Is Scott Rolen a Hall of Famer?

Note: Article was originally submitted to Bleacher Report on March 22nd, 2010, before the beginning of the 2010 season. For a link to the piece, visit Joe Regan’s bleacher report article.

As anyone who has read examples of my past writing can attest, I tend to focus a lot of my historical analysis pieces on the Hall of Fame. Today, I will divert myself from that path a little bit to argue my Hall of Fame case for a great in our generation whose contributions have been highly underrated: Scott Rolen.

A lot of words come to mind when discussing Rolen: grinder, a “veteran presence,” scrappy, gritty. I hear these a lot. One thing I do not hear a lot, for whatever reason, is “great.”

A quick look at his hitting numbers, for example, do not scream “great.” In 14 seasons, and 7,382 PAs, Rolen currently sports a line of .284/.370/.498, with 283 HR, good for a 124 OPS+/128 wRC+ . His HR total is good for 146th all time, behind players like Garret Anderson and Miguel Tejada, and he has never led his league in any statistical category, from the “old school” categories of BA, RBI, and hits, to the more analytical categories of OPS, OPS+, and others. Sounds like a classic “good, not great” player, correct?

I disagree completely. His 128 wRC+ puts him in the same category rate-wise (albeit sans-full decline stage) as Paul Molitor and Tony Perez. Molitor, if you recall correctly, spent a good chunk of his career as a DH, while Perez spent over two-thirds of his career at first base. Rolen, on the other hand, has played every inning of his career at third base.

Positional differences, obviously, is not enough. While fangraphs approximates an average third baseman to be worth 1.5 WAR per 600 PA more valuable than an average defensive first baseman with the same batting numbers, this does not address the fact that Perez had a longer career. Heck, Perez is not even the issue here. The issue is Rolen.

Everyone’s favorite new “quick reference” defensive statistic is UZR. Also, most everyone (myself included ) recognizes Adrian Beltre to be a fantastic defensive 3B. UZR reflects this, rating Beltre at +104.5 UZR at 3B since 2002, and a +13.9 UZR/150.

Scott Rolen? 102.1 UZR, 15.5 UZR/150.

I think most people would acknowledge that Rolen can flash leather. I doubt too many would think he is as good as Adrian Beltre.

Total Zone (which can be found on the player pages of Sean Smith’s website ) is not quite as gung-ho over Rolen as UZR, but at +93 since 2002 (and +141 overall), it’s close. The aforementioned Beltre is rated at +79 since 2002, and +96 overall. While I am not prepared to state that Rolen is a better defensive 3B than Beltre, any system that recognizes Beltre’s elite abilities, and then also states Rolen shares said abilities, is a perfectly credible system to me.

So what we are left with is a good hitting, great fielding player at a position that is in the middle of the defensive spectrum, and we are tasked to determine his place in history. Once again, Sean Smith provides a great point of reference for us, which his top 500 positional listing. At 94, we find our subject, Scott Rolen. Behind him are, well, a lot of all-time greats.

One could argue that Rolen still needs to post good seasons to make it to The Hall. Fine. According to Rolen’s fangraphs page , his CHONE projection rates him to be a +3.0 WAR player in 2010 (which is solidly above average). Even if Rolen breaks down rapidly (to the tune of +3.0, +2.0, and +1.0 seasons), that would push him up on Sean Smith’s rankings to Brooks Robinson status.

Maybe he did not peak well enough? Peaks are important, but I would argue that Rolen had many outstanding seasons. According to his baseballprojection.com page, Rolen did not post a season of sub-4.0 WAR baseball from 1997-2004. 4.0 is usually considered the level of an all-star player. At age 34 in 2009, he posted a +4.8 (according to Sean Smith’s system), yet another terrific season.

To further emphasize “excellence,” one can use a “junk statistic” called WAE, or “Wins Above Excellence,” calculated by subtracting four from every individual season’s WAR total, and defaulting to zero if the number is less than four.

Using Sean Smith’s WAR totals, Rolen’s WAE clocks in at 19.9. The aforementioned Brooks Robinson? A WAE of 15.3. Looks to me that Rolen passes the “excellence” test.

