61 OPS+), and despite a career high +16 DRS, his total value was just 0.6 WAR.

While the Giants re-signed Vizquel, his performance slipped even further in 2008. That year began with a seven-week stint on the DL for surgery to repair the meniscus in his left knee, as well as a bone bruise, and finished with career worsts in OPS+ (45) and WAR (-0.5). One highlight: On May 25, 2008, he surpassed Aparicio for the most games played at shortstop with 2,584.

Moving into a utility role that included ample time at second and third as well as short, Vizquel spent four more years in the majors with the Rangers (2009), White Sox ('10–11, while wearing Aparicio’s No. 11, un-retired with his blessing) and Blue Jays (’12), the last of those coming at age 45. He hit a combined .262/.312/.320 for a 70 OPS+ in 931 PA, and only in 2010 did he play regularly. In June 2012, he announced that he would retire at season’s end; on Oct. 4 in Toronto, with former teammate Baerga and fellow Venezuelans Aparicio and Andres Galarraga on hand, he threw out the ceremonial first pitch and collected a single in the final at-bat of his 24-year career.

Vizquel’s longevity, which allowed him to play a record 2,709 games at shortstop, collect 2,877 hits (higher than all but the aforementioned quartet of Jeter, Wagner, Ripken and Yount among shortstops) and win 11 Gold Gloves (more than all but Smith), is perhaps the best point in his favor when it comes to the Hall of Fame. But beyond those standings, his résumé is a mixture of good news/bad news. Vizquel helped his teams reach the playoffs six times and the World Series twice, though he was less productive at the plate there (.250/.327/.316 in 264 PA) than in the regular season. Thanks in large part to the presence of the shortstop trinity, he made just three All-Star teams, a comparatively low total for a modern Hall of Famer, and the entirety of his MVP consideration consisted of a 16th-place finish in 1999. Still, his Hall of Fame Monitor score of 120, while not indicating a slam dunk, is on the side of “more likely than not.”

Then there’s the defense. Vizquel’s flair afield produced countless highlight loops that got their share of attention thanks to the Internet and cable TV, not to mention the routine exposure he got in the postseason from 1995 through 2001. Observers like Kurkjian weren’t shy about using superlatives, and Vizquel was a fan favorite, albeit not enough of one to be voted to start a single All-Star Game. Having written more than once on the pros and cons of his case, I can attest that his defenders will come out of the woodwork to drop a good word on his behalf (along with a few unprintable ones on mine).

Baseball-Reference.com credits Vizquel as being 128 runs above average for his career defensively, via a combination of Total Zone (+80 runs through 2002) and Defensive Runs Saved (+48 from '03 to '12). Ultimate Zone Rating credits him as 48 runs above average as well for the latter period. The combined total, while very good, doesn’t blow the doors off the shrine; it ranks 18th all-time among shortstops, better than 12 of the 20 enshrined.

Should it be better? Advanced fielding statistics aren’t easy to penetrate, but feel around the margins of the basic stats and you can begin to see why the metrics don’t put Vizquel on the same level as Ozzie Smith. In Vizquel’s favor, he holds the edge in fielding percentage, .985 to .978, but both were 12 points higher than their respective leagues’ shortstops during the course of their careers. From there, the comparison becomes more lopsided in the Wizard’s favor.

While Vizquel is third all-time in assists for a shortstop (7,676), that’s a product of his longevity. He never led his league in the category, and while he ranked in the top five eight times, six of those were fourth or fifth. Smith, the all-time leader among shortstops with 8,375 assists—in 1,175 fewer innings, roughly 130 games—led his league eight times, and was second in four others. The story is similar when it comes to double plays: Vizquel, the all-time leader at 1,734, led his league once and was third three times; Smith, second all-time with 1,590 double plays, led his league five times and was second six times.

True, Smith played in an era with more balls in play and fewer strikeouts. Via B-Ref, during his time in the field, 83% of his pitching staff’s plate appearances ended with a ball in play; for Vizquel’s teams, the rate was 77%, so there would have been fewer chances for him to make a play. Likewise, his staffs faced a smaller proportion of righthanded batters, whose natural pull tendency would be to the left side of the infield: 58%, in line with the league average. Smith’s teams faced 61% righties, two points above average.

Calculations such as those go into the Total Zone defensive metrics. While it’s an oversimplification to say that the difference between Smith and Vizquel can be boiled down to range factor (putouts plus assists per nine innings) relative to their league averages, such a comparison gets the point across. The Wizard averaged 5.22 plays per nine while the league’s shortstops were at 4.78, a difference of 0.44 per nine. Vizquel averaged 4.62 per nine for his time at shortstop while the league was at 4.61—a difference of just 0.01. Aparicio and Rabbit Maranville, who are both enshrined for the way their glove work offset similarly light sticks, both have larger gaps as well; the former was 0.16 above his leagues, the latter 0.28 above.

Via the advanced stats, Smith has an edge of 111 runs over Vizquel on the defensive side, and that’s before considering offense. Vizquel’s .272/.336/.352 line translates to an 82 OPS+, five points lower than Smith, who played in the lower-scoring era. Over the course of his 12,013 plate appearances, Vizquel was 244 runs below average with the bat, the 13th-lowest total among players who spent the majority of their careers at shortstop. That’s 16 runs worse than Maranville, the worst among current Hall of Fame shortstops, and 127 runs worse than Smith. What’s more, where Smith made up 79 runs on the bases (steals as well as advancement on hits and outs) and 23 more on avoiding double plays, Vizquel—who stole 404 bases, albeit with just a 70.8% success rate—was one run below average in the former and nine above in the latter. His net offense was -236 runs to Smith’s -15.

Thanks to his defense, Vizquel was still worth 45.3 WAR for his career, which ranks 29th among shortstops, but is higher than just four of those enshrined, and 21.4 WAR below the position standard. Within 2.0 WAR of him on either side are Art Fletcher, Miguel Tejada, Jimmy Rollins, Vern Stephens, Tony Fernandez, Roger Peckinpaugh, Garciaparra and Travis Jackson, of whom only the last is enshrined, and that’s thanks to some Veterans Committee cronyism. For all of his Gold Gloves, Vizquel ranked in the top 10 in his league in WAR just once, with a career-high 6.0 in 1999. Smith, for a point of comparison, made his leagues’ top 10 six times, Maranville five times, Aparicio twice.

The news is even harsher when it comes to Vizquel’s peak score of 26.6: it ranks 61st all-time. Of the 16 players within two wins on either side, there are notable names, including Cecil Travis, Marty Marion and Edgar Renteria, but of the lot, only Monte Ward, whose career is so bifurcated between pitching and shortstop that I exclude him from the JAWS set entirely, is enshrined. Thus Vizquel’s 36.0 JAWS ranks 42nd, just ahead of popular Era Committee candidates such as Davey Concepcion and Maury Wills but lower than all of the enshrined shortstops, with Maranville (42.8/30.4/36.6) bringing up the rear.

Those just aren’t numbers that can support a Hall of Fame case, though Vizquel appears poised to garner a good amount of support. Even on a crowded, top-heavy ballot where many voters feel constrained by the 10-slot rule, Vizquel was included on 13 of the first 22 ballots cast at Ryan Thibodaux’s ballot tracker. That’s only about five percent of the electorate, but it certainly points to the possibility of a long stay on the ballot for Vizquel, which will inevitably cause a ruckus in the battle between the eye-test crowd and the statheads, à la Morris. It would be a shame if the debate becomes as shrill and polarizing as it did for Morris. Omar Vizquel was a fine ballplayer and an icon to his countrymen. He deserves to be remembered with respect, but his road should stop short of the Cooperstown dais.

<p><em>The following article is part of my ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2018 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year&#39;s ballot, please see </em><a href="https://www.si.com/mlb/2017/11/20/hall-of-fame-ballot-chipper-jones-jim-thome" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:here" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><em>here</em></a><em>. For an introduction to JAWS, see </em><a href="https://www.si.com/mlb/2017/11/27/hall-fame-jaws-intro-2018-ballot" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:here" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><em>here</em></a><em>.</em></p><p>In the eyes of many, Omar Vizquel was the successor to Ozzie Smith when it came to dazzling defense. Thanks to the increased prevalence of highlight footage on the internet and cable shows such as ESPN’s <em>SportsCenter</em> and <em>Baseball Tonight</em>, the diminutive Venezuelan shortstop’s barehanded grabs, diving stops and daily acrobatics were seen by far more viewers than Smith’s ever were. Vizquel made up for having a less-than-prototypically-strong arm with incredibly soft hands and a knack for advantageous positioning. Such was the perception of his prowess at the position that he took home 11 Gold Gloves, more than any shortstop this side of Smith, who won 13.</p><p>Vizquel’s offense was superficially akin to Smith’s: he was a singles-slapping switch-hitter in lineups full of bigger bats, and at his best, he was a capable table-setter who got on base often enough to score 80, 90 or even 100 runs in some seasons. His ability to move the runner over with a sacrifice bunt or a productive out delighted purists, and he could steal a base, too. While he lacked power, he dealt in volume, piling up more hits (2,877) than all but four shortstops, all of them in the Hall of Fame or heading there: Derek Jeter (3,465), Honus Wagner (3,420), Cal Ripken Jr. (3,184) and Robin Yount (3,142). During his 11-year run in Cleveland (1994–2004), he helped the Indians to six playoff appearances and two pennants.</p><p>To some, that makes Vizquel an easy call for the Hall of Fame now that he has reached the ballot, but these eyes aren’t so sure. Via WAR and JAWS, Vizquel’s case isn’t nearly as strong as it is on the traditional merits, and his candidacy has the potential to be the next point of friction between old-school and new-school thinkers when it comes to the Hall of Fame. Is he the next Jack Morris?</p><p>Born to an electrical company technician and a kindergarten teacher in Caracas, Venezuela in 1967, Vizquel grew up in the poor neighborhood of Santa Eduvigis, where baseball was a constant. As a youngster he honed his quick reflexes and extraordinary hands by carrying around a rubber ball or tennis ball, which he would constantly bounce off of nearby objects and snare barehanded. Those skills were put to great use as he played on the rocky sandlots of his hometown, where preventing ground balls from hitting him in the face was a necessary survival tactic.</p><p>When Vizquel cut his teeth on those sandlots, the presence of his countrymen in the major leagues had begun to ramp up significantly. The first Venezuela-born major leaguer was pitcher Alex Carrasquel, who spent 1939–45 with the Senators, with a brief cameo with the White Sox in ’49. The third was his nephew, Chico Carrasquel, who spent 1950–59 in the majors, including six years with the White Sox alongside Nellie Fox as one the era’s great double play combos. The younger Carrasquel became the first Venezuela-born All-Star in 1951 and would make three more Midsummer Classic squads before being traded to the Indians for Larry Doby in October 1955. The White Sox replaced him with another Venezuelan, Luis Aparicio, who immediately validated the deal by winning AL Rookie of the Year and leading the league in stolen bases for the first of nine straight years. He would eventually win nine Gold Gloves, though one could quibble with the rest of his Cooperstown credentials. Through 1966, nine Venezuela-born players had reached the majors, but in ’67 alone, the year of Vizquel’s birth, five more did, the start of a steady stream that continues to this day.</p><p>The Mariners signed Vizquel in 1984, just short of his 17th birthday, for a mere $2,000 bonus and brought him to the U.S., where he lived with three other young Venezuelans. His parents had forced him to take a three-month crash course in English to prepare for his career, which began in Butte, Montana, with Seattle’s Pioneer League affiliate. He climbed the organizational ladder methodically: Low-A Bellingham in 1985, A-level Wausau in &#39;86 (the year he began switch-hitting), A-level Salinas in &#39;87, Double A Vermont and Triple A Calgary in &#39;88, and finally the Mariners on Opening Day 1989, filling in for incumbent Rey Quiñones, who had sprained his ankle in spring training.</p><p>The 22-year-old Vizquel wasn’t an immediate success. He made a throwing error in his first game, added another error in his third, and was sent back to Calgary after going just 3-for-24. Quiñones returned from the disabled list and reclaimed his job but was traded to the Pirates on April 21. Vizquel returned for the rest of the season, and while he was above-average defensively (+6 runs via Total Zone), he hit just .220/.273/.261 in 431 plate appearances for an anemic 50 OPS+, the majors’ worst mark for any hitter with at least 400 PA that year.</p><p>After he sprained the medial collateral ligament of his left knee the following spring, the team left Vizquel at Calgary through his rehab and into early July. He went 2-for-3 with a homer in his July 5 return, and while he still hit just .247/.295/.298 for a 67 OPS+ in 285 PA, he was 13 runs above average afield en route to 1.5 WAR. His bat remained similarly sluggish in 1991, but in a lineup where Ken Griffey Jr., Jay Buhner and Edgar Martinez were developing into forces, the Mariners could afford to carry Vizquel. His defense (+14 runs) played a part in helping Seattle to a 83–79 record, their first season above .500.</p><p>The team regressed to 64–98 the following year, even as Vizquel hit a relatively robust .294/.340/.352 en route to a 95 OPS+ and 3.5 WAR, but he couldn’t maintain that gain, slipping back to .255/.319/.298 (67 OPS+) in 1993. He did claim his first Gold Glove via defense that was 16 runs above average—a mark that would stand as his career best—and bolstered by the notoriety he gained for sealing Chris Bosio’s April 22 no-hitter against the Red Sox. With Bosio’s no-no hanging in the balance, Vizquel barehanded a chopper behind the mound on the second-base side and threw out batter Earnest Riles by two steps at first base.</p><p>In 1993, the Mariners drafted Alex Rodriguez with the No. 1 pick. Though they weren’t teammates yet, the contrast between the light-hitting 5’9” Vizquel and the powerful 6’3” Rodriguez couldn’t have been more striking. Big men had played the position before, but not until 6’4” Ripken came along in the early 1980s had one flourished as a two-way threat. With Rodriguez waiting in the wings, the Mariners traded Vizquel to the Indians for stopgap shortstop Felix Fermin and DH Reggie Jefferson in December 1993.</p><p>It was an astute move by Cleveland general manager John Hart. The Indians had cracked .500 just once in the previous 12 seasons, but they were in the process of assembling a powerhouse lineup featuring youngsters Manny Ramirez, <a href="http://on.si.com/2AtE1tg" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Jim Thome" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Jim Thome</a> and Carlos Baerga, as well as Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton and others. Though he missed seven weeks early in the season due to a right knee sprain, Vizquel solidified the defense, and the lineup could more than support his limp bat. The team went 64–47 during the strike-shortened season and the following year went an MLB-best 100–44 en route to Cleveland&#39;s first pennant since 1954.</p><p>Vizquel hit just .266/.333/.351 for a 71 OPS+ that season and snagged his third Gold Glove, though for what it’s worth, Total Zone valued his defense that year at just one run above average, part of a four-year stretch (1994–98) in which he was barely in the black. Still, he gained no small amount of attention for his fieldwork in the postseason, with <em>Sports Illustrated</em>’s <a href="https://www.si.com/vault/1996/04/01/211538/playmaker-as-millions-of-fans-discovered-in-last-years-world-series-indians-shortstop-omar-vizquel-is-such-a-good-fielder-he-sometimes-doesnt-even-need-a-glove" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Tim Kurkjian" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Tim Kurkjian</a> gushing the following spring, calling Vizquel “the Indians’ most fascinating player to watch.”</p><p>The Indians lost that World Series to the Braves, but Hart’s foresight in signing Ramirez, Thome, Baerga, Lofton, Charles Nagy and Sandy Alomar Jr. to long-term extensions—many of which bought out players’ arbitration years—enabled the small-market team to afford its top players, creating a core that would win six division titles and two pennants from 1995 to 2001. That included Vizquel, who was heading into his age-29 season; Hart signed him to a five-year, $15.35 million extension that December.</p><p>Working with hitting coach Charlie Manuel (who would take over from Mike Hargrove as manager in 2000), Vizquel matured considerably as a hitter. From his debut through 1995, he batted .256/.315/.314 for a 72 OPS+ and a combined -106 batting runs (the offensive component of WAR). From &#39;96 to 2004—a high-offense era—he hit a composite .286/.356/.385 for a 93 OPS+; for the period, he was just 29 runs below average at the plate, with four seasons either at zero or in the black. In 1999, he set across-the-board career bests with a .333/.397/.436 line, a 111 OPS+, 42 steals and 6.0 WAR.</p><p>Vizquel collected Gold Gloves every year from 1996 to 2001—the last three while paired with Roberto Alomar for one of the most visually arresting double play combos in recent memory—though the advanced metrics suggest his defense wasn’t so exceptional. Here it’s worth yet another reminder that single-season defensive data captures a fair bit of noise along with the signal, and it’s better to consider in the context of multiple seasons. Via Total Zone, Vizquel’s defensive value ranged from +14 to -8 runs relative to average in this six-year span. His 16 runs above average for the period ranked just 15th in the majors, far behind Rey Sanchez (+89) and Rey Ordonez (+62), the top two at the position.</p><p>Despite repeatedly winning their division, the Indians couldn’t nab that elusive championship. They came agonizingly close in 1997, despite just an 86–75 record. After defeating the defending champion Yankees in the Division Series and the Orioles in the ALCS, they took a 2–1 lead into the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series against the Marlins. Alas, closer Jose Mesa surrendered the tying run in the bottom of the ninth via two singles and a sacrifice fly, and an error by second baseman Tony Fernandez on Craig Counsell’s grounder in the 11th inning led to the series-winning run.</p><p>The sting of that loss lingered, and became part of the biggest controversy of Vizquel’s career. Though he had been close to Mesa to that point—“We lived five minutes away from each other. We fooled around a lot. We cooked together,” <a href="http://www.cleveland.com/tribe/index.ssf/2014/06/omar_vizquel_never_got_the_cha.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:he later" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">he later </a><a href="http://www.cleveland.com/tribe/index.ssf/2014/06/omar_vizquel_never_got_the_cha.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:said" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">said</a>—Vizquel’s subsequent actions towards his teammate were anything but friendly. First he irritated Mesa by cartwheeling across home plate after homering off him during an intrasquad game in 1998—that’s right, an <em>intrasquad</em> game. In exchange, after the pitcher was traded to the Giants in midseason and signed with the Mariners the following winter, he brushed his old friend back during a 1999 encounter.</p><p>Things came to a head when on <em>the opening page</em> of his 2002 autobiography, <em>Omar! My Life On and Off the Field</em>, Vizquel wrote of Game 7:</p><p>Mesa, by that point a member of the Phillies, was understandably livid. He plunked Vizquel during a 2002 interleague game and was fined $500. In the spring of 2003, <a href="http://forums.thesmartmarks.com/lofiversion/index.php?t28016.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:he told reporter Randy Miller" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">he told reporter Randy Miller</a>, “I will not forgive him. Even my little boy (Jose Jr.) told me to get him. If I face him 10 more times, I’ll hit him 10 times. I want to kill him.”</p><p>The two didn’t face each other again until 2006, but in their first encounter, Mesa, by then with the Giants, again hit Vizquel. He was suspended for four games. They squared off three more times without incident, with Mesa retiring him twice but Vizquel collecting a garbage-time–two-run single in the last encounter. They never did mend fences, and the shortstop somehow remained puzzled even <a href="http://www.cleveland.com/tribe/index.ssf/2014/06/omar_vizquel_never_got_the_cha.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:while saying" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">while saying</a> in 2014, “It was kind of sad that I never got to tell him that I didn’t really mean anything bad about what I said in the book.”</p><p>While Vizquel generally got high marks for his comportment throughout his career, his ongoing feud with Mesa was a low point. Game Sevens are inevitably filled with heroes and goats, but it takes some <a href="http://www.jewish-languages.org/jewish-english-lexicon/words/119" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:chutzpah" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><em>chutzpah</em></a> for a player to try to humiliate one of the latter—let alone one he called a close friend—in the opening page of his memoir.</p><p>In February 2001, Vizquel signed a two-year, $15 million extension with the Indians, one that also raised his salary for that season from $3 million to $4.5 million and included a $5 million mutual option for 2005. His streak of Gold Gloves ended in 2002, but he set a career high with 14 homers and earned All-Star honors for the third time; the first two had been in 1998 and ’99, no small achievement with Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra in their collective heyday as “the trinity.” A pair of surgeries to repair the meniscus of his right knee—he tore it again while rehabbing—limited Vizquel to 64 games in 2003, and, after he failed a physical, prevented a trade of the 36-year-old shortstop back to the Mariners that winter.</p><p>At 37, Vizquel enjoyed a solid rebound with the Indians, batting .291/.353/.388 for a 99 OPS+ en route to 4.0 WAR, the second-highest total of his career. The Indians declined their end of the mutual option, but Vizquel parlayed that performance into a three-year, $12.25 million deal with the Giants. He won Gold Gloves in the first two of those years, albeit with Defensive Runs Saved totals of just +1 and +7, and WAR totals of 1.5 and 2.9. His bat fell off the table in 2007, his age-40 season (.246/.305/.316/61 OPS+), and despite a career high +16 DRS, his total value was just 0.6 WAR.</p><p>While the Giants re-signed Vizquel, his performance slipped even further in 2008. That year began with a seven-week stint on the DL for surgery to repair the meniscus in his left knee, as well as a bone bruise, and finished with career worsts in OPS+ (45) and WAR (-0.5). One highlight: On May 25, 2008, he surpassed Aparicio for the most games played at shortstop with 2,584.</p><p>Moving into a utility role that included ample time at second and third as well as short, Vizquel spent four more years in the majors with the Rangers (2009), White Sox (&#39;10–11, while wearing Aparicio’s No. 11, un-retired with his blessing) and Blue Jays (’12), the last of those coming at age 45. He hit a combined .262/.312/.320 for a 70 OPS+ in 931 PA, and only in 2010 did he play regularly. In June 2012, he announced that he would retire at season’s end; on Oct. 4 in Toronto, with former teammate Baerga and fellow Venezuelans Aparicio and Andres Galarraga on hand, he threw out the ceremonial first pitch and collected a single in the final at-bat of his 24-year career.</p><p>Vizquel’s longevity, which allowed him to play a record 2,709 games at shortstop, collect 2,877 hits (higher than all but the aforementioned quartet of Jeter, Wagner, Ripken and Yount among shortstops) and win 11 Gold Gloves (more than all but Smith), is perhaps the best point in his favor when it comes to the Hall of Fame. But beyond those standings, his résumé is a mixture of good news/bad news. Vizquel helped his teams reach the playoffs six times and the World Series twice, though he was less productive at the plate there (.250/.327/.316 in 264 PA) than in the regular season. Thanks in large part to the presence of the shortstop trinity, he made just three All-Star teams, a comparatively low total for a modern Hall of Famer, and the entirety of his MVP consideration consisted of a 16th-place finish in 1999. Still, his <a href="https://www.baseball-reference.com/about/leader_glossary.shtml#hof_monitor" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Hall of Fame Monitor" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Hall of Fame Monitor</a> score of 120, while not indicating a slam dunk, is on the side of “more likely than not.”</p><p>Then there’s the defense. Vizquel’s flair afield produced countless <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73N_JJpuqKE" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:highlight loops" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">highlight loops</a> that got their share of attention thanks to the Internet and cable TV, not to mention the routine exposure he got in the postseason from 1995 through 2001. Observers like Kurkjian weren’t shy about using superlatives, and Vizquel was a fan favorite, albeit not enough of one to be voted to start a single All-Star Game. Having written more than once on <a href="https://www.si.com/mlb/strike-zone/2012/06/27/why-omar-vizquel-is-not-a-hall-of-famer" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the pros and cons" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the pros and cons</a> of his case, I can attest that his defenders will come out of the woodwork to drop a good word on his behalf (along with a few unprintable ones on mine).</p><p>Baseball-Reference.com credits Vizquel as being 128 runs above average for his career defensively, via a combination of Total Zone (+80 runs through 2002) and Defensive Runs Saved (+48 from &#39;03 to &#39;12). Ultimate Zone Rating credits him as 48 runs above average as well for the latter period. The combined total, while very good, doesn’t blow the doors off the shrine; it <a href="https://bbref.com/pi/shareit/7J52z" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:ranks 18th all-time" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">ranks 18th all-time</a> among shortstops, better than 12 of the 20 enshrined.</p><p>Should it be better? Advanced fielding statistics aren’t easy to penetrate, but feel around the margins of the basic stats and you can begin to see why the metrics don’t put Vizquel on the same level as Ozzie Smith. In Vizquel’s favor, he holds the edge in fielding percentage, .985 to .978, but both were 12 points higher than their respective leagues’ shortstops during the course of their careers. From there, the comparison becomes more lopsided in the Wizard’s favor.</p><p>While Vizquel is third all-time in assists for a shortstop (7,676), that’s a product of his longevity. He never led his league in the category, and while he ranked in the top five eight times, six of those were fourth or fifth. Smith, the all-time leader among shortstops with 8,375 assists—in 1,175 fewer innings, roughly 130 games—led his league eight times, and was second in four others. The story is similar when it comes to double plays: Vizquel, the all-time leader at 1,734, led his league once and was third three times; Smith, second all-time with 1,590 double plays, led his league five times and was second six times.</p><p>True, Smith played in an era with more balls in play and fewer strikeouts. Via B-Ref, during his time in the field, 83% of his pitching staff’s plate appearances ended with a ball in play; for Vizquel’s teams, the rate was 77%, so there would have been fewer chances for him to make a play. Likewise, his staffs faced a smaller proportion of righthanded batters, whose natural pull tendency would be to the left side of the infield: 58%, in line with the league average. Smith’s teams faced 61% righties, two points above average.</p><p><a href="https://twitter.com/sean_forman/status/935951711763607553" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Calculations" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Calculations</a> such as those go into the <a href="https://www.baseball-reference.com/about/war_explained_position.shtml" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Total Zone" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Total Zone</a> defensive metrics. While it’s an oversimplification to say that the difference between Smith and Vizquel can be boiled down to range factor (putouts plus assists per nine innings) relative to their league averages, such a comparison gets the point across. The Wizard averaged 5.22 plays per nine while the league’s shortstops were at 4.78, a difference of 0.44 per nine. Vizquel averaged 4.62 per nine for his time at shortstop while the league was at 4.61—a difference of just 0.01. Aparicio and Rabbit Maranville, who are both enshrined for the way their glove work offset similarly light sticks, both have larger gaps as well; the former was 0.16 above his leagues, the latter 0.28 above.</p><p>Via the advanced stats, Smith has an edge of 111 runs over Vizquel on the defensive side, and that’s before considering offense. Vizquel’s .272/.336/.352 line translates to an 82 OPS+, five points lower than Smith, who played in the lower-scoring era. Over the course of his 12,013 plate appearances, Vizquel was 244 runs below average with the bat, the 13th-lowest total among players who spent the majority of their careers at shortstop. That’s 16 runs worse than Maranville, the worst among current Hall of Fame shortstops, and 127 runs worse than Smith. What’s more, where Smith made up 79 runs on the bases (steals as well as advancement on hits and outs) and 23 more on avoiding double plays, Vizquel—who stole 404 bases, albeit with just a 70.8% success rate—was one run below average in the former and nine above in the latter. His net offense was -236 runs to Smith’s -15.</p><p>Thanks to his defense, Vizquel was still worth 45.3 WAR for his career, which <a href="https://www.baseball-reference.com/leaders/jaws_SS.shtml" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:ranks 29th among shortstops" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">ranks 29th among shortstops</a>, but is higher than just four of those enshrined, and 21.4 WAR below the position standard. Within 2.0 WAR of him on either side are Art Fletcher, Miguel Tejada, Jimmy Rollins, Vern Stephens, Tony Fernandez, Roger Peckinpaugh, Garciaparra and Travis Jackson, of whom only the last is enshrined, and that’s thanks to <a href="http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=19799" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:some Veterans Committee cronyism" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">some Veterans Committee cronyism</a>. For all of his Gold Gloves, Vizquel ranked in the top 10 in his league in WAR just once, with a career-high 6.0 in 1999. Smith, for a point of comparison, made his leagues’ top 10 six times, Maranville five times, Aparicio twice.</p><p>The news is even harsher when it comes to Vizquel’s peak score of 26.6: it ranks 61st all-time. Of the 16 players within two wins on either side, there are notable names, including Cecil Travis, Marty Marion and Edgar Renteria, but of the lot, only Monte Ward, whose career is so bifurcated between pitching and shortstop that I exclude him from the JAWS set entirely, is enshrined. Thus Vizquel’s 36.0 JAWS ranks 42nd, just ahead of popular Era Committee candidates such as Davey Concepcion and Maury Wills but lower than all of the enshrined shortstops, with Maranville (42.8/30.4/36.6) bringing up the rear.</p><p>Those just aren’t numbers that can support a Hall of Fame case, though Vizquel appears poised to garner a good amount of support. Even on a crowded, top-heavy ballot where many voters feel constrained by the 10-slot rule, Vizquel was included on 13 of the first 22 ballots cast at <a href="http://bit.ly/hof18" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Ryan Thibodaux’s ballot tracker" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Ryan Thibodaux’s ballot tracker</a>. That’s only about five percent of the electorate, but it certainly points to the possibility of a long stay on the ballot for Vizquel, which will inevitably cause a ruckus in the battle between the eye-test crowd and the statheads, <em>à la </em>Morris. It would be a shame if the debate becomes as shrill and polarizing as it did for Morris. Omar Vizquel was a fine ballplayer and an icon to his countrymen. He deserves to be remembered with respect, but his road should stop short of the Cooperstown dais.</p>
Omar Vizquel Was a Defensive Wizard, but he's not a Hall of Fame Shortstop

