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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

12 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

BP staff member Steven Goldman
BP staff

I'll grudgingly give you Bobby Bonilla as a third baseman (950 games/3950 PA as a 3B), but reject Edgar Martinez (552 G/2269 PA) and Paul Molitor (788 G/3622 PA). At that point, why not include Harmon Killebrew (775/3084), Dick Allen (652/2836) or Pete Rose (631/2902)? As such, I think the rankings have got to be recalculated--something that will make Rolen's case even more favorable.

Otherwise, your analysis is dead on as usual--the Bobby Grich comp is especially tasty. One wonders how history would have changed if Grich had not reversed himself and turned down the Yankees' FA offer for '77 at the last minute (he would played SS; the move would have meant no Bucky Dent, no Reggie Jackson).

May 26, 2010 09:06 AM
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

The JAWS system's positional classifications depend upon where a player accumulated the most WARP value in his career, which is generally (but not always) where he had a plurality of games, instead of an arbitrary threshold for total games played at a position. By that admittedly imperfect method (which is spit out automatically in Clay Davenport's reports), both Allen and the Killer classify as first basemen (both did play more games there than at the hot corner), and Rose as a left fielder. Remember, though, it's only Hall of Famers whose scores are actually part of the JAWS standard.

Furthermore, when I compare multi-position players, and particularly guys who wound up spending a good portion of their careers at DH, I also compare them to broader classifications such as outfielders, corner infielders, or all hitters. Thus while Edgar Martinez comes in a bit low on the third base scale, he's essentially on the money via the hitter-at-large standard (69.4/45.4/57.4).

May 26, 2010 09:23 AM
 
BurrRutledge

Jay, love these articles, and also lovin' the charts. The charts allow easy comparisons between the players. Thanks!

May 26, 2010 10:44 AM
rating: 0
 
TangoTiger

Jay, if you have a certain degree of uncertainty regarding BPro's fielding metric (or any fielding metric for that matter), you can look at other metrics to see where he stands.

Fangraphs has three such metrics. Total Zone (created by Baseball Projection) has Rolen at +143 runs (+97 since 2002). UZR (since 2002) has him at +95 runs. Dewan's Runs Saved (since 2002) has him at +90 runs. So, calling Rolen around a +150 for his career sounds ok.

Clay has Rolen at +184 runs, which is certainly believable enough, in light of the above numbers, and in light of actually seeing him play.

May 26, 2010 11:19 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Thanks, Tango, I'm well aware of all of those metrics as well, but I didn't get a chance to pull the numbers earlier. I'm glad to see that they support the idea that Rolen's a standout defender.

What's also interesting is the difference between his standing on the JAWS scale and that of Chipper Jones, whose fielding the FRAA system simply hates but who of course has a much fuller resume when it comes to the more traditional Cooperstown credentials (MVP, strong individual postseason track record, not to mention being a key part of the Braves' dynasty, better HOFS and HOFM scores). The aforementioned defensive metrics put him between -34 (TZ) and +5 (DRS) for the 2002-2010 segment of his career. A closer look at his year-by-year numbers show that most of the FRAA damage was done prior to 2002; since then he's only at -29.

May 26, 2010 12:10 PM
 
Richard Bergstrom

I can buy that Rolen is a great fielder, but we're also talking about a guy who appeared in more than 140 games in 7 seasons out of 13 seasons. I understand FRAA is a counting stat which suggests Rolen would have been even better and more HoF worthy, especially from a fielding persepctive if he had played every game... but I think the lack of durability counts against him.

May 26, 2010 18:25 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Well, it's certainly had an impact on his hitting stats, which is what 99% of his case will be based upon when it comes before the writers, hence my assessment of his actual chances.

May 27, 2010 06:06 AM
 
BP staff member Colin Wyers
BP staff

[quote]Jay, if you have a certain degree of uncertainty regarding BPro's fielding metric (or any fielding metric for that matter), you can look at other metrics to see where he stands.[/quote]

But we don't, do we? We have an uncertain degree of uncertainty, for all fielding metrics.

Jun 30, 2010 12:47 PM
 
cakuffner
(979)

One name I'm a bit surprised to not see on your chart is Graig Nettles. Where does JAWS rank him? Thanks.

May 27, 2010 07:12 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Nettles (50.8/35.9/43.4) would be two rungs below Buddy Bell on the chart. +122 FRAA but only +7 RAP.

May 27, 2010 09:34 AM
 
BP staff member Steven Goldman
BP staff

How damaging is Nettles' long post-peak period to his ranking? Buddy Bell just wasn't a better player than Nettles.

May 27, 2010 09:56 AM
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Nettles compiled just 7.9 WARP from 1979-1988, a period that includes two strong seasons with the Padres in 1984-1985 (7.3 WARP combined). He and Bell are very close in terms of career numbers on the latest build of the DT cards (which close the defensive gap to 11 runs and just one point of True Average).

There really isn't much that separates the two. On the traditional merits, Bell had five All-Star appearances and six Gold Gloves. Nettles, whose peak overlapped with Brooks Robinson a bit more directly, six All-Star appearances and two Gold Gloves. Bell has the slight edge on HOFM (67-63), Nettles on HOFS (31-30). The main difference between the two is that one played 53 games in the postseason and won a couple of rings, the other never reached October.

May 27, 2010 12:19 PM
 
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