I have already written that the Hall of Fame should measure players more about the way they help their team win, rather than the hype they generate. Fact of the matter is, Rolen is a great baseball player, and I hope when his name hits the ballot (perhaps in 2019? 2020?) that the BBWAA evaluates his career correctly.




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28 Responses to “Is Scott Rolen a Hall of Famer?”

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  1. IvanGrushenko says:

    Does anyone not think he should make the Hall of Fame?

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  2. kbertling353 says:

    Agree completely. It’s funny because I was thinking this exact thing while watching the Cardinals game last night.

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  3. rkarp says:

    Think about what could have been with out all the missed games due to injury?

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  4. Joe R says:

    Norm,

    Tells me that we have further proof of how underrated Ron Santo was.

    We also have this: http://www.fangraphs.com/graphsw.aspx?playerid2=1010188&playerid3=970&playerid4=&playerid5=

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  5. SF 55 for life says:

    i think WAE might be my new favorite stat. excellent work.

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  6. cje says:

    A few things:

    1. This conversation should supplement any Rolen for HOF argument…

    http://www.insidethebook.com/ee/index.php/site/comments/how_lucky_has_scott_rolen_been_with_his_opportunities_to_field/

    2. I may be wrong, but I think there are many who would argue that Rolen is a better fielder than Beltre, maybe not 2006-2009, but Rolen is now 35 compared to Beltre’s 31. We are comparing different primes.

    3. I also like WAE, although I would prefer a low of -1 as opposed to 0 to penalize for non-excellent seasons and ensure that players who only have a few excellent seasons are not considered as excellent as those whose greatness was consistent.

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  7. Joe R says:

    Tom Tango, you never cease to amaze.
    I would assert why I’m a Rolen fan, but, well, I did that already.

    Thanks for the positive feedback guys.

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  8. Josh W says:

    Uh….No, Rolen is not a HOFer. Good player…nice career, but never great. I think that if you have to find stats to justify someone they are not a HOFer. Chipper is the only current 3B that warrants being in the HOF at this point. Well, A-Rod too, if you count him as a 3B. Wright and Zimmermann posts good chances if they can play at this level over a whole decade.

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  9. cpebbles says:

    If someone has to work to justify Rolen’s greatness to you, you just weren’t paying enough attention early in his career and especially during his first few years in St. Louis. The guy was a legitimate MVP contender.

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  10. Joe R says:

    Hey Josh,
    Jones is a bad defender.
    Rolen is a great defender.

    Defense matters.

    Now go tell the difference between the two: http://www.fangraphs.com/graphsw.aspx?playerid2=97&playerid3=970&playerid4=&playerid5=

    Beltran’s going to make the Hall, and as I stated before, 3B’s profile similarly as hitters to CF’s. Once again, I’ll let the chart do the talking
    http://www.fangraphs.com/graphsw.aspx?playerid2=589&playerid3=970&playerid4=&playerid5=

    And there’s a difference between “finding stats” and “using accurate metrics of performance”. Rolen’s career is relatively equitable to Chipper Jones, and if you don’t get that, then you simply haven’t seen Rolen for what he is.

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  11. Joe R says:

    If someone has to work to justify Rolen’s greatness to you, you just weren’t paying enough attention early in his career and especially during his first few years in St. Louis. The guy was a legitimate MVP contender.

    I just had to…sort of. heh.

    Here’s the stuff Rolen (and guys who profile similarly) have to deal with, courtesy of a commenter on my original article:
    You’re kidding right?

    What about Ron Santo? Bill James rates him as the best player that is not in the Hall of Fame. Rolen couldn’t hold his jock in any comparision you want to make.

    I love it when stats people use every kind of stat imaginable to make their argument, but not the tried and true ones like batting average, home runs, rbi’s etc. I guess they’re too “old school” for the so-called experts today on this site who think they know everything.

    Some people can’t wrap their mind around defense (unless it’s Ozzie Smith / Brooks Robinson / MARK TEIXEIRA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!111111111ONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! / etc defense), some can’t appreciate a player with a balanced skill set.