The following article is part of my ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2018 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year's ballot, please see here. For an introduction to JAWS, see here.

In the eyes of many, Omar Vizquel was the successor to Ozzie Smith when it came to dazzling defense. Thanks to the increased prevalence of highlight footage on the internet and cable shows such as ESPN’s SportsCenter and Baseball Tonight, the diminutive Venezuelan shortstop’s barehanded grabs, diving stops and daily acrobatics were seen by far more viewers than Smith’s ever were. Vizquel made up for having a less-than-prototypically-strong arm with incredibly soft hands and a knack for advantageous positioning. Such was the perception of his prowess at the position that he took home 11 Gold Gloves, more than any shortstop this side of Smith, who won 13.

Vizquel’s offense was superficially akin to Smith’s: he was a singles-slapping switch-hitter in lineups full of bigger bats, and at his best, he was a capable table-setter who got on base often enough to score 80, 90 or even 100 runs in some seasons. His ability to move the runner over with a sacrifice bunt or a productive out delighted purists, and he could steal a base, too. While he lacked power, he dealt in volume, piling up more hits (2,877) than all but four shortstops, all of them in the Hall of Fame or heading there: Derek Jeter (3,465), Honus Wagner (3,420), Cal Ripken Jr. (3,184) and Robin Yount (3,142). During his 11-year run in Cleveland (1994–2004), he helped the Indians to six playoff appearances and two pennants.

To some, that makes Vizquel an easy call for the Hall of Fame now that he has reached the ballot, but these eyes aren’t so sure. Via WAR and JAWS, Vizquel’s case isn’t nearly as strong as it is on the traditional merits, and his candidacy has the potential to be the next point of friction between old-school and new-school thinkers when it comes to the Hall of Fame. Is he the next Jack Morris?

Born to an electrical company technician and a kindergarten teacher in Caracas, Venezuela in 1967, Vizquel grew up in the poor neighborhood of Santa Eduvigis, where baseball was a constant. As a youngster he honed his quick reflexes and extraordinary hands by carrying around a rubber ball or tennis ball, which he would constantly bounce off of nearby objects and snare barehanded. Those skills were put to great use as he played on the rocky sandlots of his hometown, where preventing ground balls from hitting him in the face was a necessary survival tactic.

When Vizquel cut his teeth on those sandlots, the presence of his countrymen in the major leagues had begun to ramp up significantly. The first Venezuela-born major leaguer was pitcher Alex Carrasquel, who spent 1939–45 with the Senators, with a brief cameo with the White Sox in ’49. The third was his nephew, Chico Carrasquel, who spent 1950–59 in the majors, including six years with the White Sox alongside Nellie Fox as one the era’s great double play combos. The younger Carrasquel became the first Venezuela-born All-Star in 1951 and would make three more Midsummer Classic squads before being traded to the Indians for Larry Doby in October 1955. The White Sox replaced him with another Venezuelan, Luis Aparicio, who immediately validated the deal by winning AL Rookie of the Year and leading the league in stolen bases for the first of nine straight years. He would eventually win nine Gold Gloves, though one could quibble with the rest of his Cooperstown credentials. Through 1966, nine Venezuela-born players had reached the majors, but in ’67 alone, the year of Vizquel’s birth, five more did, the start of a steady stream that continues to this day.

The Mariners signed Vizquel in 1984, just short of his 17th birthday, for a mere $2,000 bonus and brought him to the U.S., where he lived with three other young Venezuelans. His parents had forced him to take a three-month crash course in English to prepare for his career, which began in Butte, Montana, with Seattle’s Pioneer League affiliate. He climbed the organizational ladder methodically: Low-A Bellingham in 1985, A-level Wausau in '86 (the year he began switch-hitting), A-level Salinas in '87, Double A Vermont and Triple A Calgary in '88, and finally the Mariners on Opening Day 1989, filling in for incumbent Rey Quiñones, who had sprained his ankle in spring training.

The 22-year-old Vizquel wasn’t an immediate success. He made a throwing error in his first game, added another error in his third, and was sent back to Calgary after going just 3-for-24. Quiñones returned from the disabled list and reclaimed his job but was traded to the Pirates on April 21. Vizquel returned for the rest of the season, and while he was above-average defensively (+6 runs via Total Zone), he hit just .220/.273/.261 in 431 plate appearances for an anemic 50 OPS+, the majors’ worst mark for any hitter with at least 400 PA that year.

After he sprained the medial collateral ligament of his left knee the following spring, the team left Vizquel at Calgary through his rehab and into early July. He went 2-for-3 with a homer in his July 5 return, and while he still hit just .247/.295/.298 for a 67 OPS+ in 285 PA, he was 13 runs above average afield en route to 1.5 WAR. His bat remained similarly sluggish in 1991, but in a lineup where Ken Griffey Jr., Jay Buhner and Edgar Martinez were developing into forces, the Mariners could afford to carry Vizquel. His defense (+14 runs) played a part in helping Seattle to a 83–79 record, their first season above .500.

The team regressed to 64–98 the following year, even as Vizquel hit a relatively robust .294/.340/.352 en route to a 95 OPS+ and 3.5 WAR, but he couldn’t maintain that gain, slipping back to .255/.319/.298 (67 OPS+) in 1993. He did claim his first Gold Glove via defense that was 16 runs above average—a mark that would stand as his career best—and bolstered by the notoriety he gained for sealing Chris Bosio’s April 22 no-hitter against the Red Sox. With Bosio’s no-no hanging in the balance, Vizquel barehanded a chopper behind the mound on the second-base side and threw out batter Earnest Riles by two steps at first base.

In 1993, the Mariners drafted Alex Rodriguez with the No. 1 pick. Though they weren’t teammates yet, the contrast between the light-hitting 5’9” Vizquel and the powerful 6’3” Rodriguez couldn’t have been more striking. Big men had played the position before, but not until 6’4” Ripken came along in the early 1980s had one flourished as a two-way threat. With Rodriguez waiting in the wings, the Mariners traded Vizquel to the Indians for stopgap shortstop Felix Fermin and DH Reggie Jefferson in December 1993.

It was an astute move by Cleveland general manager John Hart. The Indians had cracked .500 just once in the previous 12 seasons, but they were in the process of assembling a powerhouse lineup featuring youngsters Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome and Carlos Baerga, as well as Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton and others. Though he missed seven weeks early in the season due to a right knee sprain, Vizquel solidified the defense, and the lineup could more than support his limp bat. The team went 64–47 during the strike-shortened season and the following year went an MLB-best 100–44 en route to Cleveland's first pennant since 1954.

Vizquel hit just .266/.333/.351 for a 71 OPS+ that season and snagged his third Gold Glove, though for what it’s worth, Total Zone valued his defense that year at just one run above average, part of a four-year stretch (1994–98) in which he was barely in the black. Still, he gained no small amount of attention for his fieldwork in the postseason, with Sports Illustrated’s Tim Kurkjian gushing the following spring, calling Vizquel “the Indians’ most fascinating player to watch.”

The Indians lost that World Series to the Braves, but Hart’s foresight in signing Ramirez, Thome, Baerga, Lofton, Charles Nagy and Sandy Alomar Jr. to long-term extensions—many of which bought out players’ arbitration years—enabled the small-market team to afford its top players, creating a core that would win six division titles and two pennants from 1995 to 2001. That included Vizquel, who was heading into his age-29 season; Hart signed him to a five-year, $15.35 million extension that December.

Working with hitting coach Charlie Manuel (who would take over from Mike Hargrove as manager in 2000), Vizquel matured considerably as a hitter. From his debut through 1995, he batted .256/.315/.314 for a 72 OPS+ and a combined -106 batting runs (the offensive component of WAR). From '96 to 2004—a high-offense era—he hit a composite .286/.356/.385 for a 93 OPS+; for the period, he was just 29 runs below average at the plate, with four seasons either at zero or in the black. In 1999, he set across-the-board career bests with a .333/.397/.436 line, a 111 OPS+, 42 steals and 6.0 WAR.

Vizquel collected Gold Gloves every year from 1996 to 2001—the last three while paired with Roberto Alomar for one of the most visually arresting double play combos in recent memory—though the advanced metrics suggest his defense wasn’t so exceptional. Here it’s worth yet another reminder that single-season defensive data captures a fair bit of noise along with the signal, and it’s better to consider in the context of multiple seasons. Via Total Zone, Vizquel’s defensive value ranged from +14 to -8 runs relative to average in this six-year span. His 16 runs above average for the period ranked just 15th in the majors, far behind Rey Sanchez (+89) and Rey Ordonez (+62), the top two at the position.

Despite repeatedly winning their division, the Indians couldn’t nab that elusive championship. They came agonizingly close in 1997, despite just an 86–75 record. After defeating the defending champion Yankees in the Division Series and the Orioles in the ALCS, they took a 2–1 lead into the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series against the Marlins. Alas, closer Jose Mesa surrendered the tying run in the bottom of the ninth via two singles and a sacrifice fly, and an error by second baseman Tony Fernandez on Craig Counsell’s grounder in the 11th inning led to the series-winning run.

The sting of that loss lingered, and became part of the biggest controversy of Vizquel’s career. Though he had been close to Mesa to that point—“We lived five minutes away from each other. We fooled around a lot. We cooked together,” he later said—Vizquel’s subsequent actions towards his teammate were anything but friendly. First he irritated Mesa by cartwheeling across home plate after homering off him during an intrasquad game in 1998—that’s right, an intrasquad game. In exchange, after the pitcher was traded to the Giants in midseason and signed with the Mariners the following winter, he brushed his old friend back during a 1999 encounter.

Things came to a head when on the opening page of his 2002 autobiography, Omar! My Life On and Off the Field, Vizquel wrote of Game 7:

Mesa, by that point a member of the Phillies, was understandably livid. He plunked Vizquel during a 2002 interleague game and was fined $500. In the spring of 2003, he told reporter Randy Miller, “I will not forgive him. Even my little boy (Jose Jr.) told me to get him. If I face him 10 more times, I’ll hit him 10 times. I want to kill him.”

The two didn’t face each other again until 2006, but in their first encounter, Mesa, by then with the Giants, again hit Vizquel. He was suspended for four games. They squared off three more times without incident, with Mesa retiring him twice but Vizquel collecting a garbage-time–two-run single in the last encounter. They never did mend fences, and the shortstop somehow remained puzzled even while saying in 2014, “It was kind of sad that I never got to tell him that I didn’t really mean anything bad about what I said in the book.”

While Vizquel generally got high marks for his comportment throughout his career, his ongoing feud with Mesa was a low point. Game Sevens are inevitably filled with heroes and goats, but it takes some chutzpah for a player to try to humiliate one of the latter—let alone one he called a close friend—in the opening page of his memoir.

In February 2001, Vizquel signed a two-year, $15 million extension with the Indians, one that also raised his salary for that season from $3 million to $4.5 million and included a $5 million mutual option for 2005. His streak of Gold Gloves ended in 2002, but he set a career high with 14 homers and earned All-Star honors for the third time; the first two had been in 1998 and ’99, no small achievement with Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra in their collective heyday as “the trinity.” A pair of surgeries to repair the meniscus of his right knee—he tore it again while rehabbing—limited Vizquel to 64 games in 2003, and, after he failed a physical, prevented a trade of the 36-year-old shortstop back to the Mariners that winter.

At 37, Vizquel enjoyed a solid rebound with the Indians, batting .291/.353/.388 for a 99 OPS+ en route to 4.0 WAR, the second-highest total of his career. The Indians declined their end of the mutual option, but Vizquel parlayed that performance into a three-year, $12.25 million deal with the Giants. He won Gold Gloves in the first two of those years, albeit with Defensive Runs Saved totals of just +1 and +7, and WAR totals of 1.5 and 2.9. His bat fell off the table in 2007, his age-40 season (.246/.305/.316/61 OPS+), and despite a career high +16 DRS, his total value was just 0.6 WAR.

While the Giants re-signed Vizquel, his performance slipped even further in 2008. That year began with a seven-week stint on the DL for surgery to repair the meniscus in his left knee, as well as a bone bruise, and finished with career worsts in OPS+ (45) and WAR (-0.5). One highlight: On May 25, 2008, he surpassed Aparicio for the most games played at shortstop with 2,584.

Moving into a utility role that included ample time at second and third as well as short, Vizquel spent four more years in the majors with the Rangers (2009), White Sox ('10–11, while wearing Aparicio’s No. 11, un-retired with his blessing) and Blue Jays (’12), the last of those coming at age 45. He hit a combined .262/.312/.320 for a 70 OPS+ in 931 PA, and only in 2010 did he play regularly. In June 2012, he announced that he would retire at season’s end; on Oct. 4 in Toronto, with former teammate Baerga and fellow Venezuelans Aparicio and Andres Galarraga on hand, he threw out the ceremonial first pitch and collected a single in the final at-bat of his 24-year career.

Vizquel’s longevity, which allowed him to play a record 2,709 games at shortstop, collect 2,877 hits (higher than all but the aforementioned quartet of Jeter, Wagner, Ripken and Yount among shortstops) and win 11 Gold Gloves (more than all but Smith), is perhaps the best point in his favor when it comes to the Hall of Fame. But beyond those standings, his résumé is a mixture of good news/bad news. Vizquel helped his teams reach the playoffs six times and the World Series twice, though he was less productive at the plate there (.250/.327/.316 in 264 PA) than in the regular season. Thanks in large part to the presence of the shortstop trinity, he made just three All-Star teams, a comparatively low total for a modern Hall of Famer, and the entirety of his MVP consideration consisted of a 16th-place finish in 1999. Still, his Hall of Fame Monitor score of 120, while not indicating a slam dunk, is on the side of “more likely than not.”

Then there’s the defense. Vizquel’s flair afield produced countless highlight loops that got their share of attention thanks to the Internet and cable TV, not to mention the routine exposure he got in the postseason from 1995 through 2001. Observers like Kurkjian weren’t shy about using superlatives, and Vizquel was a fan favorite, albeit not enough of one to be voted to start a single All-Star Game. Having written more than once on the pros and cons of his case, I can attest that his defenders will come out of the woodwork to drop a good word on his behalf (along with a few unprintable ones on mine).

Baseball-Reference.com credits Vizquel as being 128 runs above average for his career defensively, via a combination of Total Zone (+80 runs through 2002) and Defensive Runs Saved (+48 from '03 to '12). Ultimate Zone Rating credits him as 48 runs above average as well for the latter period. The combined total, while very good, doesn’t blow the doors off the shrine; it ranks 18th all-time among shortstops, better than 12 of the 20 enshrined.

Should it be better? Advanced fielding statistics aren’t easy to penetrate, but feel around the margins of the basic stats and you can begin to see why the metrics don’t put Vizquel on the same level as Ozzie Smith. In Vizquel’s favor, he holds the edge in fielding percentage, .985 to .978, but both were 12 points higher than their respective leagues’ shortstops during the course of their careers. From there, the comparison becomes more lopsided in the Wizard’s favor.

While Vizquel is third all-time in assists for a shortstop (7,676), that’s a product of his longevity. He never led his league in the category, and while he ranked in the top five eight times, six of those were fourth or fifth. Smith, the all-time leader among shortstops with 8,375 assists—in 1,175 fewer innings, roughly 130 games—led his league eight times, and was second in four others. The story is similar when it comes to double plays: Vizquel, the all-time leader at 1,734, led his league once and was third three times; Smith, second all-time with 1,590 double plays, led his league five times and was second six times.

True, Smith played in an era with more balls in play and fewer strikeouts. Via B-Ref, during his time in the field, 83% of his pitching staff’s plate appearances ended with a ball in play; for Vizquel’s teams, the rate was 77%, so there would have been fewer chances for him to make a play. Likewise, his staffs faced a smaller proportion of righthanded batters, whose natural pull tendency would be to the left side of the infield: 58%, in line with the league average. Smith’s teams faced 61% righties, two points above average.

Calculations such as those go into the Total Zone defensive metrics. While it’s an oversimplification to say that the difference between Smith and Vizquel can be boiled down to range factor (putouts plus assists per nine innings) relative to their league averages, such a comparison gets the point across. The Wizard averaged 5.22 plays per nine while the league’s shortstops were at 4.78, a difference of 0.44 per nine. Vizquel averaged 4.62 per nine for his time at shortstop while the league was at 4.61—a difference of just 0.01. Aparicio and Rabbit Maranville, who are both enshrined for the way their glove work offset similarly light sticks, both have larger gaps as well; the former was 0.16 above his leagues, the latter 0.28 above.

