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Rolen’s Sabremetric Argument for the Hall of Fame

Scott Rolen
Scott Rolen during a game against the St. Louis Cardinals on April 18, 1998 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. (Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images)

Scott Rolen got a bad wrap in Philadelphia. In the midst of an era of losing, Scott Rolen asked to be traded out of the city, preferably to St. Louis, which was closer to his home and which he once termed “baseball heaven.” For that, he was deluged with boos from fans and is still looked down on among former Phillies. It’s ironic that a teammate of his, Curt Schilling, did the same thing when he asked for a trade, but he is revered in Philadelphia. Remember too, that it was Schilling who sat in the dugout with a towel over his face when Mitch Williams came on in relief. Williams considered it a personal mockery of him and made it known he wasn’t happy about the antics.

It didn’t help that an unidentified teammate referred to Rolen as a “clubhouse cancer.” That forever branded him in Philadelphia. However, other players have spoken glowingly about Rolen’s role in the clubhouse in Philadelphia and elsewhere.

Both Schilling and Rolen got their wish when Schilling was dealt to Arizona during the 2000 season and Rolen went to St. Louis during the 2002 season.

Scott Rolen went on to play not just for the Phillies and Cardinals, but also for Toronto and Cincinnati. He finished his career following the 2012 season with over 2,000 games played and a line of 316-1287-.281/.364/.490 and won a Rookie of the Year, eight Gold Glove awards, a Silver Slugger award, a World Series ring with the Cardinals in 2006 and was a seven-time all-star.

In his first year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame, Rolen gained just 10-percent of the votes needed to be enshrined. This year’s voting will be announced on January 22nd and while Rolen isn’t expected to be anywhere near gaining entrance, there are some Sabremetricians who believe that should not be the case.

A recent blog post by Sports Info Solutions (SIS), a company known for number-crunching and analysis beyond belief, writes of the merits of Scott Rolen as a member of the Hall of Fame. For most, Rolen may have been on a path for consideration, but injuries cut short many of his numbers offensively over his 17-year career.

SIS relies on a Hall of Fame formula devised by none other than Bill James, who released the formula in the 2019 Baseball Handbook. It combines a couple of James’ various metrics to determine just what makes a Hall of Fame player. The result of James’ math is a score, which is applied to a player’s career. If that score is 500 or better, they’re a Hall of Fame player. Using the formula, Mike Schmidt computes to a score of 894.2, the highest among all third basemen to have ever played the game. The lowest number for a Hall of Fame third baseman is that of Ron Santo, who comes in at 606.1. Adrian Beltre, who is not Hall eligible, stands at 755.9.

You have to look down the list to find Rolen, but there he is at 584.7. Yes, he would be the lowest third baseman if he were to be elected, but he’s over that 500 threshold and is 11th, all-time among third basemen. The math led Bill James to write “Scott Rolen seems to me to have been a well-qualified Hall of Famer in every respect; a great offensive and defensive performer.”

As the article points out, third base is the second toughest position to play if you want to be a Hall of Famer. There are only 17 third basemen in Cooperstown, the lowest of any position, just one behind catcher. It’s also pointed out that Rolen’s overall offensive numbers weren’t as strong as many of his contemporaries. This is where the defense comes in. Rolen ranks second among third basemen in Defensive Runs Saved and he could be higher had the stat been compiled prior to 2003 when it was first introduced and Rolen was a young stud third baseman, who loses the first seven years of his career when figuring the stat. Rolen is also one of just three third basemen to total 30 Defensive Runs Saved in a season, and again, that’s without his first seven seasons to consider.

Here’s where it gets really interesting; apply James’ formula to some other players. This year, everybody is watching Edgar Martinez to see if he gains entry to the Hall of Fame. Martinez received 70-percent of the vote last year. While the article doesn’t disclose Martinez Hall of Fame number, it does note that it’s lower than that of Rolen.

If you go simply by the numbers, then writers would have to go back and put Darrell Evans (599.7), Craig Nettles (5929) and Buddy Bell (566.4) into the Hall of Fame as third basemen.

The Sabremetrics portion shows that Rolen was definitely one of the better third basemen to have played the game. Where he falls short is in that many writers – rightly so – gauge a player’s Hall worthiness by how dominant they were among other players during their career. In other words, were they a standout player among their contemporaries? A lot of Hall voting is also simply the eye test. During their career, did the player simply look like a Hall of Fame player compared to other players at their position or in the game overall?

It will be worth watching what happens with Rolen’s numbers. The truth is that he’s worthy of much more than 10-percent of the votes, but is he truly a Hall of Fame player? The answer lies somewhere between the 10-percent of the votes he received last year and the 75-percent needed to get into the Hall of Fame.

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