Why Scott Rolen is inducting the Baseball Hall of Fame
Congratulations to Scott Rolen, who will join Fred McGriff at Induction Day in Cooperstown, New York this July as the newest inductee of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Rolen made electoral history with his election: He now has the lowest first-year vote share – just 10.2% – of any player, eventually reaching the 75% the writers have been asking for since modern elections began in 1966.
Rolen’s meteoric rise over six ballots has some fans wondering… well, to put it politely, what the heck is going on. Scott Rolen?!? To them, he doesn’t pass the “eye test” for Hall of Fame status — a test that usually tops the likes of Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, Johnny Bench and Ken Griffey Jr., it seems like the Hall of Famers should only choose the most undeniable candidates.
With that in mind, let’s dive into Rolen’s career a little. Here are six reasons he’s going to Cooperstown.
1. His WAR is Hall-worthy.
We begin with his career WAR. Yes, it’s not the Hall of War, but it’s a reasonable starting point for explaining why baseball writers came to endorse Rolen. The Hall of Fame has always been about recognizing the best players – a combination of career value and excellence. WAR is a Career Value Guide and helps us assess a player more effectively than relying on eyesight or gut instinct. No, it’s not the full answer, but it’s an important part of the equation and gives us context beyond numbers like hits or home runs that ignore position or defense.
Rolen’s career WAR of 70.1 sits squarely with recent Hall of Famer selections, well above the lowest bar of the players chosen. I’ve looked at all the Baseball Writers’ Association of America selections since 2000 – ignoring the pitchers (who have lower WAR totals) and the Veterans Committee selections (since the committees pick the leftovers the writers don’t vote for). have. Including roles, that gives us a list of 39 Hall of Famers.
Their average WAR is 73.4. Rolen is right in the middle: 19 players have more Career WAR and 19 less. He gets sandwiched between Gary Carter and Tim Raines.
2. He is the ninth best third baseman of all time.
Of the eight players ahead of Rolen in WAR in this position, seven are in the Hall of Fame and the eighth is Adrian Beltre, who is up for election next year. Below him are several Hall of Famers including Home Run Baker, Jimmy Collins, Pie Traynor and George Kell – a reminder that you don’t have to be Mike Schmidt or George Brett to make it.
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Rolen’s worth is a kind of dividing line between the Hall of Famers and other more modern third basemen who didn’t make it, including Ken Boyer, Darrell Evans and Graig Nettles (all excellent two-way players).
Here’s another way to look at it. MLB Network maintained a list of the ninth best players at each position:
C—Joe Mauer (55.2)
1B – Willie McCovey (64.5)
2B – Roberto Alomar (67.0)
SS – Pee Wee Reese (68.4)
3B – Scott Rolen (70.1)
Extended Version – Willie Stargell (57.5)
CF – Richie Ashburn (64.2)
RF – Tony Gwynn (69.2)
That’s pretty good company if you ask me. All are Hall of Famers except Mauer, who is not yet eligible (and will join Beltre in the vote next year). No, with the exception of Gwynn, these aren’t necessarily players who would be considered inner-circle Hall of Famers, but it is a strong list of well-qualified Hall of Famers.
3. Yes, his defense was that good.
Rolen’s WAR is bolstered by strong defensive metrics; but if you’re going to believe the eye test, then so is its defense with secretarial flourishes. He won eight gold gloves, indicating how his D was viewed while active. Back to the contemporary reports, some comments:
Tony La Russa called Rolen the best defensive third baseman he had ever seen. “I once told him my happiest day would be if there was a game where 27 ground balls get to third base,” La Russa said in 2002 of his bats, he’s a complete player.”
Mike Schmidt, who won 10 Gold Gloves, said in 2004 that Rolen was “better than me”.
Dusty Baker, Rolens manager in Cincinnati: “He has one of the most honest throws for the first time that I have ever seen.”
Jim Fregosi, Rolen’s first manager at the majors: “He has more reach than any of our shortstops.”
Terry Francona, Rolen’s manager with the Phillies, when asked if Rolen could play shortstop, “He’s cover short now.”
The anecdotal evidence supports the statistical measurements. Rolen was the Nolan Arenado of his generation.
4. His hitting was better than you think.
We’ll start with some old-school stats. It’s fair to say that Rolen’s counting stats aren’t screaming super loud, in large part because he missed a significant streak with injuries in his 30s. However, among third basemen (who have played at least 50% of their games in this position), he is:
Tie for 15th in homers (one career ball less than George Brett)
For rate stats (at least 6,000 plate appearances) he is:
Seventh in OPS (his OPS was .855; Brett’s was .857)
12th in OPS+ (122, along with fellow Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Paul Molitor, and Tony Perez)
Seventh in slugging percentage
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It all adds up to a borderline top 10 offensive third base player and one of the greatest defensive third basers of all time. (Baseball-Reference fielding metrics only credit Brooks Robinson and Adrian Beltre with more fielding runs at third base.) That’s why Rolen is in the top 10 at that position, and in my opinion, if you’re under the top 10 are a Hall of Bauer.
Part of the key here: Third base is the ultimate hybrid position: some offense and some defense. That’s one reason it’s the most underrepresented position in Cooperstown. It’s a difficult position to rate.
5. He was underrated in his day.
One of the anti-role arguments is that his only top 10 MVP spot came in 2004 when he finished fourth. But that’s kind of the point of everything here: We’re smarter than we used to be and understand why teams win and lose baseball games better than we were in 1997 when Rolen was named National League Rookie of the Year. Rolen’s early years were spent on bad Phillies teams; His first four Philadelphia teams lost an average of 91, which didn’t help him gain much recognition early on. Defense has always been an underappreciated art, and every gifted defensive third baseman since Brooks Robinson has played in his shadow and seldom gets enough credit. (Though Nolan Arenado is finally breaking that trend, in part because it’s been nearly 50 years since Robinson acted, so that shadow is finally fading.)
From 1997 to 2004, his eight-year peak, Rolen was third in WAR, behind Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez. In raw batting totals, he was eighth in doubles, 14th in RBIs, 17th in runs and 23rd in home runs. I’m not suggesting he should have won multiple MVP awards, and he wasn’t a top 10 hitter in the game (except for 2004), but he was a very good, productive hitter who was one of the best all-eight seasons around players and still a solid player after that. We just didn’t know how good it was at the time.
6. Joey Votto agrees.
“I loved playing with him,” his former Reds team-mate said in a video posted to social media. “I’ve learned so much. When a player is lucky enough to have a role model and a teammate like him, he’s as lucky as it gets. I shaped my career, my endeavors, my work in his form. He is a hall of famer today. Deserved. And I have nothing but respect for him and his achievements.”
Is Rolen a Slam Dunk Hall of Famer? Of course not. But a question worth asking any Hall inductee: Does a player raise or lower the current Hall of Fame standards? Rolen raises the standards.