Via the advanced stats, Smith has an edge of 111 runs over Vizquel on the defensive side, and that’s before considering offense. Vizquel’s .272/.336/.352 line translates to an 82 OPS+, five points lower than Smith, who played in the lower-scoring era. Over the course of his 12,013 plate appearances, Vizquel was 244 runs below average with the bat, the 13th-lowest total among players who spent the majority of their careers at shortstop. That’s 16 runs worse than Maranville, the worst among current Hall of Fame shortstops, and 127 runs worse than Smith. What’s more, where Smith made up 79 runs on the bases (steals as well as advancement on hits and outs) and 23 more on avoiding double plays, Vizquel—who stole 404 bases, albeit with just a 70.8% success rate—was one run below average in the former and nine above in the latter. His net offense was -236 runs to Smith’s -15.

Thanks to his defense, Vizquel was still worth 45.3 WAR for his career, which ranks 29th among shortstops, but is higher than just four of those enshrined, and 21.4 WAR below the position standard. Within 2.0 WAR of him on either side are Art Fletcher, Miguel Tejada, Jimmy Rollins, Vern Stephens, Tony Fernandez, Roger Peckinpaugh, Garciaparra and Travis Jackson, of whom only the last is enshrined, and that’s thanks to some Veterans Committee cronyism. For all of his Gold Gloves, Vizquel ranked in the top 10 in his league in WAR just once, with a career-high 6.0 in 1999. Smith, for a point of comparison, made his leagues’ top 10 six times, Maranville five times, Aparicio twice.

The news is even harsher when it comes to Vizquel’s peak score of 26.6: it ranks 61st all-time. Of the 16 players within two wins on either side, there are notable names, including Cecil Travis, Marty Marion and Edgar Renteria, but of the lot, only Monte Ward, whose career is so bifurcated between pitching and shortstop that I exclude him from the JAWS set entirely, is enshrined. Thus Vizquel’s 36.0 JAWS ranks 42nd, just ahead of popular Era Committee candidates such as Davey Concepcion and Maury Wills but lower than all of the enshrined shortstops, with Maranville (42.8/30.4/36.6) bringing up the rear.

Those just aren’t numbers that can support a Hall of Fame case, though Vizquel appears poised to garner a good amount of support. Even on a crowded, top-heavy ballot where many voters feel constrained by the 10-slot rule, Vizquel was included on 13 of the first 22 ballots cast at Ryan Thibodaux’s ballot tracker. That’s only about five percent of the electorate, but it certainly points to the possibility of a long stay on the ballot for Vizquel, which will inevitably cause a ruckus in the battle between the eye-test crowd and the statheads, à la Morris. It would be a shame if the debate becomes as shrill and polarizing as it did for Morris. Omar Vizquel was a fine ballplayer and an icon to his countrymen. He deserves to be remembered with respect, but his road should stop short of the Cooperstown dais.

<p><em>The following article is part of my ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2018 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year&#39;s ballot, please see </em><a href="https://www.si.com/mlb/2017/11/20/hall-of-fame-ballot-chipper-jones-jim-thome" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:here" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><em>here</em></a><em>. For an introduction to JAWS, see </em><a href="https://www.si.com/mlb/2017/11/27/hall-fame-jaws-intro-2018-ballot" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:here" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><em>here</em></a><em>.</em></p><p>In the eyes of many, Omar Vizquel was the successor to Ozzie Smith when it came to dazzling defense. Thanks to the increased prevalence of highlight footage on the internet and cable shows such as ESPN’s <em>SportsCenter</em> and <em>Baseball Tonight</em>, the diminutive Venezuelan shortstop’s barehanded grabs, diving stops and daily acrobatics were seen by far more viewers than Smith’s ever were. Vizquel made up for having a less-than-prototypically-strong arm with incredibly soft hands and a knack for advantageous positioning. Such was the perception of his prowess at the position that he took home 11 Gold Gloves, more than any shortstop this side of Smith, who won 13.</p><p>Vizquel’s offense was superficially akin to Smith’s: he was a singles-slapping switch-hitter in lineups full of bigger bats, and at his best, he was a capable table-setter who got on base often enough to score 80, 90 or even 100 runs in some seasons. His ability to move the runner over with a sacrifice bunt or a productive out delighted purists, and he could steal a base, too. While he lacked power, he dealt in volume, piling up more hits (2,877) than all but four shortstops, all of them in the Hall of Fame or heading there: Derek Jeter (3,465), Honus Wagner (3,420), Cal Ripken Jr. (3,184) and Robin Yount (3,142). During his 11-year run in Cleveland (1994–2004), he helped the Indians to six playoff appearances and two pennants.</p><p>To some, that makes Vizquel an easy call for the Hall of Fame now that he has reached the ballot, but these eyes aren’t so sure. Via WAR and JAWS, Vizquel’s case isn’t nearly as strong as it is on the traditional merits, and his candidacy has the potential to be the next point of friction between old-school and new-school thinkers when it comes to the Hall of Fame. Is he the next Jack Morris?</p><p>Born to an electrical company technician and a kindergarten teacher in Caracas, Venezuela in 1967, Vizquel grew up in the poor neighborhood of Santa Eduvigis, where baseball was a constant. As a youngster he honed his quick reflexes and extraordinary hands by carrying around a rubber ball or tennis ball, which he would constantly bounce off of nearby objects and snare barehanded. Those skills were put to great use as he played on the rocky sandlots of his hometown, where preventing ground balls from hitting him in the face was a necessary survival tactic.</p><p>When Vizquel cut his teeth on those sandlots, the presence of his countrymen in the major leagues had begun to ramp up significantly. The first Venezuela-born major leaguer was pitcher Alex Carrasquel, who spent 1939–45 with the Senators, with a brief cameo with the White Sox in ’49. The third was his nephew, Chico Carrasquel, who spent 1950–59 in the majors, including six years with the White Sox alongside Nellie Fox as one the era’s great double play combos. The younger Carrasquel became the first Venezuela-born All-Star in 1951 and would make three more Midsummer Classic squads before being traded to the Indians for Larry Doby in October 1955. The White Sox replaced him with another Venezuelan, Luis Aparicio, who immediately validated the deal by winning AL Rookie of the Year and leading the league in stolen bases for the first of nine straight years. He would eventually win nine Gold Gloves, though one could quibble with the rest of his Cooperstown credentials. Through 1966, nine Venezuela-born players had reached the majors, but in ’67 alone, the year of Vizquel’s birth, five more did, the start of a steady stream that continues to this day.</p><p>The Mariners signed Vizquel in 1984, just short of his 17th birthday, for a mere $2,000 bonus and brought him to the U.S., where he lived with three other young Venezuelans. His parents had forced him to take a three-month crash course in English to prepare for his career, which began in Butte, Montana, with Seattle’s Pioneer League affiliate. He climbed the organizational ladder methodically: Low-A Bellingham in 1985, A-level Wausau in &#39;86 (the year he began switch-hitting), A-level Salinas in &#39;87, Double A Vermont and Triple A Calgary in &#39;88, and finally the Mariners on Opening Day 1989, filling in for incumbent Rey Quiñones, who had sprained his ankle in spring training.</p><p>The 22-year-old Vizquel wasn’t an immediate success. He made a throwing error in his first game, added another error in his third, and was sent back to Calgary after going just 3-for-24. Quiñones returned from the disabled list and reclaimed his job but was traded to the Pirates on April 21. Vizquel returned for the rest of the season, and while he was above-average defensively (+6 runs via Total Zone), he hit just .220/.273/.261 in 431 plate appearances for an anemic 50 OPS+, the majors’ worst mark for any hitter with at least 400 PA that year.</p><p>After he sprained the medial collateral ligament of his left knee the following spring, the team left Vizquel at Calgary through his rehab and into early July. He went 2-for-3 with a homer in his July 5 return, and while he still hit just .247/.295/.298 for a 67 OPS+ in 285 PA, he was 13 runs above average afield en route to 1.5 WAR. His bat remained similarly sluggish in 1991, but in a lineup where Ken Griffey Jr., Jay Buhner and Edgar Martinez were developing into forces, the Mariners could afford to carry Vizquel. His defense (+14 runs) played a part in helping Seattle to a 83–79 record, their first season above .500.</p><p>The team regressed to 64–98 the following year, even as Vizquel hit a relatively robust .294/.340/.352 en route to a 95 OPS+ and 3.5 WAR, but he couldn’t maintain that gain, slipping back to .255/.319/.298 (67 OPS+) in 1993. He did claim his first Gold Glove via defense that was 16 runs above average—a mark that would stand as his career best—and bolstered by the notoriety he gained for sealing Chris Bosio’s April 22 no-hitter against the Red Sox. With Bosio’s no-no hanging in the balance, Vizquel barehanded a chopper behind the mound on the second-base side and threw out batter Earnest Riles by two steps at first base.</p><p>In 1993, the Mariners drafted Alex Rodriguez with the No. 1 pick. Though they weren’t teammates yet, the contrast between the light-hitting 5’9” Vizquel and the powerful 6’3” Rodriguez couldn’t have been more striking. Big men had played the position before, but not until 6’4” Ripken came along in the early 1980s had one flourished as a two-way threat. With Rodriguez waiting in the wings, the Mariners traded Vizquel to the Indians for stopgap shortstop Felix Fermin and DH Reggie Jefferson in December 1993.</p><p>It was an astute move by Cleveland general manager John Hart. The Indians had cracked .500 just once in the previous 12 seasons, but they were in the process of assembling a powerhouse lineup featuring youngsters Manny Ramirez, <a href="http://on.si.com/2AtE1tg" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Jim Thome" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Jim Thome</a> and Carlos Baerga, as well as Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton and others. Though he missed seven weeks early in the season due to a right knee sprain, Vizquel solidified the defense, and the lineup could more than support his limp bat. The team went 64–47 during the strike-shortened season and the following year went an MLB-best 100–44 en route to Cleveland&#39;s first pennant since 1954.</p><p>Vizquel hit just .266/.333/.351 for a 71 OPS+ that season and snagged his third Gold Glove, though for what it’s worth, Total Zone valued his defense that year at just one run above average, part of a four-year stretch (1994–98) in which he was barely in the black. Still, he gained no small amount of attention for his fieldwork in the postseason, with <em>Sports Illustrated</em>’s <a href="https://www.si.com/vault/1996/04/01/211538/playmaker-as-millions-of-fans-discovered-in-last-years-world-series-indians-shortstop-omar-vizquel-is-such-a-good-fielder-he-sometimes-doesnt-even-need-a-glove" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Tim Kurkjian" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Tim Kurkjian</a> gushing the following spring, calling Vizquel “the Indians’ most fascinating player to watch.”</p><p>The Indians lost that World Series to the Braves, but Hart’s foresight in signing Ramirez, Thome, Baerga, Lofton, Charles Nagy and Sandy Alomar Jr. to long-term extensions—many of which bought out players’ arbitration years—enabled the small-market team to afford its top players, creating a core that would win six division titles and two pennants from 1995 to 2001. That included Vizquel, who was heading into his age-29 season; Hart signed him to a five-year, $15.35 million extension that December.</p><p>Working with hitting coach Charlie Manuel (who would take over from Mike Hargrove as manager in 2000), Vizquel matured considerably as a hitter. From his debut through 1995, he batted .256/.315/.314 for a 72 OPS+ and a combined -106 batting runs (the offensive component of WAR). From &#39;96 to 2004—a high-offense era—he hit a composite .286/.356/.385 for a 93 OPS+; for the period, he was just 29 runs below average at the plate, with four seasons either at zero or in the black. In 1999, he set across-the-board career bests with a .333/.397/.436 line, a 111 OPS+, 42 steals and 6.0 WAR.</p><p>Vizquel collected Gold Gloves every year from 1996 to 2001—the last three while paired with Roberto Alomar for one of the most visually arresting double play combos in recent memory—though the advanced metrics suggest his defense wasn’t so exceptional. Here it’s worth yet another reminder that single-season defensive data captures a fair bit of noise along with the signal, and it’s better to consider in the context of multiple seasons. Via Total Zone, Vizquel’s defensive value ranged from +14 to -8 runs relative to average in this six-year span. His 16 runs above average for the period ranked just 15th in the majors, far behind Rey Sanchez (+89) and Rey Ordonez (+62), the top two at the position.</p><p>Despite repeatedly winning their division, the Indians couldn’t nab that elusive championship. They came agonizingly close in 1997, despite just an 86–75 record. After defeating the defending champion Yankees in the Division Series and the Orioles in the ALCS, they took a 2–1 lead into the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series against the Marlins. Alas, closer Jose Mesa surrendered the tying run in the bottom of the ninth via two singles and a sacrifice fly, and an error by second baseman Tony Fernandez on Craig Counsell’s grounder in the 11th inning led to the series-winning run.</p><p>The sting of that loss lingered, and became part of the biggest controversy of Vizquel’s career. Though he had been close to Mesa to that point—“We lived five minutes away from each other. We fooled around a lot. We cooked together,” <a href="http://www.cleveland.com/tribe/index.ssf/2014/06/omar_vizquel_never_got_the_cha.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:he later" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">he later </a><a href="http://www.cleveland.com/tribe/index.ssf/2014/06/omar_vizquel_never_got_the_cha.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:said" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">said</a>—Vizquel’s subsequent actions towards his teammate were anything but friendly. First he irritated Mesa by cartwheeling across home plate after homering off him during an intrasquad game in 1998—that’s right, an <em>intrasquad</em> game. In exchange, after the pitcher was traded to the Giants in midseason and signed with the Mariners the following winter, he brushed his old friend back during a 1999 encounter.</p><p>Things came to a head when on <em>the opening page</em> of his 2002 autobiography, <em>Omar! My Life On and Off the Field</em>, Vizquel wrote of Game 7:</p><p>Mesa, by that point a member of the Phillies, was understandably livid. He plunked Vizquel during a 2002 interleague game and was fined $500. In the spring of 2003, <a href="http://forums.thesmartmarks.com/lofiversion/index.php?t28016.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:he told reporter Randy Miller" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">he told reporter Randy Miller</a>, “I will not forgive him. Even my little boy (Jose Jr.) told me to get him. If I face him 10 more times, I’ll hit him 10 times. I want to kill him.”</p><p>The two didn’t face each other again until 2006, but in their first encounter, Mesa, by then with the Giants, again hit Vizquel. He was suspended for four games. They squared off three more times without incident, with Mesa retiring him twice but Vizquel collecting a garbage-time–two-run single in the last encounter. They never did mend fences, and the shortstop somehow remained puzzled even <a href="http://www.cleveland.com/tribe/index.ssf/2014/06/omar_vizquel_never_got_the_cha.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:while saying" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">while saying</a> in 2014, “It was kind of sad that I never got to tell him that I didn’t really mean anything bad about what I said in the book.”</p><p>While Vizquel generally got high marks for his comportment throughout his career, his ongoing feud with Mesa was a low point. Game Sevens are inevitably filled with heroes and goats, but it takes some <a href="http://www.jewish-languages.org/jewish-english-lexicon/words/119" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:chutzpah" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><em>chutzpah</em></a> for a player to try to humiliate one of the latter—let alone one he called a close friend—in the opening page of his memoir.</p><p>In February 2001, Vizquel signed a two-year, $15 million extension with the Indians, one that also raised his salary for that season from $3 million to $4.5 million and included a $5 million mutual option for 2005. His streak of Gold Gloves ended in 2002, but he set a career high with 14 homers and earned All-Star honors for the third time; the first two had been in 1998 and ’99, no small achievement with Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra in their collective heyday as “the trinity.” A pair of surgeries to repair the meniscus of his right knee—he tore it again while rehabbing—limited Vizquel to 64 games in 2003, and, after he failed a physical, prevented a trade of the 36-year-old shortstop back to the Mariners that winter.</p><p>At 37, Vizquel enjoyed a solid rebound with the Indians, batting .291/.353/.388 for a 99 OPS+ en route to 4.0 WAR, the second-highest total of his career. The Indians declined their end of the mutual option, but Vizquel parlayed that performance into a three-year, $12.25 million deal with the Giants. He won Gold Gloves in the first two of those years, albeit with Defensive Runs Saved totals of just +1 and +7, and WAR totals of 1.5 and 2.9. His bat fell off the table in 2007, his age-40 season (.246/.305/.316/61 OPS+), and despite a career high +16 DRS, his total value was just 0.6 WAR.</p><p>While the Giants re-signed Vizquel, his performance slipped even further in 2008. That year began with a seven-week stint on the DL for surgery to repair the meniscus in his left knee, as well as a bone bruise, and finished with career worsts in OPS+ (45) and WAR (-0.5). One highlight: On May 25, 2008, he surpassed Aparicio for the most games played at shortstop with 2,584.</p><p>Moving into a utility role that included ample time at second and third as well as short, Vizquel spent four more years in the majors with the Rangers (2009), White Sox (&#39;10–11, while wearing Aparicio’s No. 11, un-retired with his blessing) and Blue Jays (’12), the last of those coming at age 45. He hit a combined .262/.312/.320 for a 70 OPS+ in 931 PA, and only in 2010 did he play regularly. In June 2012, he announced that he would retire at season’s end; on Oct. 4 in Toronto, with former teammate Baerga and fellow Venezuelans Aparicio and Andres Galarraga on hand, he threw out the ceremonial first pitch and collected a single in the final at-bat of his 24-year career.</p><p>Vizquel’s longevity, which allowed him to play a record 2,709 games at shortstop, collect 2,877 hits (higher than all but the aforementioned quartet of Jeter, Wagner, Ripken and Yount among shortstops) and win 11 Gold Gloves (more than all but Smith), is perhaps the best point in his favor when it comes to the Hall of Fame. But beyond those standings, his résumé is a mixture of good news/bad news. Vizquel helped his teams reach the playoffs six times and the World Series twice, though he was less productive at the plate there (.250/.327/.316 in 264 PA) than in the regular season. Thanks in large part to the presence of the shortstop trinity, he made just three All-Star teams, a comparatively low total for a modern Hall of Famer, and the entirety of his MVP consideration consisted of a 16th-place finish in 1999. Still, his <a href="https://www.baseball-reference.com/about/leader_glossary.shtml#hof_monitor" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Hall of Fame Monitor" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Hall of Fame Monitor</a> score of 120, while not indicating a slam dunk, is on the side of “more likely than not.”</p><p>Then there’s the defense. Vizquel’s flair afield produced countless <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73N_JJpuqKE" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:highlight loops" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">highlight loops</a> that got their share of attention thanks to the Internet and cable TV, not to mention the routine exposure he got in the postseason from 1995 through 2001. Observers like Kurkjian weren’t shy about using superlatives, and Vizquel was a fan favorite, albeit not enough of one to be voted to start a single All-Star Game. Having written more than once on <a href="https://www.si.com/mlb/strike-zone/2012/06/27/why-omar-vizquel-is-not-a-hall-of-famer" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the pros and cons" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the pros and cons</a> of his case, I can attest that his defenders will come out of the woodwork to drop a good word on his behalf (along with a few unprintable ones on mine).</p><p>Baseball-Reference.com credits Vizquel as being 128 runs above average for his career defensively, via a combination of Total Zone (+80 runs through 2002) and Defensive Runs Saved (+48 from &#39;03 to &#39;12). Ultimate Zone Rating credits him as 48 runs above average as well for the latter period. The combined total, while very good, doesn’t blow the doors off the shrine; it <a href="https://bbref.com/pi/shareit/7J52z" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:ranks 18th all-time" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">ranks 18th all-time</a> among shortstops, better than 12 of the 20 enshrined.</p><p>Should it be better? Advanced fielding statistics aren’t easy to penetrate, but feel around the margins of the basic stats and you can begin to see why the metrics don’t put Vizquel on the same level as Ozzie Smith. In Vizquel’s favor, he holds the edge in fielding percentage, .985 to .978, but both were 12 points higher than their respective leagues’ shortstops during the course of their careers. From there, the comparison becomes more lopsided in the Wizard’s favor.</p><p>While Vizquel is third all-time in assists for a shortstop (7,676), that’s a product of his longevity. He never led his league in the category, and while he ranked in the top five eight times, six of those were fourth or fifth. Smith, the all-time leader among shortstops with 8,375 assists—in 1,175 fewer innings, roughly 130 games—led his league eight times, and was second in four others. The story is similar when it comes to double plays: Vizquel, the all-time leader at 1,734, led his league once and was third three times; Smith, second all-time with 1,590 double plays, led his league five times and was second six times.</p><p>True, Smith played in an era with more balls in play and fewer strikeouts. Via B-Ref, during his time in the field, 83% of his pitching staff’s plate appearances ended with a ball in play; for Vizquel’s teams, the rate was 77%, so there would have been fewer chances for him to make a play. Likewise, his staffs faced a smaller proportion of righthanded batters, whose natural pull tendency would be to the left side of the infield: 58%, in line with the league average. Smith’s teams faced 61% righties, two points above average.</p><p><a href="https://twitter.com/sean_forman/status/935951711763607553" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Calculations" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Calculations</a> such as those go into the <a href="https://www.baseball-reference.com/about/war_explained_position.shtml" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Total Zone" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Total Zone</a> defensive metrics. While it’s an oversimplification to say that the difference between Smith and Vizquel can be boiled down to range factor (putouts plus assists per nine innings) relative to their league averages, such a comparison gets the point across. The Wizard averaged 5.22 plays per nine while the league’s shortstops were at 4.78, a difference of 0.44 per nine. Vizquel averaged 4.62 per nine for his time at shortstop while the league was at 4.61—a difference of just 0.01. Aparicio and Rabbit Maranville, who are both enshrined for the way their glove work offset similarly light sticks, both have larger gaps as well; the former was 0.16 above his leagues, the latter 0.28 above.</p><p>Via the advanced stats, Smith has an edge of 111 runs over Vizquel on the defensive side, and that’s before considering offense. Vizquel’s .272/.336/.352 line translates to an 82 OPS+, five points lower than Smith, who played in the lower-scoring era. Over the course of his 12,013 plate appearances, Vizquel was 244 runs below average with the bat, the 13th-lowest total among players who spent the majority of their careers at shortstop. That’s 16 runs worse than Maranville, the worst among current Hall of Fame shortstops, and 127 runs worse than Smith. What’s more, where Smith made up 79 runs on the bases (steals as well as advancement on hits and outs) and 23 more on avoiding double plays, Vizquel—who stole 404 bases, albeit with just a 70.8% success rate—was one run below average in the former and nine above in the latter. His net offense was -236 runs to Smith’s -15.</p><p>Thanks to his defense, Vizquel was still worth 45.3 WAR for his career, which <a href="https://www.baseball-reference.com/leaders/jaws_SS.shtml" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:ranks 29th among shortstops" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">ranks 29th among shortstops</a>, but is higher than just four of those enshrined, and 21.4 WAR below the position standard. Within 2.0 WAR of him on either side are Art Fletcher, Miguel Tejada, Jimmy Rollins, Vern Stephens, Tony Fernandez, Roger Peckinpaugh, Garciaparra and Travis Jackson, of whom only the last is enshrined, and that’s thanks to <a href="http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=19799" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:some Veterans Committee cronyism" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">some Veterans Committee cronyism</a>. For all of his Gold Gloves, Vizquel ranked in the top 10 in his league in WAR just once, with a career-high 6.0 in 1999. Smith, for a point of comparison, made his leagues’ top 10 six times, Maranville five times, Aparicio twice.</p><p>The news is even harsher when it comes to Vizquel’s peak score of 26.6: it ranks 61st all-time. Of the 16 players within two wins on either side, there are notable names, including Cecil Travis, Marty Marion and Edgar Renteria, but of the lot, only Monte Ward, whose career is so bifurcated between pitching and shortstop that I exclude him from the JAWS set entirely, is enshrined. Thus Vizquel’s 36.0 JAWS ranks 42nd, just ahead of popular Era Committee candidates such as Davey Concepcion and Maury Wills but lower than all of the enshrined shortstops, with Maranville (42.8/30.4/36.6) bringing up the rear.</p><p>Those just aren’t numbers that can support a Hall of Fame case, though Vizquel appears poised to garner a good amount of support. Even on a crowded, top-heavy ballot where many voters feel constrained by the 10-slot rule, Vizquel was included on 13 of the first 22 ballots cast at <a href="http://bit.ly/hof18" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Ryan Thibodaux’s ballot tracker" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Ryan Thibodaux’s ballot tracker</a>. That’s only about five percent of the electorate, but it certainly points to the possibility of a long stay on the ballot for Vizquel, which will inevitably cause a ruckus in the battle between the eye-test crowd and the statheads, <em>à la </em>Morris. It would be a shame if the debate becomes as shrill and polarizing as it did for Morris. Omar Vizquel was a fine ballplayer and an icon to his countrymen. He deserves to be remembered with respect, but his road should stop short of the Cooperstown dais.</p>
Omar Vizquel Was a Defensive Wizard, but he's not a Hall of Fame Shortstop

The following article is part of my ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2018 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year's ballot, please see here. For an introduction to JAWS, see here.

