Scott Rolen is a third baseman who played predominantly in the 2000s and is known mainly for his stints with the Cardinals and the Phillies. Rolen is one of the most underrated players of all time and has been on the ballot for the Hall of Fame for five years, going on six. Each year, the number of votes for him has risen. He got up to 63.75% in 2022, only about 12% away from getting into Cooperstown. The projections make it seem like he will be getting into the Hall of Fame either this year or next, but, in my opinion, it should not have taken this long. First, let’s look at some basic stats, taken from Baseball Reference, and where he ranks all-time among third basemen.
You should take these stats with a grain of salt because stats like RBIs and Runs, while helpful in some way, never tell the whole story. Looking at these stats, it makes sense why he is not in the Hall of Fame. But I want to acknowledge that Scott Rolen is top 20 in almost every major hitting statistic, placing the highest in SLG at 6th. These stats form an outline of the player that Scott Rolen is.
Some good stats to look at when thinking about Hall of Fame eligibility are WAR and JAWS. According to MLB.com, “WAR quantifies each player's value in terms of a specific number of wins, and because WAR factors in a positional adjustment, it is well suited for comparing players who man different defensive positions”. MLB.com also defines JAWS, stating, “JAWS stands for ‘Jaffe WAR Score System’ and is a stat that measures a player's Hall of Fame worthiness by comparing him to the players in his position who are already enshrined”. To calculate it, you take a player’s career WAR averaged with his 7-year peak WAR. The higher, the better, for both stats.
In 2022, here was the average for third basemen in the Hall of Fame:
Scott Rolen has a JAWS at 56.9, slightly above the average HOF third basemen, and a career WAR at 70.1, which is top 10 among third basemen all-time. He even places 6th in Defensive WAR among this group.
Are you still not convinced? Let’s compare Scott Rolen one-on-one to two other third basemen already in Cooperstown. My goal here is not to prove that Scott Rolen is better than these guys, but to show that he is easily comparable to them. First, Ron Santo:
As you can see with the offensive categories, they are nearly identical. Ron Santo has a slight edge offensively, but Rolen blows him out of the water in TZR, one of my favorite defensive stats. According to MLB.com, TZR is the number of runs above or below average the player was worth based on the number of plays made. Scott Rolen, whose TZR is tied for 25th all-time for ALL positions, far exceeds Santo in this stat. Ron Santo is not even in the top 400. Now, let’s look at a 3rd baseman who was great defensively, Brooks Robinson:
Brooks Robinson is the all-time leader in TZR, with the next closest being Andruw Jones at 253. Brooks Robinson is clearly one of the best, if not the best, defensive players of all time. Robinson is obviously first among third basemen in TZR, but Rolen is fourth. When you look at the offensive numbers, you see Scott Rolen far exceeds Brooks Robinson in every category. Scott Rolen has a clear edge offensively, and Robinson has the clear edge defensively. With both of these Hall of Fame third basemen, as I said before, you can see Scott Rolen easily compares to them and is arguably better.
An argument could be made saying that the aforementioned players played in different eras of baseball. Fair point. Let’s compare Scott Rolen to one of the best third basemen of the modern era, probable first-ballot Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre:
We once again see some comparable offensive numbers, with Scott Rolen having a decent edge over Beltre. Adrian does have the defensive edge, but I think it is a toss-up between these two incredible third basemen. On that point, why is Beltre a probable first-ballot Hall of Famer, and Scott Rolen is still on the ballot after 5 years?
According to Jay Jaffe of Fangraphs, the reason Scott Rolen is not in the Hall of Fame is because of his lack of awards and milestones. The only major milestone he reached was 2000 hits, and he cut it pretty close. In terms of awards, he had 8 All-Star appearances, 7 Gold Gloves, and 1 Silver Slugger, and he won ROTY in 1997. That is by no means bad, but he lacks an MVP and a lot of offensive awards. Why did he only win one Silver Slugger? That is because the people winning that batting award in this time frame were Albert Pujols, Chipper Jones, Miguel Cabrera, and David Wright, some of the best offensive third basemen to ever play the game. All of these players overshadowed Rolen, especially offensively. As for MVP, there is no clear reason other than he just was never the best player, just one of the best. He placed in the top 20 of MVP voting 4 times, with his highest placement coming in 2004 when he placed 4th.
Is Scott Rolen the best player of all time? No. The best third baseman of all time? No. But is Scott Rolen ONE of the best third basemen of all time? Yes, absolutely. Obviously, he does not compare to someone like Chipper Jones or Mike Schmidt, but Scott Rolen is comparable to, if not better than, half of the third basemen enshrined in the Hall of Fame. He deserves a spot in Cooperstown, and it’s time the baseball world realizes that.