    By the way…cough cough

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  12. aweb says:

    Beltran is going to make the HoF? Maybe, but he’s not that close at this point, and he’s been injured for what, a year now? He’s 33, almost certainly no better than average in CF…he’ll need quite a few more very good years to make his case.

    Rolen is a borderline HoFer if he retired this year, but he might have a few more good/very good years left in him. Take a look at the career WAR leaders at 3B:

    http://www.fangraphs.com/careerleaders.aspx?pos=3b&stats=bat&type=6&min=1000

    12 guys in front of him, several of which aren’t 3B in my mind (Edgar, Molitor, Killebrew. 3 more good years (3-4 WAR) and he’s top-ten at his position all-time, which should be good enough for the HoF by any standard at this point.

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  13. Joe R says:

    3 more good years (3-4 WAR) and he’s top-ten at his position all-time, which should be good enough for the HoF by any standard at this point.

    Tell that to Ted Simmons, Graig Nettles, Bill Dahlen, Lou Whitaker, and Bobby Grich

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  14. Joe R says:

    And don’t forget Sherry Magee, Dwight Evans, and Reggie Smith.

    Reggie Smith being the epitome of a guy who was constantly an excellent player, but never the slam dunk MVP candidate to draw attention to himself (outside of maybe 1977).

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  15. OzzieGuillen says:

    I don’t think he is. I think Rolen is a lot like Robin Ventura, and that’s not going to get it done in the voters’ minds.

    The real issue is that Rolen struggled offensively in 3 of his past 5 seasons (2005, 2007, 2008), and he hadn’t banked quite enough excellent seasons before that to make it into the Hall. Still time left to change things though.

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  16. aweb says:

    I’m not saying he will get in, given the strange voting habits of the BWAA, but I think it’s fairly clear he will deserve to get in by a proper weighting of position (which the BWAA doesn’t do). Ventura had nothing like the bat Rolen did – I guess people don’t remember it as much since he was in the Pujols-Edmonds mix at the time, but he hit the holy crap out of the ball for years in Philly and St. louis while providing league best defense at a tough position. And he’s doing it again this year after being pretty good the last two years while adjusting to his bum shoulder.

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  17. mcnabb says:

    I thought this article was a joke at first. Comparing a few of his stats to marginally good to great players certainly didn’t sell me. I think you’re all not seeing the forest through the trees. This guy hasn’t been one of the best players in the game over his career. Very good defense and a little pop…and maybe I saw poor leadership and too many first pitch foul outs in Philly to really appreciate him…but I still think its a joke to even consider him for the hall.

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  18. Joe R says:

    McNabb:

    You consider Paul Molitor a “marginally good” player?
    You consider a favorable comparison to Brooks Robinson to be nothing?

    You consider a payer with a 130 OPS+ from 1997-2006, on top of being one of the best defensive players in MLB, to not be one of the best players in the game?

    Maybe you think he doesn’t compare to his peers? Well…yes he does

    But he was a bad leader and made foul outs sometimes, so yea, your argument holds awesome water.

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  19. Smallball Tony says:

    To the OP, it’s obvious that you are very much into understanding the HOF, which means that you also know that the voters very rarely vote anyone in, especially when you have to dig into numbers (which I believe Rolen has and you did a great job of pointing this out.)

    But until we figure out a better system for voting(which will probably never happen) guys like Rolen will always be on the outside looking in.

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  20. Ben Hall says:

    Good article, Joe. One of the problems with asking, “who is a Hall of Famer” is that, after the all-time greats, there are many players (Santo, Evans, etc. cited above) better than many who have gotten in. I like Bill James’s “Keltner List”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keltner_list#The_Questions_of_the_Keltner_List. I think Rolen does quite well.

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  21. scottz says:

    I’m fairly new to the sabermetrics crowd (new enough to not know whether I’m insulting anyone with that label, so apologies if I did), but I’ve come up to speed on the various measures and have a decent grip on the arguments made here. Although this next sentence surely won’t convince some of you of that assertion.