In the eyes of many, Omar Vizquel was the successor to Ozzie Smith when it came to dazzling defense. Thanks to the increased prevalence of highlight footage on the internet and cable shows such as ESPN’s SportsCenter and Baseball Tonight, the diminutive Venezuelan shortstop’s barehanded grabs, diving stops and daily acrobatics were seen by far more viewers than Smith’s ever were. Vizquel made up for having a less-than-prototypically-strong arm with incredibly soft hands and a knack for advantageous positioning. Such was the perception of his prowess at the position that he took home 11 Gold Gloves, more than any shortstop this side of Smith, who won 13.

Vizquel’s offense was superficially akin to Smith’s: he was a singles-slapping switch-hitter in lineups full of bigger bats, and at his best, he was a capable table-setter who got on base often enough to score 80, 90 or even 100 runs in some seasons. His ability to move the runner over with a sacrifice bunt or a productive out delighted purists, and he could steal a base, too. While he lacked power, he dealt in volume, piling up more hits (2,877) than all but four shortstops, all of them in the Hall of Fame or heading there: Derek Jeter (3,465), Honus Wagner (3,420), Cal Ripken Jr. (3,184) and Robin Yount (3,142). During his 11-year run in Cleveland (1994–2004), he helped the Indians to six playoff appearances and two pennants.

To some, that makes Vizquel an easy call for the Hall of Fame now that he has reached the ballot, but these eyes aren’t so sure. Via WAR and JAWS, Vizquel’s case isn’t nearly as strong as it is on the traditional merits, and his candidacy has the potential to be the next point of friction between old-school and new-school thinkers when it comes to the Hall of Fame. Is he the next Jack Morris?

Born to an electrical company technician and a kindergarten teacher in Caracas, Venezuela in 1967, Vizquel grew up in the poor neighborhood of Santa Eduvigis, where baseball was a constant. As a youngster he honed his quick reflexes and extraordinary hands by carrying around a rubber ball or tennis ball, which he would constantly bounce off of nearby objects and snare barehanded. Those skills were put to great use as he played on the rocky sandlots of his hometown, where preventing ground balls from hitting him in the face was a necessary survival tactic.

When Vizquel cut his teeth on those sandlots, the presence of his countrymen in the major leagues had begun to ramp up significantly. The first Venezuela-born major leaguer was pitcher Alex Carrasquel, who spent 1939–45 with the Senators, with a brief cameo with the White Sox in ’49. The third was his nephew, Chico Carrasquel, who spent 1950–59 in the majors, including six years with the White Sox alongside Nellie Fox as one the era’s great double play combos. The younger Carrasquel became the first Venezuela-born All-Star in 1951 and would make three more Midsummer Classic squads before being traded to the Indians for Larry Doby in October 1955. The White Sox replaced him with another Venezuelan, Luis Aparicio, who immediately validated the deal by winning AL Rookie of the Year and leading the league in stolen bases for the first of nine straight years. He would eventually win nine Gold Gloves, though one could quibble with the rest of his Cooperstown credentials. Through 1966, nine Venezuela-born players had reached the majors, but in ’67 alone, the year of Vizquel’s birth, five more did, the start of a steady stream that continues to this day.

The Mariners signed Vizquel in 1984, just short of his 17th birthday, for a mere $2,000 bonus and brought him to the U.S., where he lived with three other young Venezuelans. His parents had forced him to take a three-month crash course in English to prepare for his career, which began in Butte, Montana, with Seattle’s Pioneer League affiliate. He climbed the organizational ladder methodically: Low-A Bellingham in 1985, A-level Wausau in '86 (the year he began switch-hitting), A-level Salinas in '87, Double A Vermont and Triple A Calgary in '88, and finally the Mariners on Opening Day 1989, filling in for incumbent Rey Quiñones, who had sprained his ankle in spring training.

The 22-year-old Vizquel wasn’t an immediate success. He made a throwing error in his first game, added another error in his third, and was sent back to Calgary after going just 3-for-24. Quiñones returned from the disabled list and reclaimed his job but was traded to the Pirates on April 21. Vizquel returned for the rest of the season, and while he was above-average defensively (+6 runs via Total Zone), he hit just .220/.273/.261 in 431 plate appearances for an anemic 50 OPS+, the majors’ worst mark for any hitter with at least 400 PA that year.

After he sprained the medial collateral ligament of his left knee the following spring, the team left Vizquel at Calgary through his rehab and into early July. He went 2-for-3 with a homer in his July 5 return, and while he still hit just .247/.295/.298 for a 67 OPS+ in 285 PA, he was 13 runs above average afield en route to 1.5 WAR. His bat remained similarly sluggish in 1991, but in a lineup where Ken Griffey Jr., Jay Buhner and Edgar Martinez were developing into forces, the Mariners could afford to carry Vizquel. His defense (+14 runs) played a part in helping Seattle to a 83–79 record, their first season above .500.

The team regressed to 64–98 the following year, even as Vizquel hit a relatively robust .294/.340/.352 en route to a 95 OPS+ and 3.5 WAR, but he couldn’t maintain that gain, slipping back to .255/.319/.298 (67 OPS+) in 1993. He did claim his first Gold Glove via defense that was 16 runs above average—a mark that would stand as his career best—and bolstered by the notoriety he gained for sealing Chris Bosio’s April 22 no-hitter against the Red Sox. With Bosio’s no-no hanging in the balance, Vizquel barehanded a chopper behind the mound on the second-base side and threw out batter Earnest Riles by two steps at first base.

In 1993, the Mariners drafted Alex Rodriguez with the No. 1 pick. Though they weren’t teammates yet, the contrast between the light-hitting 5’9” Vizquel and the powerful 6’3” Rodriguez couldn’t have been more striking. Big men had played the position before, but not until 6’4” Ripken came along in the early 1980s had one flourished as a two-way threat. With Rodriguez waiting in the wings, the Mariners traded Vizquel to the Indians for stopgap shortstop Felix Fermin and DH Reggie Jefferson in December 1993.

It was an astute move by Cleveland general manager John Hart. The Indians had cracked .500 just once in the previous 12 seasons, but they were in the process of assembling a powerhouse lineup featuring youngsters Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome and Carlos Baerga, as well as Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton and others. Though he missed seven weeks early in the season due to a right knee sprain, Vizquel solidified the defense, and the lineup could more than support his limp bat. The team went 64–47 during the strike-shortened season and the following year went an MLB-best 100–44 en route to Cleveland's first pennant since 1954.

Vizquel hit just .266/.333/.351 for a 71 OPS+ that season and snagged his third Gold Glove, though for what it’s worth, Total Zone valued his defense that year at just one run above average, part of a four-year stretch (1994–98) in which he was barely in the black. Still, he gained no small amount of attention for his fieldwork in the postseason, with Sports Illustrated’s Tim Kurkjian gushing the following spring, calling Vizquel “the Indians’ most fascinating player to watch.”

The Indians lost that World Series to the Braves, but Hart’s foresight in signing Ramirez, Thome, Baerga, Lofton, Charles Nagy and Sandy Alomar Jr. to long-term extensions—many of which bought out players’ arbitration years—enabled the small-market team to afford its top players, creating a core that would win six division titles and two pennants from 1995 to 2001. That included Vizquel, who was heading into his age-29 season; Hart signed him to a five-year, $15.35 million extension that December.

Working with hitting coach Charlie Manuel (who would take over from Mike Hargrove as manager in 2000), Vizquel matured considerably as a hitter. From his debut through 1995, he batted .256/.315/.314 for a 72 OPS+ and a combined -106 batting runs (the offensive component of WAR). From '96 to 2004—a high-offense era—he hit a composite .286/.356/.385 for a 93 OPS+; for the period, he was just 29 runs below average at the plate, with four seasons either at zero or in the black. In 1999, he set across-the-board career bests with a .333/.397/.436 line, a 111 OPS+, 42 steals and 6.0 WAR.

Vizquel collected Gold Gloves every year from 1996 to 2001—the last three while paired with Roberto Alomar for one of the most visually arresting double play combos in recent memory—though the advanced metrics suggest his defense wasn’t so exceptional. Here it’s worth yet another reminder that single-season defensive data captures a fair bit of noise along with the signal, and it’s better to consider in the context of multiple seasons. Via Total Zone, Vizquel’s defensive value ranged from +14 to -8 runs relative to average in this six-year span. His 16 runs above average for the period ranked just 15th in the majors, far behind Rey Sanchez (+89) and Rey Ordonez (+62), the top two at the position.

Despite repeatedly winning their division, the Indians couldn’t nab that elusive championship. They came agonizingly close in 1997, despite just an 86–75 record. After defeating the defending champion Yankees in the Division Series and the Orioles in the ALCS, they took a 2–1 lead into the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series against the Marlins. Alas, closer Jose Mesa surrendered the tying run in the bottom of the ninth via two singles and a sacrifice fly, and an error by second baseman Tony Fernandez on Craig Counsell’s grounder in the 11th inning led to the series-winning run.

The sting of that loss lingered, and became part of the biggest controversy of Vizquel’s career. Though he had been close to Mesa to that point—“We lived five minutes away from each other. We fooled around a lot. We cooked together,” he later said—Vizquel’s subsequent actions towards his teammate were anything but friendly. First he irritated Mesa by cartwheeling across home plate after homering off him during an intrasquad game in 1998—that’s right, an intrasquad game. In exchange, after the pitcher was traded to the Giants in midseason and signed with the Mariners the following winter, he brushed his old friend back during a 1999 encounter.

Things came to a head when on the opening page of his 2002 autobiography, Omar! My Life On and Off the Field, Vizquel wrote of Game 7:

Mesa, by that point a member of the Phillies, was understandably livid. He plunked Vizquel during a 2002 interleague game and was fined $500. In the spring of 2003, he told reporter Randy Miller, “I will not forgive him. Even my little boy (Jose Jr.) told me to get him. If I face him 10 more times, I’ll hit him 10 times. I want to kill him.”

The two didn’t face each other again until 2006, but in their first encounter, Mesa, by then with the Giants, again hit Vizquel. He was suspended for four games. They squared off three more times without incident, with Mesa retiring him twice but Vizquel collecting a garbage-time–two-run single in the last encounter. They never did mend fences, and the shortstop somehow remained puzzled even while saying in 2014, “It was kind of sad that I never got to tell him that I didn’t really mean anything bad about what I said in the book.”

While Vizquel generally got high marks for his comportment throughout his career, his ongoing feud with Mesa was a low point. Game Sevens are inevitably filled with heroes and goats, but it takes some chutzpah for a player to try to humiliate one of the latter—let alone one he called a close friend—in the opening page of his memoir.

In February 2001, Vizquel signed a two-year, $15 million extension with the Indians, one that also raised his salary for that season from $3 million to $4.5 million and included a $5 million mutual option for 2005. His streak of Gold Gloves ended in 2002, but he set a career high with 14 homers and earned All-Star honors for the third time; the first two had been in 1998 and ’99, no small achievement with Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra in their collective heyday as “the trinity.” A pair of surgeries to repair the meniscus of his right knee—he tore it again while rehabbing—limited Vizquel to 64 games in 2003, and, after he failed a physical, prevented a trade of the 36-year-old shortstop back to the Mariners that winter.

At 37, Vizquel enjoyed a solid rebound with the Indians, batting .291/.353/.388 for a 99 OPS+ en route to 4.0 WAR, the second-highest total of his career. The Indians declined their end of the mutual option, but Vizquel parlayed that performance into a three-year, $12.25 million deal with the Giants. He won Gold Gloves in the first two of those years, albeit with Defensive Runs Saved totals of just +1 and +7, and WAR totals of 1.5 and 2.9. His bat fell off the table in 2007, his age-40 season (.246/.305/.316/61 OPS+), and despite a career high +16 DRS, his total value was just 0.6 WAR.

While the Giants re-signed Vizquel, his performance slipped even further in 2008. That year began with a seven-week stint on the DL for surgery to repair the meniscus in his left knee, as well as a bone bruise, and finished with career worsts in OPS+ (45) and WAR (-0.5). One highlight: On May 25, 2008, he surpassed Aparicio for the most games played at shortstop with 2,584.

Moving into a utility role that included ample time at second and third as well as short, Vizquel spent four more years in the majors with the Rangers (2009), White Sox ('10–11, while wearing Aparicio’s No. 11, un-retired with his blessing) and Blue Jays (’12), the last of those coming at age 45. He hit a combined .262/.312/.320 for a 70 OPS+ in 931 PA, and only in 2010 did he play regularly. In June 2012, he announced that he would retire at season’s end; on Oct. 4 in Toronto, with former teammate Baerga and fellow Venezuelans Aparicio and Andres Galarraga on hand, he threw out the ceremonial first pitch and collected a single in the final at-bat of his 24-year career.

Vizquel’s longevity, which allowed him to play a record 2,709 games at shortstop, collect 2,877 hits (higher than all but the aforementioned quartet of Jeter, Wagner, Ripken and Yount among shortstops) and win 11 Gold Gloves (more than all but Smith), is perhaps the best point in his favor when it comes to the Hall of Fame. But beyond those standings, his résumé is a mixture of good news/bad news. Vizquel helped his teams reach the playoffs six times and the World Series twice, though he was less productive at the plate there (.250/.327/.316 in 264 PA) than in the regular season. Thanks in large part to the presence of the shortstop trinity, he made just three All-Star teams, a comparatively low total for a modern Hall of Famer, and the entirety of his MVP consideration consisted of a 16th-place finish in 1999. Still, his Hall of Fame Monitor score of 120, while not indicating a slam dunk, is on the side of “more likely than not.”

Then there’s the defense. Vizquel’s flair afield produced countless highlight loops that got their share of attention thanks to the Internet and cable TV, not to mention the routine exposure he got in the postseason from 1995 through 2001. Observers like Kurkjian weren’t shy about using superlatives, and Vizquel was a fan favorite, albeit not enough of one to be voted to start a single All-Star Game. Having written more than once on the pros and cons of his case, I can attest that his defenders will come out of the woodwork to drop a good word on his behalf (along with a few unprintable ones on mine).

Baseball-Reference.com credits Vizquel as being 128 runs above average for his career defensively, via a combination of Total Zone (+80 runs through 2002) and Defensive Runs Saved (+48 from '03 to '12). Ultimate Zone Rating credits him as 48 runs above average as well for the latter period. The combined total, while very good, doesn’t blow the doors off the shrine; it ranks 18th all-time among shortstops, better than 12 of the 20 enshrined.

Should it be better? Advanced fielding statistics aren’t easy to penetrate, but feel around the margins of the basic stats and you can begin to see why the metrics don’t put Vizquel on the same level as Ozzie Smith. In Vizquel’s favor, he holds the edge in fielding percentage, .985 to .978, but both were 12 points higher than their respective leagues’ shortstops during the course of their careers. From there, the comparison becomes more lopsided in the Wizard’s favor.

While Vizquel is third all-time in assists for a shortstop (7,676), that’s a product of his longevity. He never led his league in the category, and while he ranked in the top five eight times, six of those were fourth or fifth. Smith, the all-time leader among shortstops with 8,375 assists—in 1,175 fewer innings, roughly 130 games—led his league eight times, and was second in four others. The story is similar when it comes to double plays: Vizquel, the all-time leader at 1,734, led his league once and was third three times; Smith, second all-time with 1,590 double plays, led his league five times and was second six times.

True, Smith played in an era with more balls in play and fewer strikeouts. Via B-Ref, during his time in the field, 83% of his pitching staff’s plate appearances ended with a ball in play; for Vizquel’s teams, the rate was 77%, so there would have been fewer chances for him to make a play. Likewise, his staffs faced a smaller proportion of righthanded batters, whose natural pull tendency would be to the left side of the infield: 58%, in line with the league average. Smith’s teams faced 61% righties, two points above average.

Calculations such as those go into the Total Zone defensive metrics. While it’s an oversimplification to say that the difference between Smith and Vizquel can be boiled down to range factor (putouts plus assists per nine innings) relative to their league averages, such a comparison gets the point across. The Wizard averaged 5.22 plays per nine while the league’s shortstops were at 4.78, a difference of 0.44 per nine. Vizquel averaged 4.62 per nine for his time at shortstop while the league was at 4.61—a difference of just 0.01. Aparicio and Rabbit Maranville, who are both enshrined for the way their glove work offset similarly light sticks, both have larger gaps as well; the former was 0.16 above his leagues, the latter 0.28 above.

Via the advanced stats, Smith has an edge of 111 runs over Vizquel on the defensive side, and that’s before considering offense. Vizquel’s .272/.336/.352 line translates to an 82 OPS+, five points lower than Smith, who played in the lower-scoring era. Over the course of his 12,013 plate appearances, Vizquel was 244 runs below average with the bat, the 13th-lowest total among players who spent the majority of their careers at shortstop. That’s 16 runs worse than Maranville, the worst among current Hall of Fame shortstops, and 127 runs worse than Smith. What’s more, where Smith made up 79 runs on the bases (steals as well as advancement on hits and outs) and 23 more on avoiding double plays, Vizquel—who stole 404 bases, albeit with just a 70.8% success rate—was one run below average in the former and nine above in the latter. His net offense was -236 runs to Smith’s -15.

Thanks to his defense, Vizquel was still worth 45.3 WAR for his career, which ranks 29th among shortstops, but is higher than just four of those enshrined, and 21.4 WAR below the position standard. Within 2.0 WAR of him on either side are Art Fletcher, Miguel Tejada, Jimmy Rollins, Vern Stephens, Tony Fernandez, Roger Peckinpaugh, Garciaparra and Travis Jackson, of whom only the last is enshrined, and that’s thanks to some Veterans Committee cronyism. For all of his Gold Gloves, Vizquel ranked in the top 10 in his league in WAR just once, with a career-high 6.0 in 1999. Smith, for a point of comparison, made his leagues’ top 10 six times, Maranville five times, Aparicio twice.

The news is even harsher when it comes to Vizquel’s peak score of 26.6: it ranks 61st all-time. Of the 16 players within two wins on either side, there are notable names, including Cecil Travis, Marty Marion and Edgar Renteria, but of the lot, only Monte Ward, whose career is so bifurcated between pitching and shortstop that I exclude him from the JAWS set entirely, is enshrined. Thus Vizquel’s 36.0 JAWS ranks 42nd, just ahead of popular Era Committee candidates such as Davey Concepcion and Maury Wills but lower than all of the enshrined shortstops, with Maranville (42.8/30.4/36.6) bringing up the rear.

Those just aren’t numbers that can support a Hall of Fame case, though Vizquel appears poised to garner a good amount of support. Even on a crowded, top-heavy ballot where many voters feel constrained by the 10-slot rule, Vizquel was included on 13 of the first 22 ballots cast at Ryan Thibodaux’s ballot tracker. That’s only about five percent of the electorate, but it certainly points to the possibility of a long stay on the ballot for Vizquel, which will inevitably cause a ruckus in the battle between the eye-test crowd and the statheads, à la Morris. It would be a shame if the debate becomes as shrill and polarizing as it did for Morris. Omar Vizquel was a fine ballplayer and an icon to his countrymen. He deserves to be remembered with respect, but his road should stop short of the Cooperstown dais.

