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Scott Rolen is Obviously a Hall of Famer

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He is not quite Brooks Robinson or George Brett but that doesn’t mean he isn’t worthy of the Hall of Fame.

World Series - Game 1: Cardinals v Red Sox Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The 2021 Hall of Fame ballot was released this week.

I’ll be honest, I’ve grown somewhat cynical about Hall of Fame voting in recent years. The system seems fraught with blind stupidity, ridiculous posturing, unnecessary moralizing, and blatant inconsistency. I think it was Jim Edmonds’ case that finally soured me. Edmonds, who is at worst a borderline Hall of Fame candidate, went off in one year largely because he “wasn’t Ken Griffey Jr.

I’m still mad about it.

Larry Walker’s long burn “because he played in Colorado” also chafed. While I was ecstatic to see him get the call, it was absurd he had to wait so long.

I hate false narratives. Baseball is filled with them. But nowhere are they more obvious than in the Hall of Fame voting. This is where Scott Rolen comes in.

Scott Rolen is a Hall of Famer. This should be obvious. His case isn’t as cut-and-dried as Walker’s, but it’s very strong. The only thing keeping him out is a false narrative.

Let me summarize it: “Scott Rolen was a great defender at third base but third base is a corner infield spot like first base and defense at first base doesn’t really matter so a third baseman that plays great defense really has to hit like a first baseman and even though Scott Rolen was a great hitter for a third baseman, he’s not as good of a hitter as Mike Schmidt or the best Hall of Fame first baseman, like Lou Gherig, so Scott Rolen doesn’t belong in the Hall with great defense and great offense but Omar Vizquel does belong because he was a great defender at shortstop, even though he couldn’t hit at all, since Ozzie Smith was also a great defender but also hit pretty well, and so logically Vizquel should get in but not Rolen because Vizquel played good defense at short and hitting doesn’t matter there but Rolen’s not the third base equivalent of Mike Schmidt + Lou Gehrig + Ozzie Smith so he’s out.”

Maybe I’m exaggerating. It doesn’t feel like it.

2019 was Rolen’s first year on the ballot, and he got just 17.2% of the vote. Vizquel, in his second year of eligibility, got 42.8%. The next year, with the ballot cleared out by four elections, Rolen was able to jump to 35.3% and Vizquel to 52.6%

This year’s ballot is even lighter than last year’s. Newcomers include Mark Buehrle, Tim Hudson, Torii Hunter, Dan Haren, and Aramis Ramirez. None of these new players have a career brWAR (Baseball Reference WAR) of over 60 and most won’t survive for longer than a few years in the voting.

Who else are electors going to vote for? Schilling will probably get in. Clemens and Bonds are slowly gaining but don’t have enough support to make it. Vizquel and Rolen are next in line. There are a lot of votes available for those two. Here are three reasons why Rolen belongs in the Hall:

1. Third Base is Severely Under-Represented

There are only 17 third basemen in the Hall of Fame. That’s the lowest number by position group in the majors. Catcher and second base are the next closest at 19 and 21 respectively. Just as a point of reference, the gap between the number of right fielders (26) and third baseman (17) is GREATER than the gap between third baseman (17) and umpires (10).

Of the 17 third baseman in the Hall, 7 players had to be voted in by the Veterans or Old Timers’ Committee and 2 others were Negro League Players (Jud Wilson and Judy Johnson). That means that the Baseball Writers Association have only elected 8 third baseman in the game’s history. That’s a sorry total. Some of the names the writers have voted in are among the best in the games’ history regardless of position: Boggs, Brett, Jones, Mathews, Molitor, Robinson, Schmidt, and Traynor (who doesn’t belong here at all).

Frankly, the standard for election by the BWAA at third is out of whack. It needs an adjustment.

2. Third Base Has Never Been a Power-First Position

Why are there so few players worthy of BBWAA election at third base? I allude to the answer above. Shortstops and second baseman can get a little grace from Hall of Fame voters if they don’t have elite power numbers, provided that they did something else at a high level. This is why Omar Vizquel – a terrible hitter but an excellent fielder – is on the cusp of election. Third base doesn’t quite have the same reputation, largely because of the presence of two offensive anomalies at the position – Mike Schmidt and Eddie Mathews.