    I can’t get behind Rolen as a HOF’er. He is a very good argument for why statistics like these should be looked at more carefully by the HOF voting crowd, but rightly or wrongly, the traditional statistics do still matter (and I’d argue, should matter). And when I look at Rolen’s traditional statistics, I absolutely see good, not great.

    I’d be interested in seeing the same analysis done for past players not in the HOF who were considered “good, not great.” For example, how would Bobby Grich compare to Rolen? Just curious (and aware that some of the measures would be unavailable).

    Thanks for the analysis.

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  22. Griggs says:

    Great article! I’m one that thinks Rolen is on his way to the HOF. He needs 2 or 3 more good years. The player mentioned in the thread that I find most interesting and relevant to the Rolen case is Nettles. Clearly one of the best gloves ever at the position and compiling nearly 400 HR and over 1300 RBI, he still didn’t make the HOF because he was a flawed hitter. It seems no matter how good the defense, a 3b better be an elite hitter if he wants to make the HOF. Rolen is a great example of a balanced player that deserves strong consideration even though such players typically fly under the radar of many voters. I keep a list of active HOF candidates and I only see 10 active position players that are clearly ahead of Rolen.

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  23. Scott Rolen is a great player, and all the sabermetrics add up for him being a Hall of Famer, but the fact is he currently only has 300 home runs with a career batting average of .284. He’ll probably make it to 2000 hits (currently at 1892), but he’s going to have to hit another 100 homers to even become a serious candidate for the Hall.

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  24. myke says:

    Josh ! how u got wright and zimmerman as hall of famers and you dont have scott rolen.your screwed up cause right only had one good season.Zimmermen never been on a winning team …. so if u got them 2 as hof ,Scott rolen is a first ballot then … Cause there not on the same level @ all … even though zimmermen iscloser to to rolen than wright

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  25. Josh W says:

    Myke, I never said that Wright or Zimmerman were HOFers…just that if their careers stayed on the trajectory of their first couple years for the next decade. Wight already has more 25+ HR 100+ RBI seasons than Rolen did, so I would not say that they are not on the same level. Rolen was a really good player, maybe even great for two or three seasons. He just wasn’t great for long enough. Kind of reminds me of Dale Murphy in that sense. Put him next to Chipper and the stats are not close. Chipper is a HOFer…Rolen had a really good career.

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  26. Joe R. says:

    Josh, is Chipper the fair comparison? That’s poor logic.

    That would be like me measuring Ichiro against Rickey Henderson for corner outfielders. Of course he doesn’t measure up, I picked a top 50 position player of all time and called him the standard. Fact is, a 123 OPS+ is already very good for a career 3B. Add in he’s one of the best defensive 3B’s of all time at the position, and it seems pretty no-brainer to me.

    We keep electing good players to the Hall thanks to loose rules of “greatness”. We finally got it right on Santo (too late, though, RIP), and Rolen is definitely the player Santo was.

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  27. Josh W says:

    Joe, that is a fair reply. It is just my opinion that in their era Rolen, Chipper, and Beltre are the only HOF candidates worthy of having a conversation about. Of those 3 Chipper is clearly a HOFer. I think Beltre and Rolen are really similar, but Beltre is still producing good stats, so he may the edge over time.

    Of all players who started their careers after 1970, only 3 3rd basemen have made the HOF. Mike Schmidt, George Brett, and Wade Boggs were all great. Chipper will be the 4th, and he ranks with those guys. Rolen does compare to Santo and Brooks Robinson. Even though he played in the greatest offensive decade in Baseball history his stats are barely on par with Santo and a little ahead of Robinson who is really only in there because of his defense. Defense does matter, but with HOF votes it really only matters when it is pretty much the sole reason to your inclusion. In some cases, it only matters that you actually played defense in the arguments against DH’s. You said Rolen was great defensively and Chipper was bad. I would say he was adequate. He could field the position just fine, and never had to be moved to first base.

    You pondered the question of “is he”, and you make some good points…maybe I am too exclusive when it comes to HOFers. Either way, it is a good debate, and I am sure in a couple of years it will be a heated one.

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