<p>MLB trade rumors: Marlins CEO Derek Jeter says all Giancarlo Stanton talk &#39;speculation&#39;</p>
MLB trade rumors: Marlins CEO Derek Jeter says all Giancarlo Stanton talk 'speculation'

MLB trade rumors: Marlins CEO Derek Jeter says all Giancarlo Stanton talk 'speculation'

<p>MLB trade rumors: Marlins CEO Derek Jeter says all Giancarlo Stanton talk &#39;speculation&#39;</p>
MLB trade rumors: Marlins CEO Derek Jeter says all Giancarlo Stanton talk 'speculation'

MLB trade rumors: Marlins CEO Derek Jeter says all Giancarlo Stanton talk 'speculation'

Derek Jeter, chief executive officer and part owner of the Miami Marlins and former New York Yankees player, sits courtside as the Miami Heat played against the Golden State Warriors in an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017, in Miami. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)
Jeter says Marlins have made no decision about Stanton
Derek Jeter, chief executive officer and part owner of the Miami Marlins and former New York Yankees player, sits courtside as the Miami Heat played against the Golden State Warriors in an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017, in Miami. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)
Derek Jeter, chief executive officer and part owner of the Miami Marlins and former New York Yankees player, sits courtside as the Miami Heat played against the Golden State Warriors in an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017, in Miami. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)
Derek Jeter, chief executive officer and part owner of the Miami Marlins and former New York Yankees player, sits courtside as the Miami Heat played against the Golden State Warriors in an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017, in Miami. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)
Derek Jeter, chief executive officer and part owner of the Miami Marlins and former New York Yankees player, sits courtside as the Miami Heat played against the Golden State Warriors in an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017, in Miami. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)
Imprudent decisions stemming from unpreparedness and/or unwillingness to take advice from someone with experience in the role show Derek Jeter as business executive is not a natural fit.
Derek Jeter’s short time as Marlins exec has eroded his baseball reputation
Imprudent decisions stemming from unpreparedness and/or unwillingness to take advice from someone with experience in the role show Derek Jeter as business executive is not a natural fit.
<p>Derek Jeter’s short time as Marlins exec has eroded his baseball reputation</p>
Derek Jeter’s short time as Marlins exec has eroded his baseball reputation

Derek Jeter’s short time as Marlins exec has eroded his baseball reputation

<p>Derek Jeter’s short time as Marlins exec has eroded his baseball reputation</p>
Derek Jeter’s short time as Marlins exec has eroded his baseball reputation

Derek Jeter’s short time as Marlins exec has eroded his baseball reputation

<p>When former Giants head coach Ben McAdoo approached co-owner John Mara about a quarterback evaluation plan a few weeks back, Mara’s main criticism of the idea was McAdoo’s insistence on starting Eli Manning but benching him at the half.</p><p>If Mara had intervened, he said Monday, he would have asked McAdoo to make the cutoff less rigid. In Mara’s optimistic mind, Manning would have played well enough to make it impossible to sit him. After all, the goal was to win games.</p><p>A more free-flowing approach may have saved the Giants from the outpouring of fan vitriol, but now leaves them where they ended up this week—<a href="https://www.si.com/nfl/2017/12/04/eli-manning-geno-smith-giants-starting-quarterback" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:reportedly reversing the decision to bench Manning" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">reportedly reversing the decision to bench Manning</a>. While Mara insisted that interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo would have control over who starts under center for the team’s remaining four games, the cannon fire backlash on talk radio and social media over the past few days has all but ensured that fan security blanket Eli Manning will play out the string this season while rookie Davis Webb holds over into 2018 as a mystery for the team’s incoming general manager.</p><p>I was against benching Manning initially, in part because it demonstrated a lack of situational awareness by McAdoo and invited unnecessary heat onto an organization that didn’t realize how much equity it had lost to the fan base. But after the Band-Aid was pulled and the wound was displayed for all to see, smashing it back on with no adhesive seems like one of the worst, kowtowing decisions the franchise could make right now. Here’s why:</p><p><strong>1. It puts the loudest, most hypocritical portion of your fan base in the driver’s seat</strong></p><p>For those who live in the Tri-State area and choose to ride home from work with WFAN sports talk radio host Mike Francesa, you’ll be familiar with the growing sentiment of fans who wanted to start Davis Webb about a month ago. The calls to see Webb were relentless, about one in every five Giants fans hoping to <em>see what they have,</em> insisting that Manning wasn’t performing up to par. While their anger over Manning’s benching came in large part because the Giants instead went to Geno Smith first, their ability to reposition Manning as some kind of untouchable savior has been almost politician-esque in the past few weeks. The backlash felt like people being upset about being upset, with Manning as their avenue to vent. This is not to imply that fans shouldn’t have their say—it reminds me a lot of the <em>resting players </em>argument currently taking place in the NBA—but at what point do we draw the line? If we follow this logic, Derek Jeter would still be starting at shortstop because that’s what makes us all feel comfortable.</p><p>There were rumors of fan protests and, as Fox Sports noted, a group of former players who were going to wear Eli Manning jerseys in protest. Really? The Giants are one of the few franchises that regularly spend money in free agency. They’ve won two Super Bowls in the last decade and, unlike some clubs they don’t hang on to their head coach simply because they don’t feel like paying two at once or paying <em>more </em>for a good one. In terms of former player support, I’ve personally seen them train former players for future careers and champion their charitable causes off the field. In the often-callous NFL, you can do worse. Far worse.</p><p><strong>2. Manning’s streak has already ended</strong></p><p>Really, now, what is the point? Manning has already been through the ringer. The thorough awkwardness of watching him signal in plays and practice with the scout team is behind us. There is no chase for Brett Favre. I suppose keeping Manning on the bench would involve calling a few bluffs from fans with enough disposable income to fly a plane with a “Fire [insert name here]” banner over the stadium, but owning a team is hard. Make the hard decision and stick with it. For those haughty enough to suggest they wouldn’t attend a game out of disdain for Mara, Geno Smith or some combination of the two, send your ticket information to the Giants or some charitable organization. There are plenty of kids close enough to MetLife Stadium who would love to see their first NFL game for Christmas.</p><p><strong>3. It puts any future roster evaluations at risk</strong></p><p>Imagine if the Giants hire a general manager who would love nothing more than to start Manning next year and have him groom a top three selection at quarterback—probably the scenario that makes this fan base happiest. Manning would have to be healthy to do so, and while his streak of consecutive starts has been remarkable, his good health was a ticking time bomb behind this injury-ravaged offensive line. Putting Manning on ice for the remainder of the season preserves him for whatever is next and allows him to get a jump on his offseason rehab schedule.</p><p>The Giants face the NFL’s sack leader, DeMarcus Lawrence, this weekend followed by a matchup against Jim Schwartz’s Eagle defense (sixth in sacks) and a matchup against Chandler Jones, the NFL’s No. 2 in sacks behind Lawrence. We all get that Manning is a tremendous competitor and that part of the reason he’s so beloved is because of his toughness. But what more does he need to prove to Giants fans—or anyone? This isn’t about 2017 anymore. More than likely, the Giants’ scouting staff will remain intact through the draft in order to ease the burden on the incoming general manager. This is another step to ensure that he or she has an accurate portrayal of the current roster. How much easier would the backup quarterback decision be with two Smith games on tape and three Webb games?</p><p><strong>4. Are games going to really be that much less competitive?</strong></p><p>Last Sunday against the Raiders, Geno Smith was 21-of-34 for 212 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions (89.3 QBR). Manning’s season average? Twenty-two-of-36 for 219 yards, one touchdown and one interception (84.1 QBR). At least in a one-game window, Smith made you just as competitive and did not force Manning onto the field behind a substandard offensive line. </p><p>The Giants never scored more than 30 points in the McAdoo era. Not once. They&#39;ve scored 15 or fewer points five times already this season. </p><p>The risk, of course, is that Smith breaks down and chucks five interceptions in a game a la Nate Peterman. If that’s the case, activate Davis Webb. Force Webb to prepare this week as the backup and start pressuring him like he’ll inevitably be pressured as an NFL quarterback in the future. See how he responds. The team is 2–10, after all.</p>
Why Reinstating Eli Manning As the Giants Starting QB Is a Ridiculous Move

When former Giants head coach Ben McAdoo approached co-owner John Mara about a quarterback evaluation plan a few weeks back, Mara’s main criticism of the idea was McAdoo’s insistence on starting Eli Manning but benching him at the half.

If Mara had intervened, he said Monday, he would have asked McAdoo to make the cutoff less rigid. In Mara’s optimistic mind, Manning would have played well enough to make it impossible to sit him. After all, the goal was to win games.

A more free-flowing approach may have saved the Giants from the outpouring of fan vitriol, but now leaves them where they ended up this week—reportedly reversing the decision to bench Manning. While Mara insisted that interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo would have control over who starts under center for the team’s remaining four games, the cannon fire backlash on talk radio and social media over the past few days has all but ensured that fan security blanket Eli Manning will play out the string this season while rookie Davis Webb holds over into 2018 as a mystery for the team’s incoming general manager.

I was against benching Manning initially, in part because it demonstrated a lack of situational awareness by McAdoo and invited unnecessary heat onto an organization that didn’t realize how much equity it had lost to the fan base. But after the Band-Aid was pulled and the wound was displayed for all to see, smashing it back on with no adhesive seems like one of the worst, kowtowing decisions the franchise could make right now. Here’s why:

1. It puts the loudest, most hypocritical portion of your fan base in the driver’s seat

For those who live in the Tri-State area and choose to ride home from work with WFAN sports talk radio host Mike Francesa, you’ll be familiar with the growing sentiment of fans who wanted to start Davis Webb about a month ago. The calls to see Webb were relentless, about one in every five Giants fans hoping to see what they have, insisting that Manning wasn’t performing up to par. While their anger over Manning’s benching came in large part because the Giants instead went to Geno Smith first, their ability to reposition Manning as some kind of untouchable savior has been almost politician-esque in the past few weeks. The backlash felt like people being upset about being upset, with Manning as their avenue to vent. This is not to imply that fans shouldn’t have their say—it reminds me a lot of the resting players argument currently taking place in the NBA—but at what point do we draw the line? If we follow this logic, Derek Jeter would still be starting at shortstop because that’s what makes us all feel comfortable.

There were rumors of fan protests and, as Fox Sports noted, a group of former players who were going to wear Eli Manning jerseys in protest. Really? The Giants are one of the few franchises that regularly spend money in free agency. They’ve won two Super Bowls in the last decade and, unlike some clubs they don’t hang on to their head coach simply because they don’t feel like paying two at once or paying more for a good one. In terms of former player support, I’ve personally seen them train former players for future careers and champion their charitable causes off the field. In the often-callous NFL, you can do worse. Far worse.

2. Manning’s streak has already ended

Really, now, what is the point? Manning has already been through the ringer. The thorough awkwardness of watching him signal in plays and practice with the scout team is behind us. There is no chase for Brett Favre. I suppose keeping Manning on the bench would involve calling a few bluffs from fans with enough disposable income to fly a plane with a “Fire [insert name here]” banner over the stadium, but owning a team is hard. Make the hard decision and stick with it. For those haughty enough to suggest they wouldn’t attend a game out of disdain for Mara, Geno Smith or some combination of the two, send your ticket information to the Giants or some charitable organization. There are plenty of kids close enough to MetLife Stadium who would love to see their first NFL game for Christmas.

3. It puts any future roster evaluations at risk

Imagine if the Giants hire a general manager who would love nothing more than to start Manning next year and have him groom a top three selection at quarterback—probably the scenario that makes this fan base happiest. Manning would have to be healthy to do so, and while his streak of consecutive starts has been remarkable, his good health was a ticking time bomb behind this injury-ravaged offensive line. Putting Manning on ice for the remainder of the season preserves him for whatever is next and allows him to get a jump on his offseason rehab schedule.

The Giants face the NFL’s sack leader, DeMarcus Lawrence, this weekend followed by a matchup against Jim Schwartz’s Eagle defense (sixth in sacks) and a matchup against Chandler Jones, the NFL’s No. 2 in sacks behind Lawrence. We all get that Manning is a tremendous competitor and that part of the reason he’s so beloved is because of his toughness. But what more does he need to prove to Giants fans—or anyone? This isn’t about 2017 anymore. More than likely, the Giants’ scouting staff will remain intact through the draft in order to ease the burden on the incoming general manager. This is another step to ensure that he or she has an accurate portrayal of the current roster. How much easier would the backup quarterback decision be with two Smith games on tape and three Webb games?

4. Are games going to really be that much less competitive?

Last Sunday against the Raiders, Geno Smith was 21-of-34 for 212 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions (89.3 QBR). Manning’s season average? Twenty-two-of-36 for 219 yards, one touchdown and one interception (84.1 QBR). At least in a one-game window, Smith made you just as competitive and did not force Manning onto the field behind a substandard offensive line.

The Giants never scored more than 30 points in the McAdoo era. Not once. They've scored 15 or fewer points five times already this season.

The risk, of course, is that Smith breaks down and chucks five interceptions in a game a la Nate Peterman. If that’s the case, activate Davis Webb. Force Webb to prepare this week as the backup and start pressuring him like he’ll inevitably be pressured as an NFL quarterback in the future. See how he responds. The team is 2–10, after all.

<p><em>The following article is part of my ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2018 Hall of Fame ballot. Originally written for the 2014 election, it has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research, and was expanded for inclusion in </em><a href="http://cooperstowncasebook.com" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:The Cooperstown Casebook" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">The Cooperstown Casebook</a><em>. For a detailed introduction to this year&#39;s ballot, please see </em><a href="https://www.si.com/mlb/2017/11/20/hall-of-fame-ballot-chipper-jones-jim-thome" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:here" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">here</a><em>. For an introduction to JAWS, see </em><a href="https://www.si.com/mlb/2017/11/27/hall-fame-jaws-intro-2018-ballot" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:here" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><em>here</em></a><em>.</em></p><p>Unlike 2014 Hall of Fame honorees Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine or 2015 honoree Randy Johnson, Mike Mussina didn&#39;t reach 300 wins in his career. Nor did he ever win a Cy Young award, in part because a teammate practically stole one out of his hands thanks to superior run support. For as well as he pitched in October, his teams never won a World Series, because even the best relievers sometimes falter, to say nothing of what happens to the rest of them.</p><p>Though lacking in those marquee accomplishments, Mussina nonetheless strung together an exceptional 18-year career spent entirely in the crucible of the American League East, with its high-offense ballparks and high-pressure atmosphere. A cerebral pitcher with an expansive arsenal that featured a 93-mph fastball and a signature knuckle-curve—and at times as many as five other pitches—he not only missed bats with regularity but also had pinpoint control.</p><p>In a prime that coincided with those of the aforementioned pitchers—as well as 2015 inductees Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz and ballotmates Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling—&quot;Moose&quot; never led the AL in either strikeouts or ERA, but he ranked in the league&#39;s top five six times in the former and seven times in the latter. He earned All-Star honors five times and received Cy Young votes in eight separate seasons across a 10-year span, at one point finishing in the top five four times in five years. Despite his lack of titles, he also put together a strong postseason résumé.</p><p>In fact, despite a late-career dip from which he recovered in memorable fashion, Mussina&#39;s résumé as a whole is strong enough for Cooperstown. He delivered tremendous value across his career and holds up well in comparison to his contemporaries and to those already enshrined. On a ballot overstuffed with flashier candidates, he initially struggled to get attention, receiving 20.3% of the voting 2014 and 24.6% the next year, but he was <a href="http://www.si.com/mlb/2016/01/06/ken-griffey-jr-mike-piazza-elected-baseball-hall-fame" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the ballot’s biggest gainer" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the ballot’s biggest gainer</a> in 2016, and climbed to 51.8% in 2017, having more than doubled his support in a two-year span. With six years of eligibility remaining, he appears to be on track for an eventual berth in Cooperstown.</p><p>Before delving further into Mussina’s career, a disclaimer: Regular readers know that I generally avoid dwelling upon pitcher win totals, because in this increasingly specialized era, they owe as much to adequate offensive, defensive and bullpen support as they do to a pitcher&#39;s own performance. While one needn&#39;t know how many wins Mussina amassed in a season or a career to appreciate his true value, the 20- and 300-win marks are an inextricable part of his particular story.</p><p>Mussina was born in 1968 in Williamsport, Penn.—the birthplace of Little League Baseball—and grew up in nearby Montoursvile, a tiny town of less than 5,000. A three-sport letterman at Montoursville High School, he played guard on the basketball team and wide receiver and kicker on the football team in addition to pitching for the baseball team. As a senior, he won two games kicking last-second field goals, drawing the interest of Penn State University.</p><p>A strong student as well as an outstanding athlete, Mussina nearly earned valedictorian honors, but <a href="http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/sports/columns/sportinglife/5347/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:according to legend" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">according to legend</a>, he may have tanked a test in order to fall short and thus avoid speaking at graduation. Despite being considered one of the country&#39;s top prospects out of high school, he chose to attend Stanford on a baseball scholarship. He helped the Cardinal win the College World Series as a freshman in 1988 and earned his economics degree in 3 1/2 years, capped by a provocatively-titled senior thesis: “The Economics of Signing out of High School as Opposed to College.”</p><p>The Orioles chose Mussina with the 20th pick of the 1990 draft, signed him for a $225,000 bonus and sent him straight to Double A Hagerstown. After making just nine starts between there and Triple A Rochester, he was ranked 19th on <em>Baseball America</em>&#39;s Top 100 Prospects list the following spring, and after 19 more starts at Rochester, he debuted for the Orioles on Aug. 4, 1991. The 22-year-old righty threw 7 2/3 innings against the White Sox, allowing only a solo homer to Frank Thomas, but lost because ageless knuckleballer Charlie Hough spun a five-hit shutout. Though stuck on a club bound for 95 losses, he stood out in his 12-start trial; his 2.87 ERA was <a href="http://www.baseball-reference.com/play-index/split_stats_team.cgi?full=1&#38;params=sprel%7Cas%20Starter%7CBAL%7C1991%7Cpitch%7CIP%7C" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:almost exactly half" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">almost exactly half</a> of the other Baltimore starters&#39; collective ERA (5.55).</p><p>That abysmal season marked the Orioles&#39; fifth sub-.500 finish out of six, but Mussina helped put the franchise back on the road back to respectability. Already polished, he assumed the mantle of staff ace, a role that 1989 No. 1 pick Ben McDonald couldn&#39;t fulfill. The O&#39;s improved to 89 wins in 1992 as the 23-year-old Mussina tossed 241 innings of 2.54 ERA ball and went 18–5, earning All-Star honors and placing fourth in the Cy Young voting. His ERA ranked third in the league, and his walk rate (1.8 per nine) and WAR (8.2) were second, the latter trailing only Clemens&#39;s 8.8. Not surprisingly, his heavy workload carried a cost: Shoulder soreness limited him to 167 2/3 innings the following year, and he was roughed up for a 4.46 ERA.</p><p>Mussina restored his claim as one of the league&#39;s top starters in the strike-shortened seasons. In a 1994 <em>Sports Illustrated</em> profile, <a href="http://www.si.com/vault/1994/07/18/106786720/the-mm-boys-plain-and-peanut" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Tom Verducci" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Tom Verducci</a> described him inventing a cut fastball on the fly to escape a jam, quoting battery-mate Chris Hoiles: &quot;Well, I guess if you&#39;re going to use that pitch, we ought to have a sign for it.&quot; Verducci continued:</p><p>Mussina finished fourth in the AL in ERA in both 1994 and &#39;95 (3.04 and 3.29, respectively), with fourth- and third-place finishes in WAR (5.4 and 6.1, respectively). He also led the AL in wins (19) and walk rate (2.0 per nine) for the only times in his career in 1995 but finished just fifth in the Cy Young balloting—not that he had any business winning over Randy Johnson (18–2, 2.48 ERA, 8.6 WAR). The Orioles went 63–49 in 1994, in position to challenge for the new wild-card spot when the strike hit, but finished just 71–73 the following year.</p><p>In 1996, under new manager Davey Johnson, a star-studded cast featuring future Hall of Famers Roberto Alomar, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken as well as Brady Anderson, Rafael Palmeiro and more came together to win 88 games and the AL wild card. Aided by an offense that cranked out 5.82 runs per game, Mussina overcame his own gaudy 4.81 ERA (still a 103 ERA+) and again notched 19 wins. He also struck out 204 hitters, fourth in the league and his first of four times reaching the 200 plateau. In his first taste of playoff action, he wasn&#39;t particularly effective, allowing a combined nine runs in 13 2/3 innings against the Indians in the Division Series and the Yankees in the ALCS.</p><p>In 1997, Mussina improved to a 3.20 ERA (sixth in the league) and 218 strikeouts (fourth) in 224 2/3 innings as the Orioles stormed to 98 wins and their first AL East title since &#39;83. Stellar in the playoffs, he pitched to a 1.24 ERA in four starts, striking out 41—the most by a pitcher in a single postseason without reaching the World Series—in 29 innings. Facing the Mariners in the Division Series, he outdueled the Big Unit in both Games 1 and 4, administering the <em>coup de grâce</em> with a combined two-hitter in the latter. In his coverage for <em>SI</em>, <a href="http://www.si.com/vault/1997/10/13/233354/mike-mussina-the-orioles-righty-silenced-his-critics-by-twice-outdueling-randy-johnson" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Verducci" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Verducci</a> harped on Mussina&#39;s repeated failure to win 20 games but wrote approvingly of his pitching style: &quot;What makes Mussina so difficult to hit is that he morphs the best qualities of a power pitcher and a finesse pitcher. At times he blew his fastball at 93 mph past Seattle. Other times he dropped in knuckle curves when he was behind on the count.&quot;</p><p>Facing the Indians in Game 3 of the ALCS, Mussina was even more brilliant, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fS7qcPEbtsM" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:whiffing an LCS record 15 over seven innings" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">whiffing an LCS record 15 over seven innings</a> and allowing just three hits and one run. Even so, the Orioles lost 2–1 in 12 innings when <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0FvrluZ0OwE" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Marquis Grissom stole home" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Marquis Grissom stole home</a> with the winning run. As agony goes, that was nothing compared to Mussina winding up on the short end in Game 6 despite eight innings of one-hit shutout ball. The two teams remained deadlocked until the top of the 11th, when Armando Benitez served up what proved to be a pennant-clinching solo homer by Cleveland&#39;s Tony Fernandez.</p><p>Mussina had signed a below-market <a href="http://articles.baltimoresun.com/1997-05-04/sports/1997124156_1_mussina-deal-extension" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:three-year, $21.5 million contract extension" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">three-year, $21.5 million contract extension</a> in May, and despite the Orioles falling short that fall, their future looked bright. Alas, a feud with owner Peter Angelos led Johnson to <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/sports/orioles/longterm/memories/davey/articles/resign.htm" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:resign" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">resign</a> the same day he won AL Manager of the Year honors. The O&#39;s wouldn&#39;t post a winning season again until 2012.</p><p>Mussina played out the string in as Baltimore collapsed into 70-something win ignominy, averaging 216 innings with a 3.60 ERA (129 ERA+), 5.0 WAR and his typically stellar 4.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio from 1998–2000. He finished second in the Cy Young voting in 1999, the best showing of his career, but Martinez (23–4, 2.07 ERA, 243 ERA+) won unanimously.</p><p>As the Orioles&#39; roster was ripped apart, Angelos took a glacial approach to Mussina&#39;s pending free agency, gradually raising the team&#39;s offer from five years and $50 million to six and $78 million, albeit with $12 million deferred. Turned off by the slow pace of negotiations and by the team&#39;s protracted rebuilding process, Mussina instead opted for <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/sports/orioles/longterm/memories/davey/articles/resign.htm" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:a six-year, $88.5 million deal" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">a six-year, $88.5 million deal</a> from the Yankees, who were riding a streak of three straight world championships. &quot;There have been only a couple years in my career when I knew we were going to win,&quot; he said of his time in Baltimore upon signing. &quot;That&#39;s what I look forward to experiencing again.&quot; The new deal made Mussina the game&#39;s fifth-highest paid player.</p><p>Mussina and the Yankees did their share of winning in 2001. In his pinstriped debut on April 5, he tossed 7 2/3 innings and got the win in a 1–0 squeaker against the Royals. On May 1, he threw a three-hit, 10-strikeout shutout against the Twins. On Sept. 2 at Fenway Park—in a matchup against David Cone, the man he replaced in the Yankees&#39; rotation—he struck out 13 and came within one strike of completing a perfect game, allowing a two-out, two-strike single to Carl Everett before closing out a 1–0 win. Roger Angell’s <a href="https://web.archive.org/web/20131224092446/http://jayebee.com/discoveries/red_sox/2001/angell__curse_of_bambino.htm" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:New Yorker account" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><em>New Yorker</em> account</a> found Mussina shocked and dour in victory; Cone (who had authored a perfect game for New York two years earlier) was rejuvenated even in defeat.</p><p>For that first year in pinstripes, Mussina delivered a 3.15 ERA (143 ERA+), his lowest mark since 1994. That ERA and his career highs in both strikeouts (214) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.1) all ranked second in the AL, and his 7.1 WAR led the league for the only time in his career. Alas, he finished fifth in the Cy Young race, losing to teammate Clemens, who had an inferior season (20–3, 3.51 ERA, 5.6 WAR) save for the league’s fourth-best offensive support (5.7 runs per game), which boosted his win total. Mussina (17–11) had received just 4.2 runs per game, the league&#39;s fifth-lowest rate.</p><p>The Yankees won 95 games and their fourth straight pennant that season, with Mussina again coming up big in October. With the Yankees down 2–0 in the Division Series against Oakland, he delivered seven shutout innings in Game 3, aided by Derek Jeter&#39;s legendary <a href="http://m.mlb.com/video/topic/6479266/v3134880" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:flip play" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">flip play</a>. After a solid six-inning, two-run start in Game 2 of the ALCS against the Mariners, he was roughed up by the Diamondbacks in the World Series opener but rebounded to whiff 10 in eight strong innings in Game 5, which the Yankees won in the 12th. The Yankees ultimately came within one inning of their fourth straight title—and Mussina&#39;s first—but Mariano Rivera unraveled in the ninth inning of Game 7. So it goes.</p><p>After a so-so 2002, Mussina helped the Yankees back to the World Series in &#39;03. He ranked eighth in ERA (3.40) and fifth in WAR (6.6) for the 101-win AL East champs, though his October had ups and downs. He worked seven innings in a losing cause against the Twins in Game 1 of the Division Series, was knocked around by the Red Sox in the ALCS opener and wound up on the short end despite a 10-strikeout performance in 6 2/3 innings in Game 4. When Clemens fell behind 4–0 and failed to retire any of the three batters he faced in the fourth inning of Game 7, manager Joe Torre summoned Mussina out of the bullpen for <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4_7TFSicoD8" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the first relief appearance" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the first relief appearance</a> of his professional career. He was nails: With runners on first and third, he whiffed Jason Varitek on three pitches, then got Johnny Damon to ground into a double play to escape the jam. He worked three scoreless innings, an unsung hero in a game the Yankees won in 11 on Aaron Boone&#39;s walk-off homer.</p><p>Mussina started Game 3 of the World Series against the Marlins, battling Josh Beckett to a 1–1 draw through seven innings despite a 39-minute rain delay in the fifth. The Yankees took the lead in the eighth and broke the game open in the ninth, giving them a 2–1 series lead. Mussina was lined up for Game 7, but the call never came, as New York lost the next three games.</p><p>Things started going downhill for Mussina in 2004, his age-35 season, as he lost six weeks to elbow tightness. From 2004 to &#39;07, he averaged just 173 innings a year due to injuries, never topping 200. His 4.36 ERA over that span was still good for a 102 ERA+, but that owed to one exceptional season (2006: 3.51 ERA, 129 ERA+, 5.0 WAR) offsetting three mediocre ones; for the stretch, he averaged a modest 2.9 WAR.</p><p>The Yankees officially declined Mussina&#39;s $17 million option for 2007, though they wound up reworking it into a two-year, $23 million deal. Initially, they might have wished they hadn&#39;t, as Mussina was pounded for a career-worst 5.15 ERA and battled back and leg woes. After a three-start stretch in August in which he was rocked for 20 runs in 9 2/3 innings, he was <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/29/sports/baseball/29pins.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:dropped from the rotation" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">dropped from the rotation</a>, though he salvaged some dignity with a 13 2/3-inning scoreless streak upon returning.</p><p>He salvaged even more dignity the following year, defying both his age (39) and a rocky first month. He made a league-high 34 starts, tossing 200 1/3 innings—his first time above 200 since 2003—with a 3.37 ERA. The real story, aside from the Yankees missing the playoffs for the first time since the strike, was that he finally reached 20 wins. He did it by allowing just one run over his final 17 innings across three starts. The last came in Fenway Park, the site of his crushing near-perfecto, as the opener of a doubleheader on the final day of the season. Mussina’s six shutout innings against the wild-card-winning Red Sox granted him the milestone win that had long eluded him, making him the oldest pitcher to reach that plateau for the first time.</p><p>That win was the 270th of his career. Realizing that a pursuit of 300 might mean a three-year slog and feeling the strong pull of Montoursville, he instead retired, virtually unprecedented for a 20-game winner. As <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/20/sports/baseball/20yankees.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:The New York Times" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><em>The New York Times</em></a> noted, only three pitchers in the previous century won at least 20 games in their final seasons: Eddie Cicotte and Lefty Williams in 1920, just before being banned for life for their involvement in the Black Sox scandal; and Sandy Koufax in &#39;66, before elbow problems forced his retirement. Though he had millions of reasons to stay (in the form of dollars on his next contract), Mussina walked away, following the old showbiz adage, &quot;Always leave &#39;em wanting more.&quot;</p><p>Two hundred and seventy is not 300, but even so, Mussina ranks 33rd all-time in wins, tied with Hall of Famer Burleigh Grimes and above Jim Palmer (268), Bob Feller (266), Bob Gibson (251) and 31 other enshrined starting pitchers, including Martinez (219) and Smoltz (213). Those last two are double the total of sub-300 win starters elected by the BBWAA from 1992 to 2014; Blyleven—elected in &#39;11, his 14th year of eligibility, with 287 wins—is the exception.</p><p>Moving beyond that, Mussina&#39;s 2,813 strikeouts <a href="http://www.baseball-reference.com/leaders/SO_p_career.shtml" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:rank 20th all-time" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">rank 20th all-time</a>, and his rate of 7.1 strikeouts per nine is <a href="https://bbref.com/pi/shareit/U6ht9" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:tenth" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">tenth</a> among pitchers with at least 3,000 innings. That&#39;s partially a product of pitching in an era where strikeout rates were <a href="http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=16236" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:almost continually on the rise" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">almost continually on the rise</a>, but it&#39;s impressive nonetheless. Even more impressive is that his 3.58 strikeout-to-walk ratio is <a href="http://bbref.com/pi/shareit/l01F1" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:second" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">second</a> only to Schilling among pitchers with at least 3,000 innings since 1893, when the distance from the rubber to home plate was lengthened to 60&#39; 6&quot;.</p><p>As for the postseason, Mussina may not have gotten a ring, but his 3.42 ERA in 139 2/3 innings is no small feat given the high-scoring era; it&#39;s 0.26 lower than his regular-season ERA, which itself was 23% better than the park-adjusted league average and is <a href="http://bbref.com/pi/shareit/tgRDB" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:tied for 23rd all-time" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">tied for 23rd all-time</a>. Aided by the three tiers of playoffs during the bulk of his career, his 145 postseason strikeouts rank fifth all-time, and his 9.3 strikeouts per nine are fourth among the 22 pitchers with at least 100 postseason innings (Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander and Randy Johnson outrank him, the first two having reached the innings threshold in 2017). Sadly, Mussina&#39;s teams only won nine of his 23 postseason starts because they supported him with just 3.1 runs per game; only four times did they even give him more than four runs. He had a few dud starts (three of less than five innings) among them, but it&#39;s tough to pin his failure to win a championship on him.</p><p>As for the advanced metrics, Mussina stands tall thanks to his combination of run prevention and strikeouts (for which he doesn&#39;t have to share credit—and thus value—with his fielders). His 83.0 career WAR ranks 23rd all-time, ahead of 41 of the 62 enshrined starting pitchers; it&#39;s 14th among post-World War II pitchers. That total is 1.5 wins above 2014 honoree Glavine, who has an almost identical career/peak/JAWS line, and 9.1 above the average for enshrined starters. Mussina&#39;s peak WAR of 44.5 doesn&#39;t stack up as well; while it&#39;s still 66th all-time, it tops only 22 enshrined starters and is 5.8 wins below the average one. Even so, his 63.8 JAWS is 1.7 points above the Hall average, good for <a href="http://www.baseball-reference.com/leaders/jaws_P.shtml" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:28th all-time" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">28th all-time</a>, one spot below Schilling (64.5) and two above Glavine (62.9). His score beats those of 38 enshrined starters. He&#39;s good enough for Cooperstown.</p><p>The Moose won&#39;t be loose in upstate New York in 2018, but he’s overcome a very slow start to his candidacy. Matched up against the five 2014 and ’15 first-year candidates (Maddux, Glavine, Johnson, Martinez and Smoltz) who won at least one Cy Young award, and three of whom won at least 300 games, he received a disappointing 20.3% in his debut and then 24.6% in his second year, lower than all but two post-1966 candidates who were eventually elected, Duke Snider (24.7%) and Bert Blyleven (14.1%). Fortunately, he gained 18.4% in 2016, more than any holdover on the ballot, and backed that with an 8.8% gain to 51.8% in 2017. That 50% threshold is key; excluding current candidates, only Gil Hodges, Jack Morris and Lee Smith have gotten such support without getting elected; the last two took 11 and 10 years to get there, respectively.</p><p>In other words, Mussina now has a plausible path to a plaque, though it could take some time. Of the eight players besides Mussina to receive between 45–60% in their fourth year on the ballot, two are currently candidates namely Clemens and Schilling (whose <a href="http://www.si.com/mlb/2016/12/05/jaws-2017-hall-of-fame-ballot-curt-schilling" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:post-career self-immolation" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">post-career self-immolation</a> cost him support last year). Five of the other six were elected by the writers, needing an average of 4.6 years to get in, with Don Drysdale’s six years the longest wait. The sixth, Jim Bunning, was eventually elected by the Veterans Commitee, after getting as close as 74.2% in his 12th year of eligibility.</p><p>With no starting pitchers with even borderline credentials reaching the ballot until 2019, when Roy Halladay and Andy Pettitte become eligible, Mussina (and Schilling) have one more year in the ballot spotlight alongside Clemens, whose connection to performance-enhancing drugs has put him in a different limbo. Like Blyleven, a high-strikeout pitcher from an earlier era whose dominance over hitters and excellence in run prevention was initially overshadowed by his lack of Cy Young hardware, the numbers and the facts are on Mussina’s side. Soon enough, they’ll carry the day.</p>
Mike Mussina Won't Get Into the Hall of Fame in 2018, but he's Building Toward Election

