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Evaluating Scott Rolen's Hall of Fame Case

Scott Rolen of Scott Rolen's Reds

Scott Rolen
Scott Rolen
Hunter Martin

Ed. note: Our friends over at The Good Phight have deemed today Scott Rolen Honorary Retirement Day. Check them out.

When Scott Rolen retired after the 2012 season, there was no farewell tour, no parting gifts, no fanfare.  He quietly put up a 70 WAR career over the course of 17 seasons and then he just stopped.  There was no teary-eyed press conference, hell, he didn't even bother filing the paperwork to officially retire.  Rolen was voted to 8 All-Star teams, won 8 Gold Gloves, was and took home the 1997 Rookie of the Year award, but only once finished in the top 5 in MVP votes (4th place in 2004).  He finished his career in Cincinnati, his fourth franchise, leading a young team out of the darkness of the lost decade and back to respectability*.

*A guy named Joey Votto, and a pretty good pitching staff helped as well.

For whatever reason, Hall of Fame voters have been very reticent to enshrine third basemen.  There are currently only 11 third basemen in Cooperstown, which is a bizarrely low number given that there are 211 players currently enshrined.  When compared to his peers at the position, Rolen stacks up very well, sitting at 8th overall in fWAR of players who played more than half of their games at third.  Using Jay Jaffe's JAWS leaderboard for third basemen, Rolen would be above the average Hall of Fame third baseman in WAR, WAR7 and JAWS score - besting Home Run Baker, Jimmy Collins, George Kell, Freddie Lindstrom, and Pie Traynor, who all have plaques hanging in Cooperstown.

The most recent third baseman to be elected to the Hall of Fame is perhaps Rolen's closest comparison, which may or may not end up being a good thing.  Ron Santo made it in via the Veteran's Committee in 2012, after being snubbed the first time around by the voters.  Santo finished his career with a .277/.362/.464 line, compared to Rolen's .281/.364/.490, with Rolen playing in a much more hitter-friendly environment.  Santo has a +1 fWAR advantage over Rolen over their careers, with Santo playing a little more than 200 games.  Thanks to those extra games, Santo has the edge in counting stats, but their rates stats are extremely similar.  Rolen has a slight edge on defense, but all in all these are two very similar ballplayers, and the fact that Santo is now a member of the Hall of Fame may benefit Rolen.

The question of whether he should make it seems like an easy yes to me, but the question of whether he will gets a bit muddier.  Rolen's biggest obstacle in making the Hall is likely his injury history, which prevented him to accumulate the counting stats that the BBWA voters seem to love so much.  In his 17 seasons, he managed to play in more than 130 games just 8 times.  His hit (2,077), home run (316), and RBI (1,287) totals all fall well short of the magical round numbers that all but assure a place in Cooperstown.

Aside from his injuries, Rolen also had the misfortune of playing at the same time as likely first ballot Hall of Famer, Chipper Jones.  He also played on many good, but not great teams.  While Chipper and the Braves were playing in 11 consecutive Postseasons, Rolen didn't get a taste of October baseball until he was traded to St. Louis in 2002.  His only World Series ring came in 2006 when the stupid 83-win Cardinals devil magic'd their way to a championship, and even then, Rolen was famously benched by Tony LaRussa on two occasions during the playoffs.

Rolen was also never a particularly flashy player.  He played the game with the stoicism of a Midwestern farmer, just going about his business every day.  Not that that is a particularly virtuous thing in and of itself, but it's just the kind of player he was.  He wasn't one to pimp a home run, or demonstrably celebrate a big play - and as a well rounded ballplayer, none of his skills stood out above the crowd.  Rolen's defense at third was some of the best I've seen in my lifetime, but he doesn't have a moment a la Willie Mays' catch, Brooks Robinson in the 1970 World Series, Ozzie's backflips, or Jeter's flip play.

If I had to wager a guess, I'd say that Rolen is a long shot to be elected to the Hall of Fame within the new 10 year timeframe of eligibility.  He is right above the threshold of electability, but so close to it that it's a tough call.  Things could possibly change, especially with all the steroid era players being shunned by the voters, but Rolen's inclusion seems unlikely based on past ballot results.