Does Ron Santo’s Election Help Scott Rolen?

Today, Ron Santo finally got into the Hall of Fame. It’s a long overdue honor, as Santo is clearly deserving of a spot in Cooperstown, and FanGraphs would like to congratulate the Golden Era committee on getting this one right. The Hall of Fame is better for having Santo in it.

However, you probably know all that already, as smarter people than me have been advocating on his behalf for years. So, today, I’d like to use Santo’s induction as a launching off point to ask whether his election might help voters put Scott Rolen into Cooperstown when his name hits the ballot.

I wrote about Rolen’s resume back in March, and we ran a community blog post extolling his virtues last summer, so this isn’t necessarily new territory, but the recognition that Santo got today may suggest that voters are more willing to accept the value in this player type than they have been in the past. And make no mistake, Rolen and Santo are pretty similar in a lot of ways.

In terms of the counting numbers that voters have traditionally focused on, most of Santo’s advantages will probably disappear by the time Rolen is finished playing. With gaps of 249 hits, 34 home runs, and 83 RBIs, Rolen probably only needs to play another two years to make those numbers quite similar, and he’d still manage to have matched those numbers in a slightly smaller amount of career plate appearances. He has no chance of catching up in the career walk total, but voters have traditionally not cared much for walks, and any difference there is probably offset by Rolen’s significant advantage in doubles anyway.

When we look at rate stats, and especially ones that adjust for the era they played in, we can see that Rolen and Santo are already quite similar hitters.

Name PA BB% K% BB/K AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Scott Rolen 8188 10.60% 16.50% 0.64 0.282 0.366 0.494 0.370 123
Ron Santo 9397 11.80% 14.30% 0.83 0.277 0.362 0.464 0.366 125

Santo walked a little more and struck out a little less, but Rolen made up for most of that gap with the extra power. wRC+ is the main number to focus on in that table, as Santo’s 125 is only marginally better than Rolen’s 123, and shows that they’ve essentially been offensive equals, or something very close to it anyway.

In terms of defensive value, Santo isn’t beloved by Total Zone, but the consensus at the time he played was that he was very much an asset in the field – he did win five consecutive gold gloves, for whatever you want to take those as being worth. Rolen, of course, is also one of the best defensive third baseman of his time, and if you buy into defensive metrics at all, perhaps one of the best defenders at the position to ever play the game. If Santo gets a small advantage for having a slightly longer career and performing at the same offensive level, Rolen likely makes up some of that gap through his defensive prowess.

They’re not identical candidates of course, but Rolen is certainly traveling along the Ron Santo career path trajectory, and with a couple more productive seasons, they’ll end up having career totals that look a lot alike. Given that Santo will now be a comparable player with a plaque, I have to think that Santo’s election today can only help Rolen’s case for eventual enshrinement.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

37 Responses to “Does Ron Santo’s Election Help Scott Rolen?”

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  1. Kyle says:

    Wow, this comparison has totally eluded me until now. Atta boy, Rolen. I hope this does help him.

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  2. Jacob Smith says:

    I hope it does help him, but I think the only reason Santo got in was because of his broadcasting career. If I had a vote, Rolen would be in without question for me.

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  3. jj says:

    Rolen has already logged as many years as Santo, so give him 2 more years and there is nothing that would make me give Santo or Rolen any advantage in ‘career length’. Rolen has just not been healthy for years, thus leaving him with less games played. The past 7 years he has averaged only 107 games (and 12 HR). His Career OPS+ has dropped by close to 10 points over the past 7 years. Give him 2 or 3 more years and the gap between Santo and Rolen may actually grow in some voters eyes. If he ends up playing 2200 games and hitting less HR than Santo and has and OPS+ of around 120+ it seems to me that this will actually hurt Rolen’s chances. I think Santo taking 20 years to get into the HoF will be thought of as a lower end benchmark for 3B and so if Rolen will falls a little below his numbers, I think it is hard to see him getting the vote.

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  4. Mike Green says:

    Santo always seemed to me to be the obvious comparison for Rolen (http://www.battersbox.ca/article.php?story=20050210084617999).

    Rolen moves very well for a big man, and is an above-average baserunner. When you add it all up, there’s really very little difference between him and Santo. I’d give the edge of the razor to Rolen.