The following article is part of my ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2018 Hall of Fame ballot. Originally written for the 2014 election, it has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research, and was expanded for inclusion in The Cooperstown Casebook. For a detailed introduction to this year's ballot, please see here. For an introduction to JAWS, see here.

Unlike 2014 Hall of Fame honorees Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine or 2015 honoree Randy Johnson, Mike Mussina didn't reach 300 wins in his career. Nor did he ever win a Cy Young award, in part because a teammate practically stole one out of his hands thanks to superior run support. For as well as he pitched in October, his teams never won a World Series, because even the best relievers sometimes falter, to say nothing of what happens to the rest of them.

Though lacking in those marquee accomplishments, Mussina nonetheless strung together an exceptional 18-year career spent entirely in the crucible of the American League East, with its high-offense ballparks and high-pressure atmosphere. A cerebral pitcher with an expansive arsenal that featured a 93-mph fastball and a signature knuckle-curve—and at times as many as five other pitches—he not only missed bats with regularity but also had pinpoint control.

In a prime that coincided with those of the aforementioned pitchers—as well as 2015 inductees Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz and ballotmates Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling—"Moose" never led the AL in either strikeouts or ERA, but he ranked in the league's top five six times in the former and seven times in the latter. He earned All-Star honors five times and received Cy Young votes in eight separate seasons across a 10-year span, at one point finishing in the top five four times in five years. Despite his lack of titles, he also put together a strong postseason résumé.

In fact, despite a late-career dip from which he recovered in memorable fashion, Mussina's résumé as a whole is strong enough for Cooperstown. He delivered tremendous value across his career and holds up well in comparison to his contemporaries and to those already enshrined. On a ballot overstuffed with flashier candidates, he initially struggled to get attention, receiving 20.3% of the voting 2014 and 24.6% the next year, but he was the ballot’s biggest gainer in 2016, and climbed to 51.8% in 2017, having more than doubled his support in a two-year span. With six years of eligibility remaining, he appears to be on track for an eventual berth in Cooperstown.

Before delving further into Mussina’s career, a disclaimer: Regular readers know that I generally avoid dwelling upon pitcher win totals, because in this increasingly specialized era, they owe as much to adequate offensive, defensive and bullpen support as they do to a pitcher's own performance. While one needn't know how many wins Mussina amassed in a season or a career to appreciate his true value, the 20- and 300-win marks are an inextricable part of his particular story.

Mussina was born in 1968 in Williamsport, Penn.—the birthplace of Little League Baseball—and grew up in nearby Montoursvile, a tiny town of less than 5,000. A three-sport letterman at Montoursville High School, he played guard on the basketball team and wide receiver and kicker on the football team in addition to pitching for the baseball team. As a senior, he won two games kicking last-second field goals, drawing the interest of Penn State University.

A strong student as well as an outstanding athlete, Mussina nearly earned valedictorian honors, but according to legend, he may have tanked a test in order to fall short and thus avoid speaking at graduation. Despite being considered one of the country's top prospects out of high school, he chose to attend Stanford on a baseball scholarship. He helped the Cardinal win the College World Series as a freshman in 1988 and earned his economics degree in 3 1/2 years, capped by a provocatively-titled senior thesis: “The Economics of Signing out of High School as Opposed to College.”

The Orioles chose Mussina with the 20th pick of the 1990 draft, signed him for a $225,000 bonus and sent him straight to Double A Hagerstown. After making just nine starts between there and Triple A Rochester, he was ranked 19th on Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects list the following spring, and after 19 more starts at Rochester, he debuted for the Orioles on Aug. 4, 1991. The 22-year-old righty threw 7 2/3 innings against the White Sox, allowing only a solo homer to Frank Thomas, but lost because ageless knuckleballer Charlie Hough spun a five-hit shutout. Though stuck on a club bound for 95 losses, he stood out in his 12-start trial; his 2.87 ERA was almost exactly half of the other Baltimore starters' collective ERA (5.55).

That abysmal season marked the Orioles' fifth sub-.500 finish out of six, but Mussina helped put the franchise back on the road back to respectability. Already polished, he assumed the mantle of staff ace, a role that 1989 No. 1 pick Ben McDonald couldn't fulfill. The O's improved to 89 wins in 1992 as the 23-year-old Mussina tossed 241 innings of 2.54 ERA ball and went 18–5, earning All-Star honors and placing fourth in the Cy Young voting. His ERA ranked third in the league, and his walk rate (1.8 per nine) and WAR (8.2) were second, the latter trailing only Clemens's 8.8. Not surprisingly, his heavy workload carried a cost: Shoulder soreness limited him to 167 2/3 innings the following year, and he was roughed up for a 4.46 ERA.

Mussina restored his claim as one of the league's top starters in the strike-shortened seasons. In a 1994 Sports Illustrated profile, Tom Verducci described him inventing a cut fastball on the fly to escape a jam, quoting battery-mate Chris Hoiles: "Well, I guess if you're going to use that pitch, we ought to have a sign for it." Verducci continued:

Mussina finished fourth in the AL in ERA in both 1994 and '95 (3.04 and 3.29, respectively), with fourth- and third-place finishes in WAR (5.4 and 6.1, respectively). He also led the AL in wins (19) and walk rate (2.0 per nine) for the only times in his career in 1995 but finished just fifth in the Cy Young balloting—not that he had any business winning over Randy Johnson (18–2, 2.48 ERA, 8.6 WAR). The Orioles went 63–49 in 1994, in position to challenge for the new wild-card spot when the strike hit, but finished just 71–73 the following year.

In 1996, under new manager Davey Johnson, a star-studded cast featuring future Hall of Famers Roberto Alomar, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken as well as Brady Anderson, Rafael Palmeiro and more came together to win 88 games and the AL wild card. Aided by an offense that cranked out 5.82 runs per game, Mussina overcame his own gaudy 4.81 ERA (still a 103 ERA+) and again notched 19 wins. He also struck out 204 hitters, fourth in the league and his first of four times reaching the 200 plateau. In his first taste of playoff action, he wasn't particularly effective, allowing a combined nine runs in 13 2/3 innings against the Indians in the Division Series and the Yankees in the ALCS.

In 1997, Mussina improved to a 3.20 ERA (sixth in the league) and 218 strikeouts (fourth) in 224 2/3 innings as the Orioles stormed to 98 wins and their first AL East title since '83. Stellar in the playoffs, he pitched to a 1.24 ERA in four starts, striking out 41—the most by a pitcher in a single postseason without reaching the World Series—in 29 innings. Facing the Mariners in the Division Series, he outdueled the Big Unit in both Games 1 and 4, administering the coup de grâce with a combined two-hitter in the latter. In his coverage for SI, Verducci harped on Mussina's repeated failure to win 20 games but wrote approvingly of his pitching style: "What makes Mussina so difficult to hit is that he morphs the best qualities of a power pitcher and a finesse pitcher. At times he blew his fastball at 93 mph past Seattle. Other times he dropped in knuckle curves when he was behind on the count."

Facing the Indians in Game 3 of the ALCS, Mussina was even more brilliant, whiffing an LCS record 15 over seven innings and allowing just three hits and one run. Even so, the Orioles lost 2–1 in 12 innings when Marquis Grissom stole home with the winning run. As agony goes, that was nothing compared to Mussina winding up on the short end in Game 6 despite eight innings of one-hit shutout ball. The two teams remained deadlocked until the top of the 11th, when Armando Benitez served up what proved to be a pennant-clinching solo homer by Cleveland's Tony Fernandez.

Mussina had signed a below-market three-year, $21.5 million contract extension in May, and despite the Orioles falling short that fall, their future looked bright. Alas, a feud with owner Peter Angelos led Johnson to resign the same day he won AL Manager of the Year honors. The O's wouldn't post a winning season again until 2012.

Mussina played out the string in as Baltimore collapsed into 70-something win ignominy, averaging 216 innings with a 3.60 ERA (129 ERA+), 5.0 WAR and his typically stellar 4.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio from 1998–2000. He finished second in the Cy Young voting in 1999, the best showing of his career, but Martinez (23–4, 2.07 ERA, 243 ERA+) won unanimously.

As the Orioles' roster was ripped apart, Angelos took a glacial approach to Mussina's pending free agency, gradually raising the team's offer from five years and $50 million to six and $78 million, albeit with $12 million deferred. Turned off by the slow pace of negotiations and by the team's protracted rebuilding process, Mussina instead opted for a six-year, $88.5 million deal from the Yankees, who were riding a streak of three straight world championships. "There have been only a couple years in my career when I knew we were going to win," he said of his time in Baltimore upon signing. "That's what I look forward to experiencing again." The new deal made Mussina the game's fifth-highest paid player.

Mussina and the Yankees did their share of winning in 2001. In his pinstriped debut on April 5, he tossed 7 2/3 innings and got the win in a 1–0 squeaker against the Royals. On May 1, he threw a three-hit, 10-strikeout shutout against the Twins. On Sept. 2 at Fenway Park—in a matchup against David Cone, the man he replaced in the Yankees' rotation—he struck out 13 and came within one strike of completing a perfect game, allowing a two-out, two-strike single to Carl Everett before closing out a 1–0 win. Roger Angell’s New Yorker account found Mussina shocked and dour in victory; Cone (who had authored a perfect game for New York two years earlier) was rejuvenated even in defeat.

For that first year in pinstripes, Mussina delivered a 3.15 ERA (143 ERA+), his lowest mark since 1994. That ERA and his career highs in both strikeouts (214) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.1) all ranked second in the AL, and his 7.1 WAR led the league for the only time in his career. Alas, he finished fifth in the Cy Young race, losing to teammate Clemens, who had an inferior season (20–3, 3.51 ERA, 5.6 WAR) save for the league’s fourth-best offensive support (5.7 runs per game), which boosted his win total. Mussina (17–11) had received just 4.2 runs per game, the league's fifth-lowest rate.

The Yankees won 95 games and their fourth straight pennant that season, with Mussina again coming up big in October. With the Yankees down 2–0 in the Division Series against Oakland, he delivered seven shutout innings in Game 3, aided by Derek Jeter's legendary flip play. After a solid six-inning, two-run start in Game 2 of the ALCS against the Mariners, he was roughed up by the Diamondbacks in the World Series opener but rebounded to whiff 10 in eight strong innings in Game 5, which the Yankees won in the 12th. The Yankees ultimately came within one inning of their fourth straight title—and Mussina's first—but Mariano Rivera unraveled in the ninth inning of Game 7. So it goes.

After a so-so 2002, Mussina helped the Yankees back to the World Series in '03. He ranked eighth in ERA (3.40) and fifth in WAR (6.6) for the 101-win AL East champs, though his October had ups and downs. He worked seven innings in a losing cause against the Twins in Game 1 of the Division Series, was knocked around by the Red Sox in the ALCS opener and wound up on the short end despite a 10-strikeout performance in 6 2/3 innings in Game 4. When Clemens fell behind 4–0 and failed to retire any of the three batters he faced in the fourth inning of Game 7, manager Joe Torre summoned Mussina out of the bullpen for the first relief appearance of his professional career. He was nails: With runners on first and third, he whiffed Jason Varitek on three pitches, then got Johnny Damon to ground into a double play to escape the jam. He worked three scoreless innings, an unsung hero in a game the Yankees won in 11 on Aaron Boone's walk-off homer.

Mussina started Game 3 of the World Series against the Marlins, battling Josh Beckett to a 1–1 draw through seven innings despite a 39-minute rain delay in the fifth. The Yankees took the lead in the eighth and broke the game open in the ninth, giving them a 2–1 series lead. Mussina was lined up for Game 7, but the call never came, as New York lost the next three games.

Things started going downhill for Mussina in 2004, his age-35 season, as he lost six weeks to elbow tightness. From 2004 to '07, he averaged just 173 innings a year due to injuries, never topping 200. His 4.36 ERA over that span was still good for a 102 ERA+, but that owed to one exceptional season (2006: 3.51 ERA, 129 ERA+, 5.0 WAR) offsetting three mediocre ones; for the stretch, he averaged a modest 2.9 WAR.

The Yankees officially declined Mussina's $17 million option for 2007, though they wound up reworking it into a two-year, $23 million deal. Initially, they might have wished they hadn't, as Mussina was pounded for a career-worst 5.15 ERA and battled back and leg woes. After a three-start stretch in August in which he was rocked for 20 runs in 9 2/3 innings, he was dropped from the rotation, though he salvaged some dignity with a 13 2/3-inning scoreless streak upon returning.

He salvaged even more dignity the following year, defying both his age (39) and a rocky first month. He made a league-high 34 starts, tossing 200 1/3 innings—his first time above 200 since 2003—with a 3.37 ERA. The real story, aside from the Yankees missing the playoffs for the first time since the strike, was that he finally reached 20 wins. He did it by allowing just one run over his final 17 innings across three starts. The last came in Fenway Park, the site of his crushing near-perfecto, as the opener of a doubleheader on the final day of the season. Mussina’s six shutout innings against the wild-card-winning Red Sox granted him the milestone win that had long eluded him, making him the oldest pitcher to reach that plateau for the first time.

