Cooperstown Hopeful: The Case for Scott Rolen

By Louis Addeo-Weiss

The National Baseball Hall of Fame will elect four new members in the upcoming ceremonies held in Cooperstown on July 26th, with Larry Walker, Derek Jeter, Ted Simmons, and the late Marvin Miller all being honored as baseball immortals.

With what looks to be the last star-studded Hall of Fame ballot for a while, we could see a few names with prior ballot tenure finally garner the necessary 75-percent to receive enshrinement in the near future.

While 2020 saw the likes of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, both players with extensive ties to performance-enhancing drugs, receive only minute increases in voter-fanfare at 60.7 and 61-percent respectively, time is running out as both men enter their ninth year on the ballot in 2021.

We did, however, see a vast number of players receive upticks in vote percentage with this year’s results.

Curt Schilling, whom many believe has been left out for reasons off of the diamond, jumped from 60.9 to 70-percent, with the assumption held that he should receive election in 2021.

Even Walker made a considerable 22-percent jump from 54.6 in 2019 to 76.6-percent, sneaking in by 6 votes.

Like Walker, a player whose case for Cooperstown was aided in large part by a vast outcry from the analytic community, Scott Rolen has begun to garner more traction with peripherals suggesting just how great he was during his 17-year career.

The longtime third baseman jumped from 17.2-percent in 2019, his second year on the ballot, to 35.3 in 2020, and with the aforementioned weak list of first-time hopefuls, one would think Rolen’s case will get an extended look.

Let’s take a look at why Rolen may be more of a Hall of Famer than most would generally think. 

The first metric we’ll cite here is WAR (Wins Above Replacement).

Rolen’s 70.2 WAR, according to baseball-reference, ranks 7th all-time amongst third basemen. For those who aren’t aware, WAR serves as an assessment of total player production. The average WAR for a Hall of Fame third baseman is 68.4, an indicator that Rolen meets standard analytical criterium for induction.

The third basemen’s WAR7 of 43.7 and JAWS of 56.9 also rate slightly above average in comparison to other Hall of Fame third basemen, with the average WAR7 and JAWS being 43 and 55.7 respectively.

One reason Omar Vizquel is trending in the right direction towards possible induction is his stellar defensive play.

Vizquel’s 29.2 dWAR ranks 10th all-time, while his career WAR of 45.2 is well below the average for Hall of Fame shortstops at 67. Vizquel garnered 56.2-percent of the vote in his third year of eligibility. 

As we stated, WAR is reflective of total player contributions, and Vizquel’s career OPS+ of 82 tells us that not much value can be placed in 2,877 hits that were accumulated over 24 years. 

Like Vizquel, Rolen is held in high regard for his defensive ability, with his 21.2 dWAR ranking 41st all-time, not up to par with Vizquel, but still reflective of an elite defender. 

Rolen benefits from playing in time simultaneously to the introduction to defensive runs saved, a metric that has become the gold standard in measuring defensive excellence. 

Introduced in 2003, Rolen, who retired following the 2012 season, finished his career with 116 defensive runs saved. Vizquel, who, too, retired after 2012, finished his career with 51 defensive runs saved. Rolen would retire with 8 Gold Gloves to Vizquel’s 11.

Rolen’s case further shows to be stronger than Vizquel given his offensive output.

While he may have never led the league in any offensive categories, with a black ink score of 0 on baseball-reference, Rolen was quite a productive hitter, finishing his career with a 122 OPS+. Among third basemen with at least 5000 plate appearances, Rolen 122 OPS+ ranks 8th all-time. 

The Evansville, Indiana native’s 316 home runs also rank 10th all-time, tied with Ron Cey. 

All of these composite statistics, including a triple-slash line of .281/.364/.490 tell us that not only is Scott Rolen a more viable candidate than Vizquel but that his place in Cooperstown is merited. Whether or not most would consider him a tier-one HOF’er or not, Rolen’s case for Cooperstown is one to consider as we move forward. 

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