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May 25, 2010

One-Hoppers

Rolen Towards Cooperstown?

by Jay Jaffe

Last week, Prospectus Hit List reader Dan W. asked for a take on Scott Rolen's Hall of Fame case in light of JAWS. Since his name also popped up in my response to Steve Goldman's Dead Player of the Day entry on Stan Hack, it's high time I got, uh, Rolen on that particular topic (sorry).

The 35-year-old Rolen is enjoying something of a resurgence at the moment, hitting .271/.335/ .549 for the Reds. His 10 homers rank fifth in the NL, his slugging percentage ranks ninth, and his .306 True Average is just outside  the lower reaches of the NL's top 20 (it was there yesterday when I wrote this, but he went 0-for-4). The power resurgence is a particularly interesting development, as Rolen hasn't hit more than 11 homers in a single season or slugged anywhere near .500 since 2006 due to years of shoulder troubles.

Coming into the year, Rolen had tallied 74.7 career WARP, and 52.4 peak WARP (his seven best seasons at large), for a JAWS score of 63.6. That's a hell of a score, actually; it ranks fourth all-time among third basemen, and is well above the JAWS standard at the position:

Player

Career

Peak

JAWS

Tav

RARP

RAP

FRAA

Mike Schmidt*

114.8

63.1

89.0

.314

876

588

149

Eddie Mathews*

99.1

60.9

80.0

.319

911

622

-33

Wade Boggs*

84.6

52.1

68.4

.301

713

425

40

Scott Rolen

74.7

52.4

63.6

.295

490

276

184

George Brett*

78.2

48.4

63.3

.296

691

353

12

Ron Santo

67.7

57.1

62.4

.294

560

285

52

Chipper Jones

72.4

46.8

59.6

.318

818

566

-155

AVG HOF 3B

71.8

47.1

59.5

.290

545

266

81

Paul Molitor*

75.7

41.9

58.8

.290

625

268

44

Edgar Martinez

68.9

46.4

57.7

.317

649

417

-34

Robin Ventura

66.4

46.5

56.5

.280

406

164

173

Heinie Groh

62.1

48.2

55.2

.282

391

182

129

Frank Baker**

61.2

47.8

54.5

.294

457

257

57

Ron Cey

61.3

47.3

54.3

.289

473

226

67

Stan Hack

63.1

43.0

53.1

.297

556

317

-19

Darrell Evans

63.4

41.6

52.5

.286

503

187

58

Ken Boyer

58.1

46.5

52.3

.283

388

140

117

Jimmy Collins**

58.5

45.0

51.8

.269

296

68

168

Brooks Robinson*

61.7

41.6

51.7

.262

283

-83

262

Matt Williams

58.6

42.9

50.8

.276

369

131

139

Bobby Bonilla

52.4

44.4

48.4

.293

489

245

-30

Bob Elliott

53.6

41.5

47.6

.295

454

219

2

Pie Traynor*

54.8

38.8

46.8

.268

368

120

94

Ken Caminiti

50.0

42.3

46.2

.283

379

165

57

John McGraw

47.6

43.0

45.3

.308

367

239

11

Buddy Bell

53.3

37.0

45.2

.266

300

-5

159

* BBWAA-elected Hall of Famer, ** VC-elected Hall of Famer

Rolen ranks as high as he does because of his defense. His Fielding Runs Above Average total is second only to Brooks Robinson among hot cornermen, and about 100 runs above the average Hall third baseman. That gives him enough of a boost that his peak score ranks fourth among third basemen, while his career score ranks sixth, with a good chance of passing both Paul Molitor and George Brett before it's all said and done. Molitor, of course, spent a good portion of his career at DH, but is lumped in with the third basemen here because he did generate a fair bit of value above replacement defensively over the course of his career.

That said, defensive measurement is still a rather inexact science, and even slight tweaks of our system can have large effects on our player valuations. The numbers above were generated in December. Dig through the deepest recesses of our site and you'll find that Robinson currently scores out at 301 FRAA2, some 40 runs higher, while Rolen's lost a dozen or so. Tracking such changes can be maddening, which is why I tend to lock in my JAWS data set annually and not worry about the in-season tweaks which Clay Davenport may make.

Rolen's clearly in good shape on the JAWS scale, but that doesn't mean he's a lock for the Hall. Even with his seven Gold Gloves — third behind Robinson and Schmidt at the position — his Bill James Hall of Fame Monitor and Hall of Fame Standards scores are both subpar — 68 for the former, where 100 is supposed to be average, and 38 for the latter, where 50 is supposed to be average. He's got just five All-Star appearances, which isn't an overwhelming amount for a Hall of Famer. He's never finished higher than fourth in an MVP vote, and never led the league in a key offensive category. While he did win a ring with the 2006 Cardinals and had a strong World Series that year, his overall postseason line (.228/.321/.421 in 131 PA) thus far suggests somewhat more harm than good done to his reputation. Furthermore, he had a five-year period from age 30 to 34 where he averaged just 111 games a year, suppressing his career totals to the point that he has "just" 1,849 hits (and 293 homers) right now. While he's likely to stick around long enough to pad those totals, it's worth remembering that no player from the expansion era (1961 onward) has been elected while having less than 2,000 hits.

When it's all said and done, Rolen is the type of candidate who will need to be productive in his late 30s to pad his stats sufficiently, because the areas from which he's derived a good portion of his value, plate discipline and defense, are typically undervalued by BBWAA voters. In fact, right now he looks a lot like another eminently Hallworthy player whose career was curtailed by back woes, Bobby Grich. As I wrote back in January, Grich was a six-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glover who played on five division-winning teams in Baltimore and Anaheim, where he was often overshadowed by bigger name players. Nonetheless, he combined good pop, excellent plate discipline and outstanding glovework, and finished with 78.5 career WARP, 50.0 peak WARP and a 64.3 JAWS at a position where the standard is 76.8/50.1/63.5. Done at 37 after accumulating just 1,833 hits, he fell off the ballot after receiving just 2.6 percent of the vote in his first year of eligibility.

I'd like to believe Rolen will fare better than that, but he's at the point where it's vital to his cause that he remain productive for a few more years. Here's hoping he can.

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here

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