That win was the 270th of his career. Realizing that a pursuit of 300 might mean a three-year slog and feeling the strong pull of Montoursville, he instead retired, virtually unprecedented for a 20-game winner. As The New York Times noted, only three pitchers in the previous century won at least 20 games in their final seasons: Eddie Cicotte and Lefty Williams in 1920, just before being banned for life for their involvement in the Black Sox scandal; and Sandy Koufax in '66, before elbow problems forced his retirement. Though he had millions of reasons to stay (in the form of dollars on his next contract), Mussina walked away, following the old showbiz adage, "Always leave 'em wanting more."

Two hundred and seventy is not 300, but even so, Mussina ranks 33rd all-time in wins, tied with Hall of Famer Burleigh Grimes and above Jim Palmer (268), Bob Feller (266), Bob Gibson (251) and 31 other enshrined starting pitchers, including Martinez (219) and Smoltz (213). Those last two are double the total of sub-300 win starters elected by the BBWAA from 1992 to 2014; Blyleven—elected in '11, his 14th year of eligibility, with 287 wins—is the exception.

Moving beyond that, Mussina's 2,813 strikeouts rank 20th all-time, and his rate of 7.1 strikeouts per nine is tenth among pitchers with at least 3,000 innings. That's partially a product of pitching in an era where strikeout rates were almost continually on the rise, but it's impressive nonetheless. Even more impressive is that his 3.58 strikeout-to-walk ratio is second only to Schilling among pitchers with at least 3,000 innings since 1893, when the distance from the rubber to home plate was lengthened to 60' 6".

As for the postseason, Mussina may not have gotten a ring, but his 3.42 ERA in 139 2/3 innings is no small feat given the high-scoring era; it's 0.26 lower than his regular-season ERA, which itself was 23% better than the park-adjusted league average and is tied for 23rd all-time. Aided by the three tiers of playoffs during the bulk of his career, his 145 postseason strikeouts rank fifth all-time, and his 9.3 strikeouts per nine are fourth among the 22 pitchers with at least 100 postseason innings (Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander and Randy Johnson outrank him, the first two having reached the innings threshold in 2017). Sadly, Mussina's teams only won nine of his 23 postseason starts because they supported him with just 3.1 runs per game; only four times did they even give him more than four runs. He had a few dud starts (three of less than five innings) among them, but it's tough to pin his failure to win a championship on him.

As for the advanced metrics, Mussina stands tall thanks to his combination of run prevention and strikeouts (for which he doesn't have to share credit—and thus value—with his fielders). His 83.0 career WAR ranks 23rd all-time, ahead of 41 of the 62 enshrined starting pitchers; it's 14th among post-World War II pitchers. That total is 1.5 wins above 2014 honoree Glavine, who has an almost identical career/peak/JAWS line, and 9.1 above the average for enshrined starters. Mussina's peak WAR of 44.5 doesn't stack up as well; while it's still 66th all-time, it tops only 22 enshrined starters and is 5.8 wins below the average one. Even so, his 63.8 JAWS is 1.7 points above the Hall average, good for 28th all-time, one spot below Schilling (64.5) and two above Glavine (62.9). His score beats those of 38 enshrined starters. He's good enough for Cooperstown.

The Moose won't be loose in upstate New York in 2018, but he’s overcome a very slow start to his candidacy. Matched up against the five 2014 and ’15 first-year candidates (Maddux, Glavine, Johnson, Martinez and Smoltz) who won at least one Cy Young award, and three of whom won at least 300 games, he received a disappointing 20.3% in his debut and then 24.6% in his second year, lower than all but two post-1966 candidates who were eventually elected, Duke Snider (24.7%) and Bert Blyleven (14.1%). Fortunately, he gained 18.4% in 2016, more than any holdover on the ballot, and backed that with an 8.8% gain to 51.8% in 2017. That 50% threshold is key; excluding current candidates, only Gil Hodges, Jack Morris and Lee Smith have gotten such support without getting elected; the last two took 11 and 10 years to get there, respectively.

In other words, Mussina now has a plausible path to a plaque, though it could take some time. Of the eight players besides Mussina to receive between 45–60% in their fourth year on the ballot, two are currently candidates namely Clemens and Schilling (whose post-career self-immolation cost him support last year). Five of the other six were elected by the writers, needing an average of 4.6 years to get in, with Don Drysdale’s six years the longest wait. The sixth, Jim Bunning, was eventually elected by the Veterans Commitee, after getting as close as 74.2% in his 12th year of eligibility.

With no starting pitchers with even borderline credentials reaching the ballot until 2019, when Roy Halladay and Andy Pettitte become eligible, Mussina (and Schilling) have one more year in the ballot spotlight alongside Clemens, whose connection to performance-enhancing drugs has put him in a different limbo. Like Blyleven, a high-strikeout pitcher from an earlier era whose dominance over hitters and excellence in run prevention was initially overshadowed by his lack of Cy Young hardware, the numbers and the facts are on Mussina’s side. Soon enough, they’ll carry the day.

<p><em>The following article is part of my ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2018 Hall of Fame ballot. Originally written for the 2014 election, it has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research, and was expanded for inclusion in </em><a href="http://cooperstowncasebook.com" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:The Cooperstown Casebook" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">The Cooperstown Casebook</a><em>. For a detailed introduction to this year&#39;s ballot, please see </em><a href="https://www.si.com/mlb/2017/11/20/hall-of-fame-ballot-chipper-jones-jim-thome" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:here" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">here</a><em>. For an introduction to JAWS, see </em><a href="https://www.si.com/mlb/2017/11/27/hall-fame-jaws-intro-2018-ballot" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:here" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><em>here</em></a><em>.</em></p><p>Unlike 2014 Hall of Fame honorees Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine or 2015 honoree Randy Johnson, Mike Mussina didn&#39;t reach 300 wins in his career. Nor did he ever win a Cy Young award, in part because a teammate practically stole one out of his hands thanks to superior run support. For as well as he pitched in October, his teams never won a World Series, because even the best relievers sometimes falter, to say nothing of what happens to the rest of them.</p><p>Though lacking in those marquee accomplishments, Mussina nonetheless strung together an exceptional 18-year career spent entirely in the crucible of the American League East, with its high-offense ballparks and high-pressure atmosphere. A cerebral pitcher with an expansive arsenal that featured a 93-mph fastball and a signature knuckle-curve—and at times as many as five other pitches—he not only missed bats with regularity but also had pinpoint control.</p><p>In a prime that coincided with those of the aforementioned pitchers—as well as 2015 inductees Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz and ballotmates Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling—&quot;Moose&quot; never led the AL in either strikeouts or ERA, but he ranked in the league&#39;s top five six times in the former and seven times in the latter. He earned All-Star honors five times and received Cy Young votes in eight separate seasons across a 10-year span, at one point finishing in the top five four times in five years. Despite his lack of titles, he also put together a strong postseason résumé.</p><p>In fact, despite a late-career dip from which he recovered in memorable fashion, Mussina&#39;s résumé as a whole is strong enough for Cooperstown. He delivered tremendous value across his career and holds up well in comparison to his contemporaries and to those already enshrined. On a ballot overstuffed with flashier candidates, he initially struggled to get attention, receiving 20.3% of the voting 2014 and 24.6% the next year, but he was <a href="http://www.si.com/mlb/2016/01/06/ken-griffey-jr-mike-piazza-elected-baseball-hall-fame" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the ballot’s biggest gainer" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the ballot’s biggest gainer</a> in 2016, and climbed to 51.8% in 2017, having more than doubled his support in a two-year span. With six years of eligibility remaining, he appears to be on track for an eventual berth in Cooperstown.</p><p>Before delving further into Mussina’s career, a disclaimer: Regular readers know that I generally avoid dwelling upon pitcher win totals, because in this increasingly specialized era, they owe as much to adequate offensive, defensive and bullpen support as they do to a pitcher&#39;s own performance. While one needn&#39;t know how many wins Mussina amassed in a season or a career to appreciate his true value, the 20- and 300-win marks are an inextricable part of his particular story.</p><p>Mussina was born in 1968 in Williamsport, Penn.—the birthplace of Little League Baseball—and grew up in nearby Montoursvile, a tiny town of less than 5,000. A three-sport letterman at Montoursville High School, he played guard on the basketball team and wide receiver and kicker on the football team in addition to pitching for the baseball team. As a senior, he won two games kicking last-second field goals, drawing the interest of Penn State University.</p><p>A strong student as well as an outstanding athlete, Mussina nearly earned valedictorian honors, but <a href="http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/sports/columns/sportinglife/5347/" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:according to legend" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">according to legend</a>, he may have tanked a test in order to fall short and thus avoid speaking at graduation. Despite being considered one of the country&#39;s top prospects out of high school, he chose to attend Stanford on a baseball scholarship. He helped the Cardinal win the College World Series as a freshman in 1988 and earned his economics degree in 3 1/2 years, capped by a provocatively-titled senior thesis: “The Economics of Signing out of High School as Opposed to College.”</p><p>The Orioles chose Mussina with the 20th pick of the 1990 draft, signed him for a $225,000 bonus and sent him straight to Double A Hagerstown. After making just nine starts between there and Triple A Rochester, he was ranked 19th on <em>Baseball America</em>&#39;s Top 100 Prospects list the following spring, and after 19 more starts at Rochester, he debuted for the Orioles on Aug. 4, 1991. The 22-year-old righty threw 7 2/3 innings against the White Sox, allowing only a solo homer to Frank Thomas, but lost because ageless knuckleballer Charlie Hough spun a five-hit shutout. Though stuck on a club bound for 95 losses, he stood out in his 12-start trial; his 2.87 ERA was <a href="http://www.baseball-reference.com/play-index/split_stats_team.cgi?full=1&#38;params=sprel%7Cas%20Starter%7CBAL%7C1991%7Cpitch%7CIP%7C" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:almost exactly half" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">almost exactly half</a> of the other Baltimore starters&#39; collective ERA (5.55).</p><p>That abysmal season marked the Orioles&#39; fifth sub-.500 finish out of six, but Mussina helped put the franchise back on the road back to respectability. Already polished, he assumed the mantle of staff ace, a role that 1989 No. 1 pick Ben McDonald couldn&#39;t fulfill. The O&#39;s improved to 89 wins in 1992 as the 23-year-old Mussina tossed 241 innings of 2.54 ERA ball and went 18–5, earning All-Star honors and placing fourth in the Cy Young voting. His ERA ranked third in the league, and his walk rate (1.8 per nine) and WAR (8.2) were second, the latter trailing only Clemens&#39;s 8.8. Not surprisingly, his heavy workload carried a cost: Shoulder soreness limited him to 167 2/3 innings the following year, and he was roughed up for a 4.46 ERA.</p><p>Mussina restored his claim as one of the league&#39;s top starters in the strike-shortened seasons. In a 1994 <em>Sports Illustrated</em> profile, <a href="http://www.si.com/vault/1994/07/18/106786720/the-mm-boys-plain-and-peanut" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Tom Verducci" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Tom Verducci</a> described him inventing a cut fastball on the fly to escape a jam, quoting battery-mate Chris Hoiles: &quot;Well, I guess if you&#39;re going to use that pitch, we ought to have a sign for it.&quot; Verducci continued:</p><p>Mussina finished fourth in the AL in ERA in both 1994 and &#39;95 (3.04 and 3.29, respectively), with fourth- and third-place finishes in WAR (5.4 and 6.1, respectively). He also led the AL in wins (19) and walk rate (2.0 per nine) for the only times in his career in 1995 but finished just fifth in the Cy Young balloting—not that he had any business winning over Randy Johnson (18–2, 2.48 ERA, 8.6 WAR). The Orioles went 63–49 in 1994, in position to challenge for the new wild-card spot when the strike hit, but finished just 71–73 the following year.</p><p>In 1996, under new manager Davey Johnson, a star-studded cast featuring future Hall of Famers Roberto Alomar, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken as well as Brady Anderson, Rafael Palmeiro and more came together to win 88 games and the AL wild card. Aided by an offense that cranked out 5.82 runs per game, Mussina overcame his own gaudy 4.81 ERA (still a 103 ERA+) and again notched 19 wins. He also struck out 204 hitters, fourth in the league and his first of four times reaching the 200 plateau. In his first taste of playoff action, he wasn&#39;t particularly effective, allowing a combined nine runs in 13 2/3 innings against the Indians in the Division Series and the Yankees in the ALCS.</p><p>In 1997, Mussina improved to a 3.20 ERA (sixth in the league) and 218 strikeouts (fourth) in 224 2/3 innings as the Orioles stormed to 98 wins and their first AL East title since &#39;83. Stellar in the playoffs, he pitched to a 1.24 ERA in four starts, striking out 41—the most by a pitcher in a single postseason without reaching the World Series—in 29 innings. Facing the Mariners in the Division Series, he outdueled the Big Unit in both Games 1 and 4, administering the <em>coup de grâce</em> with a combined two-hitter in the latter. In his coverage for <em>SI</em>, <a href="http://www.si.com/vault/1997/10/13/233354/mike-mussina-the-orioles-righty-silenced-his-critics-by-twice-outdueling-randy-johnson" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Verducci" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Verducci</a> harped on Mussina&#39;s repeated failure to win 20 games but wrote approvingly of his pitching style: &quot;What makes Mussina so difficult to hit is that he morphs the best qualities of a power pitcher and a finesse pitcher. At times he blew his fastball at 93 mph past Seattle. Other times he dropped in knuckle curves when he was behind on the count.&quot;</p><p>Facing the Indians in Game 3 of the ALCS, Mussina was even more brilliant, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fS7qcPEbtsM" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:whiffing an LCS record 15 over seven innings" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">whiffing an LCS record 15 over seven innings</a> and allowing just three hits and one run. Even so, the Orioles lost 2–1 in 12 innings when <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0FvrluZ0OwE" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Marquis Grissom stole home" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Marquis Grissom stole home</a> with the winning run. As agony goes, that was nothing compared to Mussina winding up on the short end in Game 6 despite eight innings of one-hit shutout ball. The two teams remained deadlocked until the top of the 11th, when Armando Benitez served up what proved to be a pennant-clinching solo homer by Cleveland&#39;s Tony Fernandez.</p><p>Mussina had signed a below-market <a href="http://articles.baltimoresun.com/1997-05-04/sports/1997124156_1_mussina-deal-extension" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:three-year, $21.5 million contract extension" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">three-year, $21.5 million contract extension</a> in May, and despite the Orioles falling short that fall, their future looked bright. Alas, a feud with owner Peter Angelos led Johnson to <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/sports/orioles/longterm/memories/davey/articles/resign.htm" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:resign" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">resign</a> the same day he won AL Manager of the Year honors. The O&#39;s wouldn&#39;t post a winning season again until 2012.</p><p>Mussina played out the string in as Baltimore collapsed into 70-something win ignominy, averaging 216 innings with a 3.60 ERA (129 ERA+), 5.0 WAR and his typically stellar 4.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio from 1998–2000. He finished second in the Cy Young voting in 1999, the best showing of his career, but Martinez (23–4, 2.07 ERA, 243 ERA+) won unanimously.</p><p>As the Orioles&#39; roster was ripped apart, Angelos took a glacial approach to Mussina&#39;s pending free agency, gradually raising the team&#39;s offer from five years and $50 million to six and $78 million, albeit with $12 million deferred. Turned off by the slow pace of negotiations and by the team&#39;s protracted rebuilding process, Mussina instead opted for <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/sports/orioles/longterm/memories/davey/articles/resign.htm" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:a six-year, $88.5 million deal" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">a six-year, $88.5 million deal</a> from the Yankees, who were riding a streak of three straight world championships. &quot;There have been only a couple years in my career when I knew we were going to win,&quot; he said of his time in Baltimore upon signing. &quot;That&#39;s what I look forward to experiencing again.&quot; The new deal made Mussina the game&#39;s fifth-highest paid player.</p><p>Mussina and the Yankees did their share of winning in 2001. In his pinstriped debut on April 5, he tossed 7 2/3 innings and got the win in a 1–0 squeaker against the Royals. On May 1, he threw a three-hit, 10-strikeout shutout against the Twins. On Sept. 2 at Fenway Park—in a matchup against David Cone, the man he replaced in the Yankees&#39; rotation—he struck out 13 and came within one strike of completing a perfect game, allowing a two-out, two-strike single to Carl Everett before closing out a 1–0 win. Roger Angell’s <a href="https://web.archive.org/web/20131224092446/http://jayebee.com/discoveries/red_sox/2001/angell__curse_of_bambino.htm" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:New Yorker account" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><em>New Yorker</em> account</a> found Mussina shocked and dour in victory; Cone (who had authored a perfect game for New York two years earlier) was rejuvenated even in defeat.</p><p>For that first year in pinstripes, Mussina delivered a 3.15 ERA (143 ERA+), his lowest mark since 1994. That ERA and his career highs in both strikeouts (214) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.1) all ranked second in the AL, and his 7.1 WAR led the league for the only time in his career. Alas, he finished fifth in the Cy Young race, losing to teammate Clemens, who had an inferior season (20–3, 3.51 ERA, 5.6 WAR) save for the league’s fourth-best offensive support (5.7 runs per game), which boosted his win total. Mussina (17–11) had received just 4.2 runs per game, the league&#39;s fifth-lowest rate.</p><p>The Yankees won 95 games and their fourth straight pennant that season, with Mussina again coming up big in October. With the Yankees down 2–0 in the Division Series against Oakland, he delivered seven shutout innings in Game 3, aided by Derek Jeter&#39;s legendary <a href="http://m.mlb.com/video/topic/6479266/v3134880" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:flip play" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">flip play</a>. After a solid six-inning, two-run start in Game 2 of the ALCS against the Mariners, he was roughed up by the Diamondbacks in the World Series opener but rebounded to whiff 10 in eight strong innings in Game 5, which the Yankees won in the 12th. The Yankees ultimately came within one inning of their fourth straight title—and Mussina&#39;s first—but Mariano Rivera unraveled in the ninth inning of Game 7. So it goes.</p><p>After a so-so 2002, Mussina helped the Yankees back to the World Series in &#39;03. He ranked eighth in ERA (3.40) and fifth in WAR (6.6) for the 101-win AL East champs, though his October had ups and downs. He worked seven innings in a losing cause against the Twins in Game 1 of the Division Series, was knocked around by the Red Sox in the ALCS opener and wound up on the short end despite a 10-strikeout performance in 6 2/3 innings in Game 4. When Clemens fell behind 4–0 and failed to retire any of the three batters he faced in the fourth inning of Game 7, manager Joe Torre summoned Mussina out of the bullpen for <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4_7TFSicoD8" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:the first relief appearance" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">the first relief appearance</a> of his professional career. He was nails: With runners on first and third, he whiffed Jason Varitek on three pitches, then got Johnny Damon to ground into a double play to escape the jam. He worked three scoreless innings, an unsung hero in a game the Yankees won in 11 on Aaron Boone&#39;s walk-off homer.</p><p>Mussina started Game 3 of the World Series against the Marlins, battling Josh Beckett to a 1–1 draw through seven innings despite a 39-minute rain delay in the fifth. The Yankees took the lead in the eighth and broke the game open in the ninth, giving them a 2–1 series lead. Mussina was lined up for Game 7, but the call never came, as New York lost the next three games.</p><p>Things started going downhill for Mussina in 2004, his age-35 season, as he lost six weeks to elbow tightness. From 2004 to &#39;07, he averaged just 173 innings a year due to injuries, never topping 200. His 4.36 ERA over that span was still good for a 102 ERA+, but that owed to one exceptional season (2006: 3.51 ERA, 129 ERA+, 5.0 WAR) offsetting three mediocre ones; for the stretch, he averaged a modest 2.9 WAR.</p><p>The Yankees officially declined Mussina&#39;s $17 million option for 2007, though they wound up reworking it into a two-year, $23 million deal. Initially, they might have wished they hadn&#39;t, as Mussina was pounded for a career-worst 5.15 ERA and battled back and leg woes. After a three-start stretch in August in which he was rocked for 20 runs in 9 2/3 innings, he was <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/29/sports/baseball/29pins.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:dropped from the rotation" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">dropped from the rotation</a>, though he salvaged some dignity with a 13 2/3-inning scoreless streak upon returning.</p><p>He salvaged even more dignity the following year, defying both his age (39) and a rocky first month. He made a league-high 34 starts, tossing 200 1/3 innings—his first time above 200 since 2003—with a 3.37 ERA. The real story, aside from the Yankees missing the playoffs for the first time since the strike, was that he finally reached 20 wins. He did it by allowing just one run over his final 17 innings across three starts. The last came in Fenway Park, the site of his crushing near-perfecto, as the opener of a doubleheader on the final day of the season. Mussina’s six shutout innings against the wild-card-winning Red Sox granted him the milestone win that had long eluded him, making him the oldest pitcher to reach that plateau for the first time.</p><p>That win was the 270th of his career. Realizing that a pursuit of 300 might mean a three-year slog and feeling the strong pull of Montoursville, he instead retired, virtually unprecedented for a 20-game winner. As <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/20/sports/baseball/20yankees.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:The New York Times" class="link rapid-noclick-resp"><em>The New York Times</em></a> noted, only three pitchers in the previous century won at least 20 games in their final seasons: Eddie Cicotte and Lefty Williams in 1920, just before being banned for life for their involvement in the Black Sox scandal; and Sandy Koufax in &#39;66, before elbow problems forced his retirement. Though he had millions of reasons to stay (in the form of dollars on his next contract), Mussina walked away, following the old showbiz adage, &quot;Always leave &#39;em wanting more.&quot;</p><p>Two hundred and seventy is not 300, but even so, Mussina ranks 33rd all-time in wins, tied with Hall of Famer Burleigh Grimes and above Jim Palmer (268), Bob Feller (266), Bob Gibson (251) and 31 other enshrined starting pitchers, including Martinez (219) and Smoltz (213). Those last two are double the total of sub-300 win starters elected by the BBWAA from 1992 to 2014; Blyleven—elected in &#39;11, his 14th year of eligibility, with 287 wins—is the exception.</p><p>Moving beyond that, Mussina&#39;s 2,813 strikeouts <a href="http://www.baseball-reference.com/leaders/SO_p_career.shtml" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:rank 20th all-time" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">rank 20th all-time</a>, and his rate of 7.1 strikeouts per nine is <a href="https://bbref.com/pi/shareit/U6ht9" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:tenth" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">tenth</a> among pitchers with at least 3,000 innings. That&#39;s partially a product of pitching in an era where strikeout rates were <a href="http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=16236" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:almost continually on the rise" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">almost continually on the rise</a>, but it&#39;s impressive nonetheless. Even more impressive is that his 3.58 strikeout-to-walk ratio is <a href="http://bbref.com/pi/shareit/l01F1" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:second" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">second</a> only to Schilling among pitchers with at least 3,000 innings since 1893, when the distance from the rubber to home plate was lengthened to 60&#39; 6&quot;.</p><p>As for the postseason, Mussina may not have gotten a ring, but his 3.42 ERA in 139 2/3 innings is no small feat given the high-scoring era; it&#39;s 0.26 lower than his regular-season ERA, which itself was 23% better than the park-adjusted league average and is <a href="http://bbref.com/pi/shareit/tgRDB" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:tied for 23rd all-time" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">tied for 23rd all-time</a>. Aided by the three tiers of playoffs during the bulk of his career, his 145 postseason strikeouts rank fifth all-time, and his 9.3 strikeouts per nine are fourth among the 22 pitchers with at least 100 postseason innings (Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander and Randy Johnson outrank him, the first two having reached the innings threshold in 2017). Sadly, Mussina&#39;s teams only won nine of his 23 postseason starts because they supported him with just 3.1 runs per game; only four times did they even give him more than four runs. He had a few dud starts (three of less than five innings) among them, but it&#39;s tough to pin his failure to win a championship on him.</p><p>As for the advanced metrics, Mussina stands tall thanks to his combination of run prevention and strikeouts (for which he doesn&#39;t have to share credit—and thus value—with his fielders). His 83.0 career WAR ranks 23rd all-time, ahead of 41 of the 62 enshrined starting pitchers; it&#39;s 14th among post-World War II pitchers. That total is 1.5 wins above 2014 honoree Glavine, who has an almost identical career/peak/JAWS line, and 9.1 above the average for enshrined starters. Mussina&#39;s peak WAR of 44.5 doesn&#39;t stack up as well; while it&#39;s still 66th all-time, it tops only 22 enshrined starters and is 5.8 wins below the average one. Even so, his 63.8 JAWS is 1.7 points above the Hall average, good for <a href="http://www.baseball-reference.com/leaders/jaws_P.shtml" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:28th all-time" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">28th all-time</a>, one spot below Schilling (64.5) and two above Glavine (62.9). His score beats those of 38 enshrined starters. He&#39;s good enough for Cooperstown.</p><p>The Moose won&#39;t be loose in upstate New York in 2018, but he’s overcome a very slow start to his candidacy. Matched up against the five 2014 and ’15 first-year candidates (Maddux, Glavine, Johnson, Martinez and Smoltz) who won at least one Cy Young award, and three of whom won at least 300 games, he received a disappointing 20.3% in his debut and then 24.6% in his second year, lower than all but two post-1966 candidates who were eventually elected, Duke Snider (24.7%) and Bert Blyleven (14.1%). Fortunately, he gained 18.4% in 2016, more than any holdover on the ballot, and backed that with an 8.8% gain to 51.8% in 2017. That 50% threshold is key; excluding current candidates, only Gil Hodges, Jack Morris and Lee Smith have gotten such support without getting elected; the last two took 11 and 10 years to get there, respectively.</p><p>In other words, Mussina now has a plausible path to a plaque, though it could take some time. Of the eight players besides Mussina to receive between 45–60% in their fourth year on the ballot, two are currently candidates namely Clemens and Schilling (whose <a href="http://www.si.com/mlb/2016/12/05/jaws-2017-hall-of-fame-ballot-curt-schilling" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:post-career self-immolation" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">post-career self-immolation</a> cost him support last year). Five of the other six were elected by the writers, needing an average of 4.6 years to get in, with Don Drysdale’s six years the longest wait. The sixth, Jim Bunning, was eventually elected by the Veterans Commitee, after getting as close as 74.2% in his 12th year of eligibility.</p><p>With no starting pitchers with even borderline credentials reaching the ballot until 2019, when Roy Halladay and Andy Pettitte become eligible, Mussina (and Schilling) have one more year in the ballot spotlight alongside Clemens, whose connection to performance-enhancing drugs has put him in a different limbo. Like Blyleven, a high-strikeout pitcher from an earlier era whose dominance over hitters and excellence in run prevention was initially overshadowed by his lack of Cy Young hardware, the numbers and the facts are on Mussina’s side. Soon enough, they’ll carry the day.</p>
Mike Mussina Won't Get Into the Hall of Fame in 2018, but he's Building Toward Election