The vast majority of third baseman in the Hall, however, don’t fit the Schmidt/Mathews profile. The BWAA list of elected players at third is surprisingly diverse. Here are the players with some noteworthy stats, sorted by fWAR:

Schmidt – 548 HRs, .527 Slug%, 147 wRC+, 106.5 fWAR
Mathews – 512 HRs, .271 BA, 143 WRC+, 96.1 fWAR
Boggs – 118 HRs,.328 BA, 132 wRC+, 88.3 fWAR
Brett – 317 HRs, 1596 RBI, 132 wRC+, 84.6 fWAR
Jones – 468 HRs, .529 Slug%, 141 wRC+, 84.6 fWAR
Robinson – 268 HRs, 16 Gold Gloves, 104 wRC+, 80.2 fWAR
Molitor – 234 HRs, 504 SB, 122 wRC+., 67.7 fWAR

Just three players fit the “power-hitting corner infielder” mold: Schmidt, Matthew, and Jones. Brett had some power, but he’s more “sum of his parts” great. Boggs, Molitor, and Robinson each had one elite skill, all three of them different.

3. Scott Rolen is George Brett + Brooks Robinson and That’s a Great Player!

Where does Rolen fit in that list? One of the biggest sticking points for Rolen’s election is comparing him to Brooks Robinson. Robinson is widely considered the best defensive third baseman of all time. He has 16 Gold Gloves. Is Rolen as good as Brooks with the glove? A lot of smart baseball people believe he was. I’ve seen a number of writers conclude — subjectively — that he wasn’t and, therefore, he doesn’t belong in the Hall.

Since when is the standard for Hall of Fame election “are you better than the best ever?”

No sane voter would argue that Rolen, with eight Gold Gloves himself, isn’t in the conversation as the best defensive third baseman of all time. That status alone is probably enough to get him into the Hall, especially when considering the higher vote totals that Vizquel is getting right now.

We haven’t even factored in offense. That’s where the Robinson vs. Rolen debate becomes silly.

Robinson – 268 HRs, 16 Gold Gloves, 104 wRC+, 80.2 fWAR
Rolen – 316 HRs, .281 BA, 8 Gold Gloves, 122 wRC+, 69.9 fWAR

Rolen’s offense is so far above Robinson’s that it’s not even a fair comparison. Of the Hall of Famers above, it’s George Brett, not Brooks Robinson, that provides the closest comparable to Rolen’s offensive profile.

Brett – 317 HRs, .305 BA, 1596 RBI, 132 wRC+, 84.6 fWAR
Rolen – 316 HRs, .281 BA, 8 Gold Gloves, 122 wRC+, 69.9 fWAR

Brett has the advantage of staying healthier and, thus, produced more counting stats like RBI and WAR. Otherwise, the two players are pretty similar. Brett is a notch above Rolen offensively, but he also only has one career Gold Glove. Brett was known as a very good defensive player but not an all-time great one.

That’s where it all comes together for Rolen.

Is Scott Rolen Brooks Robinson? Not quite, but Robinson was a first-ballot Hall of Famer with 92% of the BBWAA vote in 1983 and is considered the best defensive player in baseball history at his position.

Is Scott Rolen George Brett? Not quite, but, then again, Brett was a first-ballot Hall of Famer with 98.2% of the BBWAA vote in 1999 and is one of the best all-around infielders in baseball history.

On what planet is a player who is arguably as good as Brooks Robinson with the glove and almost as good as George Brett with the bat not a Hall of Famer?

Even with some of his injury history, Rolen checks all the boxes he needs to check. He creates a smooth generational sequence: Chipper, Rolen, Beltre, and, eventually, Arenado.

Sure, maybe he doesn’t fit the category of “first ballot” – insert dramatic eye-roll here – but he’s more than deserving of getting a plaque in Cooperstown.

It’s a weak year on the ballot, baseball writers. Do the right thing. Elect Scott Rolen.