Scott Rolen phillies

CHARLES FOX/PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER - SIPA

Scott Rolen deserves to be inducted into HOF

Tim Kelly
November 19, 2018 - 2:53 pm
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The BBWAA released the 2019 Hall of Fame ballot Monday, with Mariano Rivera and former Philadelphia Phillies ace Roy Halladay headlining the ballot. Curt Schilling and Billy Wagner are perhaps the two most notable holderovers on the ballot with Phillies connections. But another former Phillie—Scott Rolen—is entering his second year on the ballot. And Rolen doesn’t just deserve serious consideration, he deserves to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Related: 5 possible Carlos Santana trades​

Consider this: the average career bWAR for a Hall of Fame third baseman is 68.4. Rolen finished his 17-year career with a 70.2 bWAR, which trounces the career marks posted by Hall of Fame third basemen Home Run Baker (62.8) and Jimmy Collins (53.3).

WAR7 takes a player’s seven highest individual season bWAR totals - they don’t have to be in order - to give you an idea of how dominant someone was at their peak. It’s a statistic that puts in perspective how dominant someone like Chase Utley was at the height of his career. In Rolen’s case, he finished his career with a WAR7 of 43.7, also topping the average Hall of Fame third baseman’s mark of 43.0. His WAR7 of 43.7 easily tops the 39.7 mark that Paul Molitor, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, finished his career with.

JAWS has become another great tool in evaluating individual candidate’s Hall of Fame cases. If you are unfamiliar with the metric, here’s how Baseball Reference defines JAWS: “The JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score system) was developed by sabermetrician Jay Jaffe as a means to measure a player's Hall of Fame worthiness by comparing him to the players at his position who are already enshrined, using advanced metrics to account for the wide variations in offensive levels that have occurred throughout the game's history.”

There’s a common theme starting to develop here: Rolen seems to top the average Hall of Fame third baseman in terms of all crucial metrics. JAWS isn’t an exception, as the average Hall of Fame third baseman finished his career with a JAWS of 55.7, which is less than the 56.9 JAWS that Rolen finished his career with.

Other Phillies perceived to be “on the bubble” in terms of being Hall of Fame worthiness don’t have great resumes in the field to back up their cases. Between 2005 and 2012, FanGraphs says that the aforementioned Utley was the third best fielder in baseball at any position. But he never won a Gold Glove Award, and a large percentage of voters won’t do a deep dive on whether he deserved to win the 2008 National League Gold Glove Award at second base over Brandon Phillips, for example. Bobby Abreu, who will become eligible for the Hall of Fame ballot next year, did win a Gold Glove Award in 2005, though that’s perhaps indicative of how flawed voting on defensive awards is. Abreu finished 2005 with -9 defensive runs saved and a -14.5 defensive WAR. He finished what was an illustrious offensive career with a -141.3 defensive WAR and -72 defensive runs saved.

Meanwhile, Rolen was one of the greatest fielding third baseman in baseball history. He has the necessary Gold Glove Awards that traditional voters will look at -  he won eight of them. For more sabermetrically inclined voters, advanced fielding metrics really didn’t come into play until 2002, Rolen’s age-27 season. But between 2002 and 2012, Rolen’s final season, he finished second among qualified third baseman in terms of defensive runs saved, ultimate zone rating and defensive WAR. Mind you, while many players peak offensive between ages 27 and 32, they often grade out best defensively between age 22 and 26, like Manny Machado. There’s no defensive analytical data available for the first five plus seasons of Rolen’s career. Even still, the only third baseman who graded out better than him between 2002 and 2012 was Adrian Beltre, who figures to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

What is holding Rolen’s case back then? For one, for whatever reason, history has seemed to forget how great of an all-around player he was during his 17-year career. On top of that, many Hall of Fame candidates need to get a passionate backing behind them to fight for their case. This includes fans in the market(s) that said candidate played in, writers that covered the player and any national writers who believe in the candidate.

Edgar Martinez, for example, received over 70 percent of the vote in his second-to-last year on the ballot in 2018. He would seem to have a good chance to get to the necessary 75 percent of the vote to gain induction this year. This is after Martinez received just 36.2 percent of the vote in his first year on the ballot in 2010. His numbers haven’t changed since 2010, but former players, those that covered Martinez and analytically-inclined baseball observers have effectively drilled his case home, getting large swaths of voters to change their mind on his case.

Martinez spent his entire 18-year career in Seattle. Though not quite as dominant as some of his teammates - Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson and Alex Rodriguez - Martinez spending his whole career with one organization made him an icon in Seattle. Rolen doesn’t have that going for him.

Rolen’s time in Philadelphia came to an ugly end in July of 2002. After reportedly turning down two mega-deal offers - seven years/90 million and 10 years/$140 million - the Phillies traded Rolen to the St. Louis Cardinals for a package that included Placido Polanco, another former Phillie who will appear on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time 2019. Rolen and his final Phillies manager, franchise icon Larry Bowa, apparently weren’t speaking at one juncture during the 2002 season. Then general manager Ed Wade also apparently wasn’t keen on Rolen publicly stating that he rejected extension offers from the Phillies because he didn’t think ownership was going to spend to put a championship caliber team around him. (Up until they spent on Jim Thome and David Bell prior to the 2003 season, Rolen’s criticism may have been rooted in the truth.)

In Rolen’s five-and-a-half seasons with the Cardinals, he made four All-Star Game appearances, won four Gold Glove Awards and had a 2004 season - .314/.409/.598 slash line with 34 home runs, 124 RBIs and 9.0 fWAR - that was MVP worthy. Along with Albert Pujols and Chris Carpenter, Rolen helped to lead the Cardinals to the 2006 World Series title.

Again though, what was a dominant tenure on the field in St. Louis didn’t end on great terms. Rolen’s relationship again detroitrated with his manager in St. Louis - this time with Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa - leading to him asking for and ultimately receiving a trade following La Russa signing an extension to remain Cardinals manager after the 2006 season.  

It’s funny, many of the same Phillies fans who booed Rolen every time he returned to Philly for the rest of his career now criticize the organization for being cheap. That, since the trade of Rolen, is objectively untrue. But when Rolen made the criticism - showing his desire to be a part of a contending team - there may have been some substance to it. La Russa, notably, didn’t end on great terms with Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith either. Rolen also wasn’t the only player not to see eye-to-eye with Bowa as a manager.

But in many senses, Rolen’s legacy was set after he pushed his way out of St. Louis - an extremely talented player that tended to become a malcontent after four or five years in a place. Fair or unfair, both of his exits happened before the internet was really the internet and it was much more difficult for fans to question narratives put out by organizations. So while fans, beat writers and general observers may jump at the chance to make a Hall of Fame argument for Martinez or Larry Walker, they may be less inclined to do so for Rolen, who needs it badly. Rolen received just 10.2 percent of the vote in his first year on the ballot in 2018.

However, if you put narratives aside and just vote based upon on-field production, Rolen had a career that should allow him to cruise into Cooperstown. Somewhere, that got lost in translation.

High Hopes - November 18

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