Later Tuesday, Scott Rolen will find out if he’s been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. To make it through, he’ll have to be checked off on at least 75 percent of the ballots filled out by voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.
This will be a close one. As of 1:20 p.m. Tuesday Rolen had been chosen on 80.4 percent of the ballots made public by voters; 50 percent had shared their selections with Ryan Thibodaux for his Hall of Fame Ballot Tracker. So we’re not sure what the other 50 percent have decided, but Rolen has been moving upward over the last 24 hours. As of this writing, Rolen needed to be checked off on 69.5% of the remaining ballots to receive the call he’s hoping for.
This is Rolen’s sixth time as a candidate. He’s on a positive trajectory, receiving 52.9 percent approval in 2021, and 63.2% last year. After making significant progress over the past two elections Rolen is in position to clear the 75% threshold this time around.
Rolen has the Cooperstown credentials. I covered him during his six-season run as the Cardinals’ starting third baseman, which gave me a full opportunity to see his combination of sensational defense, power hitting and opportunistic base running. When I say that Scott Rolen belongs in the Hall of Fame, I’m coming from an objective place.
I’ve presented his Cooperstown case before. But with the voting results set to be announced Tuesday at 5 p.m. St. Louis time, it’s a good time for a reset. I’ve added some new stuff.
1) The Baseball Hall of Fame has a low population of third basemen. The position has been oddly overlooked by voters, and it’s ludicrous. In fact, third base is the most underrepresented position in the Hall. Since MLB’s expansion era began in 1961, only six third basemen have been selected by the BBWAA: Brooks Robinson (1983), Mike Schmidt (1995), George Brett (1999), Paul Molitor (2004), Wade Boggs (2005) and Chipper Jones (2018). I would argue that the number should be five, not six, simply because Molitor took only 29.7 percent of his career big-league plate appearances as a third baseman. Including the third basemen chosen by various committees, only 17 have been picked for the Hall of Fame. Yep. Only 17. That’s all the more reason to go with Rolen.
2) Only two third basemen in MLB history have a combination of 300+ home runs with at least eight Gold Gloves: Mike Schmidt and Scott Rolen.
3) Only three third basemen in big-league history have a combination of 300+ homers, 500+ doubles and at least one Gold Glove: Adrian Belltre, Rolen, and Chipper Jones.
4) Rolen has 70.1 career Wins Above Replacement (WAR) which accounts for offense, defense and baserunning. Every eligible third baseman that finished with 70.1 career WAR has been voted in by the writers. Rolen’s 70.1 WAR is higher than that of seven third basemen that already are enshrined. That number becomes 10 when we include the Negro League legends who played third.
5) Rolen’s 70.1 WAR ranks ninth all-time among third basemen that played the position at least 70 percent of the time. Rolen’s 70.1 WAR is above the historical average (68.3) for Hall of Fame inductees at third base.
6) Rolen won eight Gold Gloves during a 17-year career spent with Philadelphia, St. Louis, Toronto and Cincinnati. In MLB history only Hall of Famers Brooks Robinson, Mike Schmidt and the still-active standard-setter Nolan Arenado have more Gold Gloves than Rolen at 3B.
7) According to Baseball Reference’s metric, Defensive Runs Above Average, the all-time leaders are Brooks Robinson (294), Adrian Beltre (216) and Scott Rolen (175.)
8) Rolen ranks sixth all-time among third basemen with 21.2 defensive WAR. He’s actually ahead of Schmidt, who ranks eighth.
9) Rolen was a seven-time All-Star selection, four times as a Cardinal. He was the NL Rookie of the Year while playing for the Phillies in 1997. He has a Silver Slugger award.
10) This one gets overlooked, and it shouldn’t be: Among all position players in MLB history, Rolen ranks 69th all-time. That’s 69th among thousands and thousands of position players. And Rolen’s 70.1 career WAR is better than 110 position players that already have been inducted – a list that includes Tim Raines, Harmon Killebrew, Tony Gwynn, Carlton Fisk, Ryan Sandberg, Eddie Murray, Pudge Rodriguez, Ernie Banks, Craig Biggio, Willie McCovey, Andre Dawson, Duke Snider, Roberto Alomar, Billy Williams, Yogi Berra, Enos Slaughter, George Sisler, Vladimir Guerrero, Willie Stargell, Joe Medwick, Tony Perez, Hack Wilson, Hank Greenberg, Al Simmons, Lou Brock, Ted Simmons, Dave Winfield and Mike Piazza.
11) Let’s not undersell Rolen’s offense. Among those who played 70 percent of their career games at third base, Rolen is tied for 11th all-time at the position in offensive WAR. And among third basemen that had at least 7,000 plate appearances at the position, Rolen ranks fifth in slugging percentage, fifth in OPS, fourth in doubles, sixth in extra-base hits, 10th in runs batted in, and 12th in homers. And imagine what those numbers would look like without the two debilitating shoulder injuries that Rolen endured during his career.
12) During the first eight years of his big-league career (1997-2004) Rolen ranked third in WAR among MLB players, with only Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez ahead of him. And Rolen was never implicated in any type of PED scandal. In those peak eight years, Rolen won six Gold Gloves, averaged 28 homers, 36 doubles and 102 RBI per season, and performed 33 percent above league average offensively per OPS+.
13) Among MLB third basemen from 1997-2004, Rolen was No. 1 in Total WAR, defensive WAR, defensive runs saved, and Wins Above Average. And only Chipper Jones outdid Rolen offensively.
14) Rolen’s overall postseason statistics weren’t all that hot. But in 2004 he batted .310 with a 1.045 OPS vs. Houston in the seven-game NLCS and put the Cardinals in their first World Series since 1987 by slugging a two-run homer off Roger Clemens to give the Redbirds a 4-2 victory. And in the 2006 World Series Rolen led the Cardinals over Detroit in five games by batting .421 with a 1.213 OPS.
15) Negatives? Sure. Rolen received MVP votes in only four seasons and never finished higher than fourth in the balloting. He was a big part of five teams that competed in the playoffs, and was huge in the 2006 World Series triumph, but mostly disappointed in the playoffs with a career .220 average and .678 OPS. He never led his league in a major statistical category during the season. Near the end of his career, the shoulder injuries and pain had worn Rolen down offensively, and his numbers tapered off. But that’s just part of a player getting old.
From 1997 through 2010 Rolen batted .310 with a .370 onbase percentage and .500 slug. He was 25 percent above league average offensively over those 14 seasons, and won his eighth and final Gold Glove in 2010 at the age of 35. That’s a sustained period of excellence, both as a fielder and a hitter. We can factor in his career defects, but don’t lose sight of the larger picture.
Rolen was one of the most exquisite defensive players in the history of the game, rated among the best offensive performers at third base during modern times, and is easily worthy of Top-10 recognition on the list of the greatest all-around third basemen to play the game.
Rolen is a Hall of Famer, and it’s not even a difficult call … not for me, anyway. I’m on the optimistic side, but this is a fickle electorate. I really don’t know what to expect when the results are announced a few hours from now.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.
Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Prospectus, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.