Transaction Analysis: Omar Vizquel

The Giants, as in the previous offseason, moved early and signed the first free agent to change teams, shortstop Omar Vizquel. But is a 37 year old shortstop worth 3 years and $12.25 Million? An analysis of Omar and the deal he got.

OMAR VIZQUEL
Season Team G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB AVG OBP SLG
1989 SEA 143 387 45 85 7 3 1 20 28 40 1 .220 .273 .261
1990 SEA 81 255 19 63 3 2 2 18 18 22 4 .247 .295 .298
1991 SEA 142 426 42 98 16 4 1 41 45 37 7 .230 .302 .293
1992 SEA 136 483 49 142 20 4 0 21 32 38 15 .294 .340 .352
1993 SEA 158 560 68 143 14 2 2 31 50 71 12 .255 .319 .298
1994 CLE 69 286 39 78 10 1 1 33 23 23 13 .273 .325 .325
1995 CLE 136 542 87 144 28 0 6 56 59 59 29 .266 .333 .351
1996 CLE 151 542 98 161 36 1 9 64 54 42 35 .297 .362 .417
1997 CLE 153 565 89 158 23 6 5 49 57 58 43 .280 .347 .368
1998 CLE 151 576 86 166 30 6 2 50 62 64 37 .288 .358 .372
1999 CLE 144 574 112 191 36 4 5 66 65 50 42 .333 .397 .436
2000 CLE 156 613 101 176 27 3 7 66 87 72 22 .287 .377 .375
2001 CLE 155 611 84 156 26 8 2 50 61 72 13 .255 .323 .334
2002 CLE 151 582 85 160 31 5 14 72 56 64 18 .275 .341 .418
2003 CLE 64 250 43 61 13 2 2 19 29 20 8 .244 .321 .336
2004 CLE 148 567 82 165 28 3 7 59 57 62 19 .291 .353 .388
TOTALS 2138 7819 1129 2147 348 54 66 715 785 794 318 .275 .341 .358

WHAT WE GOT:

One of the great defensive and most consistent shortstops of all time, a bit past his prime. Perhaps more than a bit.

Omar Vizquel’s career is a very good one. Though his early years in Seattle were not the most impressive, his offensive game came around in the early nineties to match his spectacular Gold Glove defense. And he didn’t just win one, he won every Gold Glove in the AL from 1993 to 2001, 9 in total.

Vizquel is a shortstop in the pre-Alex Rodriguez mold. He does not hit for much power, and instead is strong in defense and speed. Vizquel’s speed has dipped in the past few years, having not topped 20 stolen bases since swiping 22 in 2000, but he’s still a capable basestealer, grabbing 19 in 2004 after healing from two knee surgeries in 2003. He also scores well, having scored at least 80 runs each season since 1995 except in his injury shortened year in 2003. Vizquel is not adverse to laying down a bunt to get a hit either, and is very effective at it.

Vizquel isn’t a perfect player, though. As mentioned, his power numbers have never been great. He has reached double digits in home runs once in his career (14 in 2002), and has topped 70 RBI’s only once (72, also in 2002). That has not been a huge problem for him, considering he is more of a run scorer than one who drives them in. Also, even though he’s a switch hitter, Vizquel can be exposed against left handed pitching, batting .258/.306/.358 against them compared to .308/.377/.403 against right handed pitching.

It should be noted that Vizquel appears fully healed from his knee surgery of 2003, having swiped 19 bases in 2004, despite a possible trade to the Mariners last year being wiped out after failing a physical before the season.

Of course, Vizquel’s most notable talent is his defense. While as sure-handed as ever, his defensive numbers have taken a dip the past few years.

DEFENSIVE STATS
FPCT RF ZR
1989 .971 4.77 .830
1990 .980 4.62 .843
1991 .980 5.12 .875
1992 .989 4.90 .860
1993 .980 4.89 .883
1994 .981 4.67 .824
1995 .986 4.69 .865
1996 .971 4.62 .882
1997 .985 4.63 .876
1998 .993 4.88 .881
1999 .976 4.59 .862
2000 .995 4.38 .838
2001 .989 4.31 .840
2002 .990 4.67 .843
2003 .978 5.19 .892
2004 .982 4.31 .840

Fielding Percentage is how often he makes a play without an error (the more errors, the lower the FPCT). RF is Range Factor, which is the number of putouts and assists he has in an average 9 inning game, and ZR is Zone Rating, which is the percentage of balls fielded within his ‘Zone’, as defined by Stats Inc. As one can see, while Vizquel’s Fielding Percentage has stayed at his career norm, his Range Factor and Zone Ratings have taken slight dips the last few years (with a spike of abnormality during his injury shortened 2003). Defensive statistics are somewhat arbitrary, particularly the ones concerning range like Range Factor and Zone Rating, so they are best to take with a grain of salt.

THE CONTRACT:

Vizquel’s contract is one of Sabean’s latest strategies, which is to both backload and defer money. The contract is for 3 years and $12.25 million, but the money will actually be paid out over five years. Vizquel will get $2.5 million in 2005, $4 million in both 2006 and 2007, $1 million of deferred money in 2008, and $750,000 in 2009. Also, because Vizquel was a Type A Free Agent, the Giants first round pick in 2005 will go to the Cleveland Indians.

Obviously, the contract is the most controversial part of this deal. More than a few baseball people and many fans were left scratching their heads over the length of the deal, which will keep Vizquel playing until the age of 40, and for a fair chunk of change.

Not many shortstops keep playing to the big 40. It’s a demanding physical position, and that is often a determining factor in the longetivity of shortstops. An interesting comparison should be made to some of Vizquel’s peers, 3 great shortstops of the last 20 years who have played to (and past) 40: Cal Ripken, Jr., Ozzie Smith and Barry Larkin. Lets compare games played, batting average, on base percentage, and slugging for these for from ages 35 on.