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  5. Corvelay says:

    IF you look at the path one takes to the HOF as something of a referendum on the voter’s / Veteran’s Committee’s opinions of their Hall ‘worthiness’ – although I would never contend that their decisions are particularly rational – it almost frames Rolen’s chances in a negative light. There are sure-fire first balloters (Henderson, Ripken), non-first balloters who don’t have to wait too long (Alomar, probably Larkin), those who wait a big longer (Dawson), and those who make it at the very end of the voting (Blyleven, Rice). Then there is the Veteran’s Committee, which takes longer and can be rather political.

    Santo did not get into until almost 40 years after his career ended, indicating that they consider his credentials to be about the very bottom of what it takes to get into the Hall today. Assuming at that point the decisions on whether one is in or out is somewhat arbitrary – maybe if you wait around for 3+ decades they’ll let you in, but I doubt they consider it a great travesty if you’re left out just because a similar player made it in by the skin of his teeth.

    That is one way to look at it; I guess the counter-point is that Santo’s skillset was underappreciated for many years, and only now do the decision-makers realize it’s Hall-worthy. But I wonder if Santo would be elected if he was put back on the ballot today.

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  6. B N says:

    Rolen is a weird case. He’s had a great career by the numbers, but I can’t say that he’s ever been one of those players people got excited about for some reason. (Except maybe in Philly, where they were very excited about hating him for a while.)

    I’m genuinely not even sure what that reason is. Maybe because people felt a 3B should hit like a 1B during the years he played? Maybe because he’s above average in a bunch of things rather than amazing at one thing? Tough to say. I don’t see him getting in though, for that reason. He’s just missing the wow factor, which I think is going to hurt him in the voting.

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    • Anon says:

      He’s just missing the wow factor, which I think is going to hurt him in the voting.

      You apparently haven’t seen much of Rolen’s defense.

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    • Mike says:

      Not exciting? Rolen and Schilling were the only reasons to watch the Phils in the late ’90s. He was clearly the best player on the team then. He was a star with the Cardinals, especially in his 1st 3 years. His ability to drive in guys behind Pujols and ahead of Edmonds was key to the Cards success. Ask any Cards fan, and Scott was on of the most exciting players to watch when he was healthy with the bat, not to mention his defense…

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  7. sut says:

    Rolen may have a slight advantage in terms of power, but fairly or not I wonder if the fact that Rolen played in an era when putting up big power numbers was more common will hurt him the eyes of voters.

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    • lexomatic says:

      Or maybe voters will give him a boost for “being clean.” Who knows, who cares?
      He is the best defensive 3b I’ve ever seen, and a decent hitter.

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  8. Mike D says:

    Put the WAR graphs of the two together. Santo beats Rolen in the top 9 seasons.

    Source: FanGraphsScott Rolen, Ron Santo

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  9. Alex says:

    Third base has always been the lightest position in Canton (undeservedly so), with only 11 MLB HOFers (and that includes Paul Molitor, who only played 3B for about 6 years).

    My all-time top 10 3B are Schmidt, Brett, E. Mathews, B. Robinson, Chipper, Boggs, Santo, HR Baker, Molitor, Rolen. That means everyone above Rolen is in the HOF (except for still-active Chipper, who will be). Rolen’s problem is that of the next 10 on my list (Matt Williams, Ken Boyer, Bob Elliott, Pie Traynor, Graig Nettles, Darrell Evans, Buddy Bell, Robin Ventura, Ron Cey, Toby Harrah), only one is in the HOF (Traynor).

    That means Rolen is right on the threshold between yes and no. I would vote yes. But given the fact that Santo didn’t get close during his years on the regular ballot, why do we assume those same voters will suddenly vote for Rolen just because a separate committee honored his comp?

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    • Mike D says:

      Wrong sport :)

      But this brings up a good point…. One of the positions HAS TO BE the lightest in Cooperstown. It just so happens that the best players just didn’t play third – is it a statistical anomaly or a bias?

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    • fred says:

      What about Alex Rodriguez?

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    • Hurtlockertwo says:

      Good point, but I think it took Pie Traynor awhile to get in and he hit .320 lifetime and had eight 100 RBI years.

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    • Robbie G. says:

      I noticed this, too, a few weeks ago, i.e., that Scott Rolen will wind up exactly on the threshold, that all of the guys in front of him (now that Ron Santo finally got voted in) are HOFers and nearly all of the guys behind him aren’t. I don’t think Ron Santo’s election either helps or hurts Rolen, for this reason, as we still need to figure out what exactly it takes to get in as a 3B. Rolen is, in my opinion, going to be one of those guys who very slowly gets more and more consideration over a fifteen year time period but never quite gets enough votes to get him voted in.

