We are celebrating the history of the Cleveland Indians franchise by selecting the all-time team. In this installment, we select the all-time shortstop.
I don’t usually go into these selections with any assumptions. I tend to let the data speak for itself, but on this one, I was operating under the assumption that I would use Omar Vizquel as my shortstop. The more I dive into the history of Cleveland Indians shortstops, the more unsure I was about picking Omar.
By the time I got deep into every possible candidate, the waters were so muddy that I had no clue who was the right choice. In fact, I was surprised at how many fantastic shortstops have played for the Cleveland Indians.
Before I go further I should say that I would be selecting Lou Boudreau for this spot but I already used him as my Manager. I did think about how cool it would be to use the famous Tribe player/manager in the same roll on this team, but ultimately I thought there are so many great candidates that I don’t want to leave someone out because I used two spots on one guy.
With Boudreau out, that left me a list of about eight shortstops that all had an argument for a claim on this position. There were guys that were very good offensively like Joe Sewell and Ray Chapman, and guys that were very good defensively like Terry Turner and Frank Duffy.
In the end, there was really only one choice to make and, though I had my hesitations, I think I made the right one. My Cleveland Indians All-Time Shortstop is Omar Vizquel.
In terms of All-Time Indians, regardless of position, Vizquel ranks highly in several offensive categories. In club history, his 906 runs are 6th best; he’s also 2nd in stolen bases with 279, 7th in both DRAA with 95.1 and hits with 1616. He ranks as the clubs career leader with 62 sacrifice flies.
Now when looking at just shortstops he’s clearly right up there with the best of them. He ranks first in runs and stolen bases, and sits 3rd all-time in hits, RBI (584), Walks (612), and is 5th with 27.6 fWAR.
One aspect of Vizquel’s game that is highly underrated is his base running. BsR or Base Running is an all-encompassing baserunning statistic. It takes into account stolen bases, caught stealing, taking extra bases, being thrown out, etc, to give us a total picture of a players contribution on the base paths.
Vizquel doesn’t just lead all Tribe shortstops with 25.1 BsR, but he’s nearly double Ray Chapman’s second-best mark of 13.1. In fact, there are only two Indians at any position with at least 4,200 PA and more BsR than Vizquel, Jason Kipnis (27.6) and Kenny Lofton (47.5).
Let’s be honest about this though, Omar is on my list because of his defense. If the offense were the determining factor, my choice would be Sewell. He was far and away the best hitting shortstop in Tribe history; he was no slouch with the glove either, ranking 6th in team history with 76.5 Def. Omar was just such a special guy in the field.
He ranks 3rd all-time in assists with 7,674 and has turned more double plays (1,680) than any shortstop ever. His DP total is nearly 100 better than Ozzie Smith’s 1590 second-best mark.
MLB started tracking throwing errors in 2002 and in that time Vizquel committed just 15 such infractions over 6,600+ innings. That is the best of any shortstop to log 6,000 or more innings since 2002. In comparison, Derek Jeter committed 70 throwing errors over that same span.
Omar also ranks first all-time, not in Indians history but MLB history with a .985 fielding percentage (min. 10,000 innings). I know there are many detractors of fielding percentage. I’m an analytics guy myself so I am well aware of the limitations of the statistic.
DRS (defensive runs saved) and UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) are much more valuable when judging a fielder than FP. They take into account range and other factors to give a more complete picture of a defender.
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I agree with all that but there is still something special about a guy that fields nearly every ball he touches. More than FP, Omar played his position like a dancer at the Mariinsky. He turned “making outs” into an art form, and that is what sets him apart from the rest.