Ozzie Smith Cal Ripken, Jr. Barry Larkin Omar Vizquel
Age GP BA OBP SLG GP BA OBP SLG GP BA OBP SLG GP AB OBP SLG
35 143 .254 .330 .305 144 .262 .324 .422 161 .293 .390 .420 151 .275 .341 .418
36 150 .285 .380 .367 163 .278 .341 .466 102 .313 .389 .487 64 .244 .321 .336
37 132 .295 .367 .342 162 .270 .331 .402 45 .256 .373 .372 148 .291 .353 .388
38 141 .288 .337 .356 161 .271 .331 .389 145 .245 .305 .367
39 98 .262 .326 .349 86 .340 .368 .584 70 .282 .345 .382
40 44 .199 .282 .244 83 .256 .310 .453 111 .289 .352 .419
41 82 .282 .358 .370 128 .239 .276 .361

Smith is the best comparison to Vizquel in terms of his skill set. While Smith is easily the best defensive shortstop in history, he was, like Vizquel is, a player whose offensive contributions were mostly in getting on base and scoring runs and using some speed. Smith continued to play at a high level until he was 38, but began a drop off at the age of 39, bottoming out in an injury plagued 1995 at the age of 40. Encouraging is his comeback in his final year to post some of his best overall offensive stats at 41, despite playing in little over half the games.

Ripken too began a decline after 38, at least in terms of games played (but then, Ripken set the highest bar possible for that). He was still effective offensive at 39 and was an average player at 40. Barry Larkin, however, suffered his dropoff at 37 and struggled at 38, but then came back to post very strong years (if, again, in limited play) at ages 39 and 40.

Vizquel is a workout machine, and keeps his body in as good shape as the best of them, much like Bonds. Injuries are always a risk, and having knee surgery just 2 years ago is not a great thing, but Vizquel has never had a series of nagging injuries and has a body that’s in as good shape as any player of any age in the majors.

WHAT TO EXPECT:

There’s two parts here. What to expect in 2005, and what to expect in 2006 and 2007.

In 2005:

As with any aging player, injuries are the biggest concern, but Vizquel does not have a serious history with them, so relative good health can be expected. What is more likely is a dropoff in games played, and the older he gets, the more games off he will take. This may help his production, especially if he takes games off against left handed pitchers, a weakness of his.

At SBC, the park will help some parts of his game and kill others. For instance, don’t be surprised if he doesn’t hit a single home run at SBC Park, ever. He’s posted minimal home run numbers in his career at a couple of great hitter’s parks. However, he remains a fast runner, and the deep corners at SBC will allow him to take much better advantage of that speed. Expect more doubles and maybe even a few more triples.

His stolen base totals will likely go down, playing on a team with a history of not taking too many chances on the basepaths, but he should keep similar speed on the basepaths as in previous years, grabbing extra bases and scoring from second or first with ease on plays that would be close with other Giants.

His range might be slightly diminished, but not so much that he won’t be the defensive shortstop Giants fans have seen in ages.

Beyond 2005:

Injuries will become a bigger risk, and he will start playing less and less games. History with other great shortstops indicate a dropoff usually occurring around 39, so expect to see that with Vizquel as well. His speed should begin to drop off, and his stolen base totals will probably drop to under 5. His defensive range will drop off more dramatically. He could play in less than half the games in 2007, and likely will play in less than 100 games both in 2006 and especially 2007. A move to 2nd base is very possible, especially after Durham leaves (he has a player option for 2006, but no contract for 2007).

ANALYSIS:

Yes, it’s a risky deal for a 37 year old middle infielder. But there’s one and only one bottom line about the three years that Vizquel got: He got a third year to ensure that he would have a first year. Sabean didn’t mince words in a chat with season ticket holders on Monday who got to meet Vizquel: the guaranteed 3rd year was what brought him to San Francisco, rather than his imminent signing with the Chicago White Sox, a 2 year deal for $10 million that would’ve been more per year, and contained an option for 2007, likely a team option.

Was it worth the risk? Well, although the Giants would’ve loved to have gotten a young shortstop of the future, there just weren’t any realistically available. Nomar is a risky proposition on every level, and will get big bucks. Renteria and Cabrera should both get big bucks and long contracts far outside the Giants’ price range. With Vizquel being one of the only mid-level shortstop options available, and him closing in on an early deal to go to Chicago, the Giants had to act quick.

The further in retrospect this move is getting, the more sense it makes. Outside of Vizquel, the only other real mid-level option at shortstop would’ve been the young and still green Christian Guzman from Minnesota, and Guzman signed on Tuesday with the Washington Nationals for 4 years at $16.8M, a little more per year than Vizquel’s deal. And Guzman’s on base percentage makes Pedro Feliz’s look like Barry Bonds in comparison. With the mid-level shortstops gone early, it’s clear that waiting for a deal would’ve left the Giants with few options, if any at all, after the dust clears.

What’s more clear about this move is that the Giants are making a powerful statement that they want to win now. “To tell you the truth, I’m worried about next year,” was Brian Sabean’s comment after the deal. “The year after that and the year after that will take care of itself.” The deal’s low price in 2005, which should be Vizquel’s best year, also makes further additions not only possible, but very likely. The Giants have been vocal about fixing the bullpen, as well as adding a Right or Center Fielder.

The full spectrum of this deal will have to be seen with the Giants’ other moves, but at the least, it is an upgrade at shortstop, a position of problems for the Giants in past years. It’s not going to be a long term fix, but for the next year or two, shortstop won’t be a question mark, either. Whether or not the 2005 season will be worth what might come in 2006 or 2007 is a debate that won't be settled anytime soon.


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