      Adrian Beltre, by the way, is going to wind up having this exact same problem, as we discussed in a post a few weeks ago. My guess is that Beltre and Rolen wind up with very comparable Hall of Fame cases and that both will be right there on that threshold. I’d like to think that both eventually get in but I’m worried that they won’t. HOF voters have traditionally been unfair to third basemen. Look at how little consideration those guys right after Rolen (Graig Nettles, Darrell Evans, Buddy Bell, Ron Cey, etc.) got from HOF voters. Many of these guys got close to zero votes and were quickly off the ballot. I’m not saying that it’s a Ron Santo-caliber travesty that these guys didn’t get in but I will say that it’s ridiculous that they received close to zero consideration. If a Jim Kaat or a Jack Morris is going to routinely wind up on the list of guys who aren’t quite good enough to get in, then so should Nettles and Evans and some of these other guys. Perhaps the candidacies of Rolen and Beltre help the candidacies of Nettles, Evans, etc. more than anything?

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      • Paul says:

        You see Beltre might have a problem getting into the HoF, but it won’t be the same problem as Rolen will have

        Beltre and Rolen, although both good bats, great gloves at at the same position, are completely different hitters, and its the hitting that usually makes or breaks the HoF case.

        Rolen basically has a SABR case for hitting, because he be low on the counting stats due to time missed by injury, while Beltre will have a traditional counting stat case based on a Hits, HR and probably R/RBI

        Interestingly, Rolen and Beltre have played about the same amount in MLB, and it’s fair to say that Rolen has been better, but Beltre is 4 years younger, and it is very likely that he will far surpass Rolen in trad counting stats.

        Indeed it may be fair to say that while Santo helps Rolen (though the point about Sant vs Rolen on the WAR graphs is an interesting one), Beltre may hurt him overall.

        But I would like to see Rolen have another couple of good years and hopefully swing it in his favour, as he looks like a ‘short’ career at the moment (like say Larry Walker)

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  10. Jeffrey Gross says:

    I’ve been making the case for Rolen for a few years now, and I really hope that he (and Walker and Bagwell) get in.

    Any player, in my mind, with 70 or more WAR belongs in. It captures the players than burn brightest (10+ WAR in 7 seasons) and excel for a long time (20 seasons of 3.5+ WAR).

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  11. There’s also some differences that could factor in such as how they are perceived.

    This probably shouldn’t factor in but does.

    Simply put Santo is beloved by the only organization he played for, Scottie well isn’t.

    In terms of numbers, I think Rolen has a decent chance. But he also has the perception that teams didn’t really mind him going to another team for whatever reason.

    In that sense, fair or not, Rolen probably needs to be better than Santo rather than just as good.

    In that regard Rolen might find himself in the same HoF as guys like Keith Hernandez, Will Clark, etc.

    The thing working in Rolen’s favor is that any increase in value familiarity likely helps his cause. We’re not likely to develop new metrics that make him less valuable.

    His team success is likely a mixed bag in the eyes of the voters. Again, I’m not advocating this count for or against Rolen, just acknowledging that it could be a factor. He was a key member of playoff teams, but had some poor playoff performances such as the 04 WS, having his replacement Spezio have a really good LCS in 06, etc. Endymion Chavez took away what could have been a career highlight for Rolen.

    Rather than look at his career as being hall worthy, there might be too many voters that view his career as a “if he could have stayed healthy, he would have …”.

    I think he deserves very strong consideration and he matches up very well with his peers. It’s hard to know how voters will view him. As a Cardinals fan, he dominated the 3B position for much of his career, but he doesn’t seem to get the recognition he deserves because he wasn’t Mike Schmidt and may have been outshines by Pujols and Edmonds.

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    • Dave says:

      “Endymion” Chavez. Hah. That catch sure was a thing of beauty, no?

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    • Mike says:

      He wasn’t outshines by Pujols or Edmonds during his early career in St. Louis (2002-2005). They all contributed in different ways, but in 2002-2005, you couldn’t pick one specific player as “the best” because they all helped each other by getting on base, protecting them in the lineup etc. In 2005, when Rolen suffered the shoulder injury that plagued him for the rest of his career, and Edmonds suffering from concussion-like symptoms during the end of the season, Pujols became “the guy.” The HR against Lidge cemented Pujols status as the best at that point going forward.

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      • gonfalon says:

        I remember seeing that collision with 1B Hee-Seop Choi — a completely dumb and unnecessary injury — and thinking that Rolen just went from a certain HoF’er to a “hall of very good” player.

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    • Mike says:

      Oh, and Scott is beloved in St. Louis still. It’s just not in Philly.

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  12. Morse says:

    Hey, he was an all star in 2011! :)

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  13. Dan in Atlanta says:

    Now just get Nettles and Darrell Evans in an 3rd base should be about right

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  14. Bad Bill says:

    “(T)he consensus at the time (Santo) played was that he was very much an asset in the field” — despite modern metrics that call that into doubt.

    The consensus at the time Santo played was also that he was a very good, but not great, player who walked too much and hit too little. A later time would value those walks more highly, just as it values more highly the ability to turn opposing at-bats into outs at a higher rate than usual. And a later time would develop metrics for evaluating defense that relied on things more reliable than “consensus.”

    Might there be just a tiny bit of selection bias at work here, in which we value those observations “at the time” that happen to make our case for us, and discount those that don’t? I’m not attacking Santo — I’d rather see him in the Hall than a couple of other recent inductees I could name — but this bit of “reasoning” strikes me as incongruous in view of the arguments in his favor based on “detached, objective” criteria. Apparently those only apply when they make the point you want to make anyway … right?

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  15. Tyler N says:

    No. Santo played in a pitchers’ era and compared to other third basemen around the league, he was one of the best.

    Today, we have David Wright, Evan Longoria, Ryan Zimmerman, Alex Rodriguez, Aramis Ramirez, Chipper Jones, etc. While Rolen’s numbers are similar, they played in 2 different time periods, so any comparison wouldn’t really be a fair one.

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  16. Jason says:

    I never saw Santo play, but if Scott Rolen really is a good comp then he has no business being in the HOF. …this isn’t the Hall Of Pretty Good but I’d Still Trade You For Any Warm Prospect And A Bucket Of Balls.

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  17. Too Little, Too Late says:

    Not as much, apparently, as dying will help make Rolen more HOF worthy.

    (For the record, I think Santo belongs. More specifically that he belonged a while ago.)

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  18. miffleball says:

    the biggest difference is that santo had a 4 year peak of 37 combined WAR that wasn’t driven by fielding (agreed by all as the least reliable portion of the WAR calculation) while rolen’s best years were all driven by huge fielding contributions and he still doesn’t come close at his peak (4 year combined 29.1)

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  19. shthar says:

    Unless the pain and suffering of playing for the cubs means something, I just don’t see it.

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  20. test says:

    I know people like to say “WAR fielding – not reliable!”, but is anyone actually willing to argue that Rolen isn’t one of the best defensive thirdbasemen of all time? I only got to see a semi-gimpy Rolen in Toronto for a year, and he was still awesome. I hope he still has something left in the tank to add to his career.

    The thing that will hold Rolen back is what has held Larkin back from immediate enshrinement – the injuries prevent him from putting up a lot of really great years, and he misses a lot of the “shiny” numbers as a result. Rarely among the league leaders in the counting stats, especially the traditional ones, means people don’t pay that much attention to you. In fact, he never lead the league in anything on offense, or ever really threatened to. Throw in playing 3B instead of SS, and he’ll be overlooked.

    I’d vote him in, but I’ll understand when he doesn’t make it.

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  21. Billy D says:

    Ron perfected two criteria of the Hall: Character, contribution to baseball.

    He went through the down and pain with Cubs fans through his honesty on the radio.

    He fought diabetes since his younger days. He used his position to fight juvenile diabetes, and sent hope and love to thousands of kids with the same disease.

    I can’t say more but a million thanks to Ron Santo, the greatest third baseman who had not yet entered the Hall.

    I’m not going to take anything away from Rolen here, because his contribution for St. Louis and the World Series fun was legendary. But we can’t compare apples to oranges when it comes to Ron Santo and Scot Rolen. Just remember: It’s not just about the numbers.

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  22. Chris says:

    The day after you write this column…
    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/writers/tom_verducci/12/06/winter.meetings/index.html

    This has got to be at least the 3rd time this year that I’ve seen Verducci blatantly rip off a blog post from FanGraphs. Shameful.

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