The following article is part of my ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2018 Hall of Fame ballot. Originally written for the 2014 election, it has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research, and was expanded for inclusion in The Cooperstown Casebook. For a detailed introduction to this year's ballot, please see here. For an introduction to JAWS, see here.

Unlike 2014 Hall of Fame honorees Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine or 2015 honoree Randy Johnson, Mike Mussina didn't reach 300 wins in his career. Nor did he ever win a Cy Young award, in part because a teammate practically stole one out of his hands thanks to superior run support. For as well as he pitched in October, his teams never won a World Series, because even the best relievers sometimes falter, to say nothing of what happens to the rest of them.

Though lacking in those marquee accomplishments, Mussina nonetheless strung together an exceptional 18-year career spent entirely in the crucible of the American League East, with its high-offense ballparks and high-pressure atmosphere. A cerebral pitcher with an expansive arsenal that featured a 93-mph fastball and a signature knuckle-curve—and at times as many as five other pitches—he not only missed bats with regularity but also had pinpoint control.

In a prime that coincided with those of the aforementioned pitchers—as well as 2015 inductees Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz and ballotmates Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling—"Moose" never led the AL in either strikeouts or ERA, but he ranked in the league's top five six times in the former and seven times in the latter. He earned All-Star honors five times and received Cy Young votes in eight separate seasons across a 10-year span, at one point finishing in the top five four times in five years. Despite his lack of titles, he also put together a strong postseason résumé.

In fact, despite a late-career dip from which he recovered in memorable fashion, Mussina's résumé as a whole is strong enough for Cooperstown. He delivered tremendous value across his career and holds up well in comparison to his contemporaries and to those already enshrined. On a ballot overstuffed with flashier candidates, he initially struggled to get attention, receiving 20.3% of the voting 2014 and 24.6% the next year, but he was the ballot’s biggest gainer in 2016, and climbed to 51.8% in 2017, having more than doubled his support in a two-year span. With six years of eligibility remaining, he appears to be on track for an eventual berth in Cooperstown.

Before delving further into Mussina’s career, a disclaimer: Regular readers know that I generally avoid dwelling upon pitcher win totals, because in this increasingly specialized era, they owe as much to adequate offensive, defensive and bullpen support as they do to a pitcher's own performance. While one needn't know how many wins Mussina amassed in a season or a career to appreciate his true value, the 20- and 300-win marks are an inextricable part of his particular story.

Mussina was born in 1968 in Williamsport, Penn.—the birthplace of Little League Baseball—and grew up in nearby Montoursvile, a tiny town of less than 5,000. A three-sport letterman at Montoursville High School, he played guard on the basketball team and wide receiver and kicker on the football team in addition to pitching for the baseball team. As a senior, he won two games kicking last-second field goals, drawing the interest of Penn State University.

A strong student as well as an outstanding athlete, Mussina nearly earned valedictorian honors, but according to legend, he may have tanked a test in order to fall short and thus avoid speaking at graduation. Despite being considered one of the country's top prospects out of high school, he chose to attend Stanford on a baseball scholarship. He helped the Cardinal win the College World Series as a freshman in 1988 and earned his economics degree in 3 1/2 years, capped by a provocatively-titled senior thesis: “The Economics of Signing out of High School as Opposed to College.”

The Orioles chose Mussina with the 20th pick of the 1990 draft, signed him for a $225,000 bonus and sent him straight to Double A Hagerstown. After making just nine starts between there and Triple A Rochester, he was ranked 19th on Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects list the following spring, and after 19 more starts at Rochester, he debuted for the Orioles on Aug. 4, 1991. The 22-year-old righty threw 7 2/3 innings against the White Sox, allowing only a solo homer to Frank Thomas, but lost because ageless knuckleballer Charlie Hough spun a five-hit shutout. Though stuck on a club bound for 95 losses, he stood out in his 12-start trial; his 2.87 ERA was almost exactly half of the other Baltimore starters' collective ERA (5.55).

That abysmal season marked the Orioles' fifth sub-.500 finish out of six, but Mussina helped put the franchise back on the road back to respectability. Already polished, he assumed the mantle of staff ace, a role that 1989 No. 1 pick Ben McDonald couldn't fulfill. The O's improved to 89 wins in 1992 as the 23-year-old Mussina tossed 241 innings of 2.54 ERA ball and went 18–5, earning All-Star honors and placing fourth in the Cy Young voting. His ERA ranked third in the league, and his walk rate (1.8 per nine) and WAR (8.2) were second, the latter trailing only Clemens's 8.8. Not surprisingly, his heavy workload carried a cost: Shoulder soreness limited him to 167 2/3 innings the following year, and he was roughed up for a 4.46 ERA.

Mussina restored his claim as one of the league's top starters in the strike-shortened seasons. In a 1994 Sports Illustrated profile, Tom Verducci described him inventing a cut fastball on the fly to escape a jam, quoting battery-mate Chris Hoiles: "Well, I guess if you're going to use that pitch, we ought to have a sign for it." Verducci continued:

Mussina finished fourth in the AL in ERA in both 1994 and '95 (3.04 and 3.29, respectively), with fourth- and third-place finishes in WAR (5.4 and 6.1, respectively). He also led the AL in wins (19) and walk rate (2.0 per nine) for the only times in his career in 1995 but finished just fifth in the Cy Young balloting—not that he had any business winning over Randy Johnson (18–2, 2.48 ERA, 8.6 WAR). The Orioles went 63–49 in 1994, in position to challenge for the new wild-card spot when the strike hit, but finished just 71–73 the following year.

In 1996, under new manager Davey Johnson, a star-studded cast featuring future Hall of Famers Roberto Alomar, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken as well as Brady Anderson, Rafael Palmeiro and more came together to win 88 games and the AL wild card. Aided by an offense that cranked out 5.82 runs per game, Mussina overcame his own gaudy 4.81 ERA (still a 103 ERA+) and again notched 19 wins. He also struck out 204 hitters, fourth in the league and his first of four times reaching the 200 plateau. In his first taste of playoff action, he wasn't particularly effective, allowing a combined nine runs in 13 2/3 innings against the Indians in the Division Series and the Yankees in the ALCS.

In 1997, Mussina improved to a 3.20 ERA (sixth in the league) and 218 strikeouts (fourth) in 224 2/3 innings as the Orioles stormed to 98 wins and their first AL East title since '83. Stellar in the playoffs, he pitched to a 1.24 ERA in four starts, striking out 41—the most by a pitcher in a single postseason without reaching the World Series—in 29 innings. Facing the Mariners in the Division Series, he outdueled the Big Unit in both Games 1 and 4, administering the coup de grâce with a combined two-hitter in the latter. In his coverage for SI, Verducci harped on Mussina's repeated failure to win 20 games but wrote approvingly of his pitching style: "What makes Mussina so difficult to hit is that he morphs the best qualities of a power pitcher and a finesse pitcher. At times he blew his fastball at 93 mph past Seattle. Other times he dropped in knuckle curves when he was behind on the count."

Facing the Indians in Game 3 of the ALCS, Mussina was even more brilliant, whiffing an LCS record 15 over seven innings and allowing just three hits and one run. Even so, the Orioles lost 2–1 in 12 innings when Marquis Grissom stole home with the winning run. As agony goes, that was nothing compared to Mussina winding up on the short end in Game 6 despite eight innings of one-hit shutout ball. The two teams remained deadlocked until the top of the 11th, when Armando Benitez served up what proved to be a pennant-clinching solo homer by Cleveland's Tony Fernandez.

Mussina had signed a below-market three-year, $21.5 million contract extension in May, and despite the Orioles falling short that fall, their future looked bright. Alas, a feud with owner Peter Angelos led Johnson to resign the same day he won AL Manager of the Year honors. The O's wouldn't post a winning season again until 2012.

Mussina played out the string in as Baltimore collapsed into 70-something win ignominy, averaging 216 innings with a 3.60 ERA (129 ERA+), 5.0 WAR and his typically stellar 4.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio from 1998–2000. He finished second in the Cy Young voting in 1999, the best showing of his career, but Martinez (23–4, 2.07 ERA, 243 ERA+) won unanimously.

As the Orioles' roster was ripped apart, Angelos took a glacial approach to Mussina's pending free agency, gradually raising the team's offer from five years and $50 million to six and $78 million, albeit with $12 million deferred. Turned off by the slow pace of negotiations and by the team's protracted rebuilding process, Mussina instead opted for a six-year, $88.5 million deal from the Yankees, who were riding a streak of three straight world championships. "There have been only a couple years in my career when I knew we were going to win," he said of his time in Baltimore upon signing. "That's what I look forward to experiencing again." The new deal made Mussina the game's fifth-highest paid player.

Mussina and the Yankees did their share of winning in 2001. In his pinstriped debut on April 5, he tossed 7 2/3 innings and got the win in a 1–0 squeaker against the Royals. On May 1, he threw a three-hit, 10-strikeout shutout against the Twins. On Sept. 2 at Fenway Park—in a matchup against David Cone, the man he replaced in the Yankees' rotation—he struck out 13 and came within one strike of completing a perfect game, allowing a two-out, two-strike single to Carl Everett before closing out a 1–0 win. Roger Angell’s New Yorker account found Mussina shocked and dour in victory; Cone (who had authored a perfect game for New York two years earlier) was rejuvenated even in defeat.

For that first year in pinstripes, Mussina delivered a 3.15 ERA (143 ERA+), his lowest mark since 1994. That ERA and his career highs in both strikeouts (214) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.1) all ranked second in the AL, and his 7.1 WAR led the league for the only time in his career. Alas, he finished fifth in the Cy Young race, losing to teammate Clemens, who had an inferior season (20–3, 3.51 ERA, 5.6 WAR) save for the league’s fourth-best offensive support (5.7 runs per game), which boosted his win total. Mussina (17–11) had received just 4.2 runs per game, the league's fifth-lowest rate.

The Yankees won 95 games and their fourth straight pennant that season, with Mussina again coming up big in October. With the Yankees down 2–0 in the Division Series against Oakland, he delivered seven shutout innings in Game 3, aided by Derek Jeter's legendary flip play. After a solid six-inning, two-run start in Game 2 of the ALCS against the Mariners, he was roughed up by the Diamondbacks in the World Series opener but rebounded to whiff 10 in eight strong innings in Game 5, which the Yankees won in the 12th. The Yankees ultimately came within one inning of their fourth straight title—and Mussina's first—but Mariano Rivera unraveled in the ninth inning of Game 7. So it goes.

After a so-so 2002, Mussina helped the Yankees back to the World Series in '03. He ranked eighth in ERA (3.40) and fifth in WAR (6.6) for the 101-win AL East champs, though his October had ups and downs. He worked seven innings in a losing cause against the Twins in Game 1 of the Division Series, was knocked around by the Red Sox in the ALCS opener and wound up on the short end despite a 10-strikeout performance in 6 2/3 innings in Game 4. When Clemens fell behind 4–0 and failed to retire any of the three batters he faced in the fourth inning of Game 7, manager Joe Torre summoned Mussina out of the bullpen for the first relief appearance of his professional career. He was nails: With runners on first and third, he whiffed Jason Varitek on three pitches, then got Johnny Damon to ground into a double play to escape the jam. He worked three scoreless innings, an unsung hero in a game the Yankees won in 11 on Aaron Boone's walk-off homer.

Mussina started Game 3 of the World Series against the Marlins, battling Josh Beckett to a 1–1 draw through seven innings despite a 39-minute rain delay in the fifth. The Yankees took the lead in the eighth and broke the game open in the ninth, giving them a 2–1 series lead. Mussina was lined up for Game 7, but the call never came, as New York lost the next three games.

Things started going downhill for Mussina in 2004, his age-35 season, as he lost six weeks to elbow tightness. From 2004 to '07, he averaged just 173 innings a year due to injuries, never topping 200. His 4.36 ERA over that span was still good for a 102 ERA+, but that owed to one exceptional season (2006: 3.51 ERA, 129 ERA+, 5.0 WAR) offsetting three mediocre ones; for the stretch, he averaged a modest 2.9 WAR.

The Yankees officially declined Mussina's $17 million option for 2007, though they wound up reworking it into a two-year, $23 million deal. Initially, they might have wished they hadn't, as Mussina was pounded for a career-worst 5.15 ERA and battled back and leg woes. After a three-start stretch in August in which he was rocked for 20 runs in 9 2/3 innings, he was dropped from the rotation, though he salvaged some dignity with a 13 2/3-inning scoreless streak upon returning.

He salvaged even more dignity the following year, defying both his age (39) and a rocky first month. He made a league-high 34 starts, tossing 200 1/3 innings—his first time above 200 since 2003—with a 3.37 ERA. The real story, aside from the Yankees missing the playoffs for the first time since the strike, was that he finally reached 20 wins. He did it by allowing just one run over his final 17 innings across three starts. The last came in Fenway Park, the site of his crushing near-perfecto, as the opener of a doubleheader on the final day of the season. Mussina’s six shutout innings against the wild-card-winning Red Sox granted him the milestone win that had long eluded him, making him the oldest pitcher to reach that plateau for the first time.

That win was the 270th of his career. Realizing that a pursuit of 300 might mean a three-year slog and feeling the strong pull of Montoursville, he instead retired, virtually unprecedented for a 20-game winner. As The New York Times noted, only three pitchers in the previous century won at least 20 games in their final seasons: Eddie Cicotte and Lefty Williams in 1920, just before being banned for life for their involvement in the Black Sox scandal; and Sandy Koufax in '66, before elbow problems forced his retirement. Though he had millions of reasons to stay (in the form of dollars on his next contract), Mussina walked away, following the old showbiz adage, "Always leave 'em wanting more."

Two hundred and seventy is not 300, but even so, Mussina ranks 33rd all-time in wins, tied with Hall of Famer Burleigh Grimes and above Jim Palmer (268), Bob Feller (266), Bob Gibson (251) and 31 other enshrined starting pitchers, including Martinez (219) and Smoltz (213). Those last two are double the total of sub-300 win starters elected by the BBWAA from 1992 to 2014; Blyleven—elected in '11, his 14th year of eligibility, with 287 wins—is the exception.

Moving beyond that, Mussina's 2,813 strikeouts rank 20th all-time, and his rate of 7.1 strikeouts per nine is tenth among pitchers with at least 3,000 innings. That's partially a product of pitching in an era where strikeout rates were almost continually on the rise, but it's impressive nonetheless. Even more impressive is that his 3.58 strikeout-to-walk ratio is second only to Schilling among pitchers with at least 3,000 innings since 1893, when the distance from the rubber to home plate was lengthened to 60' 6".

As for the postseason, Mussina may not have gotten a ring, but his 3.42 ERA in 139 2/3 innings is no small feat given the high-scoring era; it's 0.26 lower than his regular-season ERA, which itself was 23% better than the park-adjusted league average and is tied for 23rd all-time. Aided by the three tiers of playoffs during the bulk of his career, his 145 postseason strikeouts rank fifth all-time, and his 9.3 strikeouts per nine are fourth among the 22 pitchers with at least 100 postseason innings (Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander and Randy Johnson outrank him, the first two having reached the innings threshold in 2017). Sadly, Mussina's teams only won nine of his 23 postseason starts because they supported him with just 3.1 runs per game; only four times did they even give him more than four runs. He had a few dud starts (three of less than five innings) among them, but it's tough to pin his failure to win a championship on him.

As for the advanced metrics, Mussina stands tall thanks to his combination of run prevention and strikeouts (for which he doesn't have to share credit—and thus value—with his fielders). His 83.0 career WAR ranks 23rd all-time, ahead of 41 of the 62 enshrined starting pitchers; it's 14th among post-World War II pitchers. That total is 1.5 wins above 2014 honoree Glavine, who has an almost identical career/peak/JAWS line, and 9.1 above the average for enshrined starters. Mussina's peak WAR of 44.5 doesn't stack up as well; while it's still 66th all-time, it tops only 22 enshrined starters and is 5.8 wins below the average one. Even so, his 63.8 JAWS is 1.7 points above the Hall average, good for 28th all-time, one spot below Schilling (64.5) and two above Glavine (62.9). His score beats those of 38 enshrined starters. He's good enough for Cooperstown.

The Moose won't be loose in upstate New York in 2018, but he’s overcome a very slow start to his candidacy. Matched up against the five 2014 and ’15 first-year candidates (Maddux, Glavine, Johnson, Martinez and Smoltz) who won at least one Cy Young award, and three of whom won at least 300 games, he received a disappointing 20.3% in his debut and then 24.6% in his second year, lower than all but two post-1966 candidates who were eventually elected, Duke Snider (24.7%) and Bert Blyleven (14.1%). Fortunately, he gained 18.4% in 2016, more than any holdover on the ballot, and backed that with an 8.8% gain to 51.8% in 2017. That 50% threshold is key; excluding current candidates, only Gil Hodges, Jack Morris and Lee Smith have gotten such support without getting elected; the last two took 11 and 10 years to get there, respectively.

In other words, Mussina now has a plausible path to a plaque, though it could take some time. Of the eight players besides Mussina to receive between 45–60% in their fourth year on the ballot, two are currently candidates namely Clemens and Schilling (whose post-career self-immolation cost him support last year). Five of the other six were elected by the writers, needing an average of 4.6 years to get in, with Don Drysdale’s six years the longest wait. The sixth, Jim Bunning, was eventually elected by the Veterans Commitee, after getting as close as 74.2% in his 12th year of eligibility.

With no starting pitchers with even borderline credentials reaching the ballot until 2019, when Roy Halladay and Andy Pettitte become eligible, Mussina (and Schilling) have one more year in the ballot spotlight alongside Clemens, whose connection to performance-enhancing drugs has put him in a different limbo. Like Blyleven, a high-strikeout pitcher from an earlier era whose dominance over hitters and excellence in run prevention was initially overshadowed by his lack of Cy Young hardware, the numbers and the facts are on Mussina’s side. Soon enough, they’ll carry the day.

Derek Jeter, chief executive officer and part owner of the Miami Marlins and former New York Yankees player, sits courtside as the Miami Heat played against the Golden State Warriors in an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017, in Miami. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)
Derek Jeter, chief executive officer and part owner of the Miami Marlins and former New York Yankees player, sits courtside as the Miami Heat played against the Golden State Warriors in an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017, in Miami. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)
Derek Jeter, chief executive officer and part owner of the Miami Marlins and former New York Yankees player, sits courtside as the Miami Heat played against the Golden State Warriors in an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017, in Miami. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)
Derek Jeter, chief executive officer and part owner of the Miami Marlins and a former New York Yankee, speaks with Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry after the Warriors defeated the Miami Heat 123-95 in an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017, in Miami. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)
Derek Jeter, chief executive officer and part owner of the Miami Marlins and a former New York Yankee, speaks with Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry after the Warriors defeated the Miami Heat 123-95 in an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017, in Miami. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)
Derek Jeter, chief executive officer and part owner of the Miami Marlins and a former New York Yankee, speaks with Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry after the Warriors defeated the Miami Heat 123-95 in an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017, in Miami. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)

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