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Scott Rolen’s Power Surge

Considering that he restructured his contract with the Cincinnati Reds during the off-season and is now signed through 2012, Scott Rolen won’t be hanging up his cleats anytime soon. But when he does, the slick-fielding, hard-hitting third baseman should get himself a plaque in Cooperstown.

Rolen’s all-around excellence allowed him to compile 62.2 WAR from 1996-2009, ranking in the top 100 all-time among position players. The former Phillie and Cardinal has added another 1.1 WAR to his total in 2010, and with a couple more productive seasons, he should creep his way toward the middle of that top 100 WAR list.

Earlier in his career, Rolen was a prodigious power hitter who routinely put up Isolated Power figures in the .200-.250 range. However, a serious left shoulder injury and subsequent surgery in 2005 sapped Rolen’s ability to rap extra-base hits. Save for a resurgent 2006 (.223 ISO), Rolen’s pop has been of the doubles variety — he had a .133 ISO in 2007, .169 in 2008 and a .149 mark in 2009. Entering 2010, CHONE and ZiPS projected more of the same for the 34-year-old:

CHONE: .275/.350/.430, .155 ISO, .344 wOBA
ZiPS: .283/.352/.439, .156 ISO, .350 wOBA

Instead, Rolen is raking. He has a .279/.344/.564 triple-slash (.381 wOBA) in 160 plate appearances, with a .286 ISO. Rolen has already popped 10 home runs this year after hitting eight dingers in 2007 and 11 in both 2008 and 2009. His home run per fly ball rate, between 5.4 and 7.4 percent from ’07 to ’09, is 19.6 percent this season.

As one might expect, Rolen is pulling the ball more and hitting to the opposite field less in 2010. Here are his spray numbers since 2007 (data from Baseball-Reference):

sOPS+ is a stat that compares a player’s performance in a given split to that of the league average. It’s set on a scale where 100 is average and above 100 means that the batter fared better than most in that split.

It’s important to keep in mind that the 2010 numbers are based on less than two month’s worth of games, so they’re more descriptive than predictive. But thus far, Rolen has been a fantastic pull hitter — 51 percent better than the league average, compared to nine percent above the league average in recent seasons. He’s hitting the ball hard up the middle as well. Nothing much happens when Rolen hits to the opposite field, and happily he’s going oppo less than 10 percent of the time.

It’s highly unlikely that Rolen continues to hit for this much power — if he did, he’d establish a new career-best ISO. But ZiPS thinks he’ll remain a useful hitter. For the rest of 2010, Rolen’s ZiPS projection is .283/.353/.461 (.358 wOBA), with a .178 ISO. It also can’t hurt that Great American Ballpark smiles upon righty pull hitters. According to the 2010 Bill James Handbook, GABP increased HR production for right-handed hitters by 29 percent over the 2007-2009 seasons.

Rolen’s Yahoo ownership rate is 44 percent, so he’s still on the wire in a lot of leagues. If you’re looking for help at the hot corner, you could do much worse.