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.
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.