While the flames of the Hot Stove League barely flicker, the pace of the Hall of Fame voting is moving along at a bit more steady pace. Though still a small sample size of the more than 400 votes that will be submitted, as of Tuesday evening, 10 ballots had been recorded–with only Roger Clemens, Vladimir Guerrero, and Jim Thome receiving votes on each one.
Scott Rolen, who had his name checked on the very first ballot recorded this year, has only received one other vote thus far.
Tracking the voting again this year is Ryan Thibodaux (@NotMrTibbs) who puts together a very complete spreadsheet of public/anonymous votes, plus/minus from last year, and more notable statistics of the balloting.
The case for Rolen is compelling as the former St. Louis Cardinals third baseman was arguably the best of his era to play the position. On top of his eight Gold Gloves, Rolen also averaged 25 home runs and 102 runs batted in over the course of his 17-year career.
“Scott Rolen was an excellent hitter for the position and an outstanding fielder,” agrees Jay Jaffe, author of the Cooperstown Case Book and founder of the JAWS
“In the wins above replacement system, which estimates each player’s value in terms of both offense and defense while accounting for league and park scoring levels to kind of level the variations that we’ve seen in over a century of the game, Scott Rolen ranks as the third best defender at third base,” continues Jaffe. “If that sounds inflated, it’s worth noting that Rolen also has the third most Gold Gloves…the point is, he was widely recognized in his day, the metrics uphold that. You add to that his batting skill, he ranks 10th all-time in wins above replacement and 10th in my system
Rolen also ranks 10th in the JAWS system, which was developed by Jaffe to not just use the WAR system but also factor in the peak seven years of a player’s career.
“He does very well in that despite the fact he stopped playing at 37 due to back problems,” explains Jaffe. “I wouldn’t call it a particularly short career–but it’s a little bit shorter. He didn’t reach too many milestones. He got over 2000 hits, he got over 300 home runs but he didn’t stick around until his 40s.”
The 1997 NL Rookie of the Year, Rolen appeared in 2038 games during his career. He finished with 2077 hits, 316 home runs, 517 doubles, 1287 RBIs, and an .855 OPS.
“Longevity is a double-edged sword,” points out Jaffe. “Craig Biggio certainly clinched recognition by the Hall by reaching 3000 hits, but he also, according to wins above replacement, put up one of the worst seasons of all-time in dragging his aging body to that–I think 2.5 wins below replacement at the time because he was just so mediocre with the bat and defensively that he was doing far more harm to his team than good.”
Also brought to attention by Jaffe was the amount–or lack thereof–of third baseman in Cooperstown. Only 13 third baseman have been elected to the Hall of Fame, fewer than any other position.
“What it seems is that voters have had a hard time recognizing that these guys are two-way players, can be elite defenders as well as exceptional hitters,” says Jaffe. “Players who tend to do many things well, generally don’t get the recognition that players who do only a few things well but are maybe a little bit better than that and Rolen definitely falls into that camp.”
Complicating matters for is the appearance of Chipper Jones, who like Rolen is making his debut on the Hall of Fame ballot. Expected to be a first-ballot selection, Jones played 19 seasons and in 10,614 plate appearances he had 2726 hits with 468 home runs and 1623 RBIs.
While the bulk numbers reflect the extra pair of seasons, Jones only averaged five more home runs per year than Rolen (30) and had the same average of RBIs (105).
The ballots may not be there for Rolen’s induction this season, but hopefully there will be more than enough support to keep him on the ballot for future consideration.
photo credit: Al Behrman/AP; Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports