Updated: Jan 19
Scott Rolen is on the ballot for the sixth time this year. He has made some solid gains over the past few years and as of this writing, he is tracking at 80.1 percent with 41.9 percent of the votes known. Rolen is a top 10 third baseman all-time and should be in. Let's take a look at his case.
Scott Bruce Rolen was selected in the second round of the 1993 draft by the Philadelphia Phillies out of Jasper High School (IN). He moved up quickly through the minors and made his major league debut in 1996 as a 21-year-old. The following year Rolen was the starting third baseman, played in 156 games, and won the Rookie of the Year award. It was obvious immediately that the Phillies had a special talent as Rolen hit 21 HRs and stole 16 bases while playing Gold-Glove caliber defense.
In 1998, Philadelphia's best player had a great season mashing 31 HRs and driving in 110 runs. Rolen also won his first of eight Gold Gloves that season. He looked like he would be a resident at the hot corner for Philly for a long time. Unfortunately, the Phillies weren't winning enough games, and negotiations with Rolen turned sour. He was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals at the trade deadline in 2002.
Life After Philly
He hit 14 HRs and drove in 44 runs in 55 games for the Cards over the rest of the 2002 season and was rewarded with an eight-year/$90 million contract. Over the next four seasons, he was an All-Star each season, won three Gold Gloves, and finished fourth in MVP voting in 2004 behind Barry Bonds, Adrian Beltre, and teammate Albert Pujols. In 2005, Rolen was involved in a collision with Hee-Seop Choi. He injured his left shoulder and had surgery, ending his season. Rolen wasn't quite the same after that. He bounced back in 2006, but after only 112 games in 2007, the Cardinals traded Rolen to the Toronto Blue Jays for Troy Glaus.
He was a solid contributor for the Blue Jays in 2008 and after starting 2009 hitting .320 for the Jays, he was traded once again to the Cincinnati Reds for Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Roenicke, and Zach Stewart. Rolen had one more good season in him. In 2010, The third baseman hit 20 HRs for the 10th time and won his eighth and final Gold Glove. His final two seasons were marred by injuries and at 37 years old, Rolen retired after the 2012 season.
His eight Gold Gloves at third base are third all-time (Brooks Robinson 16, Mike Schmidt 10). His Total Zone Rating according to Baseball-Reference is sixth all-time and one of only 10 third basemen with 100+.
Let's do a little comparison. Many people, I'm sure, would agree that Beltre will be in the Hall of Fame one day and probably get in on the first ballot. So, let's compare Rolen and Beltre based on a 162-game average and accolades especially since Beltre played nearly 900 more games.
DRS (Last 10 Yrs)
As a side note, if you don't trust DRS and want to go traditional, Rolen had a .968 fielding percentage compared to the average of .954 over the course of his career which translates to committing 80 fewer errors compared to the average third baseman. While some may say Rolen didn't have the counting stats, he did surpass 2,000 hits, 300 HRs, 1,200 runs, and 1,200 RBIs. He also chipped in 118 SBs in his career. An interesting fact about Rolen as well is that he never played an inning in the field at a position other than third base.
While his peak was solid from 1997-2004, from 2005-2012 his production was just above average. Although much of that can be attributed to the shoulder injury and the lingering effects afterward. Third base is a position that has not fared very well with the BBWAA as they have only inducted six since 1950. Each one of them has above a 130 OPS+ except for Robinson who was by far the best fielding third baseman in history.
Rolen checks in at 122 and even at his peak (1997-2004), his OPS+ was 133 which is still below the career totals of four of those six (Wade Boggs, 131). Rolen's counting stats, while solid, pale in comparison to those other third basemen. Boggs and George Brett reached 3,000 hits, Schmidt and Eddie Mathews both reached 500 HRs, and Chipper Jones was a career .300 hitter with a .930 OPS.
Scott Rolen was one of the best third basemen of the past 25 years. His defense was elite, and his bat was dangerous at his peak. Despite not having the gaudy totals of some of his contemporaries, he was still a great player. The Indiana native has gained a ton of support going from 17.2-35.3-52.9-63.2 percent in his last four years on the ballot. Rolen looks like he may make the final jump over the coveted 75 percent this year. His induction will be well-deserved.