ST. LOUIS — When the National Baseball Hall of Fame meets again in 2021, at least two former Cardinals will be enshrined.
Larry Walker and Ted Simmons are both well-deserving and often overlooked in their greatness. There’s another former Cardinal on this year’s ballot who falls into that same category, too.
After not garnering much attention in his previous years on the ballot, St. Louis Cardinals great Scott Rolen is starting to gain traction as a candidate, and advanced analytics take his career to another level.
Rolen is on the Hall of Fame ballot for the fourth time this year and has never received more than 35.3% of the vote to this point. He needs 75% to get in.
That's a tough hill to climb, but for those in the know, Rolen's Hall of Fame case is cut and dry.
“If you look at the career numbers as a whole, you’re over 300 home runs, you’re over 500 doubles and then factor in the defense as one of the greatest defensive third basemen of all time, I can’t even believe we’re having this conversation," baseball author and statistics savant Ryan Spaeder said.
Yep, if you didn't realize already, we're about to talk statistics. But don't worry all that much if you don't like numbers. I won't get too analytical on you.
Even Rolen himself, who Spaeder talked with recently, said he didn't give much mind to advanced analytics. He was focused on driving in 100 runs and scoring 100 runs a year. That seems to have worked out.
“Sure enough here we are two decades later... or a I guess a decade from his retirement looking at these numbers in terms of sabermetrics and they look fantastic. He’s exactly right," Spaeder said. "He went up there with that goal of scoring 100 and knocking in 100 and the sabermetrics fell into place. Even though he doesn’t know what any of them mean.”
So, let's dive into some numbers.
First, we’ll begin with an easy one. Rolen has the 10th highest WAR of any third baseman in baseball history. All of those ahead of him are already in the Hall of Fame except for Adrian Beltre, who will get there when eligible.
WAR, or "wins above replacement," essentially measures how good a player was compared to an MLB-average player, and Rolen is 10th best at his position, even with his injury history. WAR is often used as the de-facto stat when determining a player's worth.
Now, let's get a little more advanced.
Let’s talk defensive runs saved, where he really shines. Defensive runs saved compiles multiple statistics to try and determine how many runs an individual defender saved.
“When you look at groups of numbers… defensive runs saved. Scott Rolen ranks 13th all-time out of 19,902 players in defensive runs saved and he’s third among third basemen behind hall of famer Brooks Robinson and behind who will be a first ballot hall of famer Adrian Beltre," Spaeder said.
So, like in the cases of Walker and Simmons, as baseball begins to warm up to advanced analytics, Rolen looks better and better as a candidate.
But that’s not all that should be working in his favor.
Over the years, the Hall of Fame has been unbelievably stingy in electing third basemen. Just because a player isn’t a Mike Schmidt or George Brett doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not a worthy hall of famer.
“The BBWAA (Baseball Writers' Association of America), who has been voting for the Hall of Fame since 1939, has only ever inducted seven third basemen. One third baseman every 12 years. Not even one a decade," Spaeder said.
So, third basemen are underrepresented. Hopefully the voters begin to amend that trend. And they certainly could on this ballot.
After being cluttered with, no doubt, worthy Hall of Famers for a while, there’s some breathing room on this year’s ballot, and guys who need more love, like Rolen, could be added to lots of writers’ lists.
And Spaeder said 50% is the key number. Only five players in history to get to 50% have yet to make it in at some point, and four are still currently on the ballot in Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling and Omar Vizquel. The fifth is Gil Hodges.
“I really see a jump to that 50% threshold. And I just think it’s a lock that if you get that 50%, especially if you’re not somebody that Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens has, or even technically Curt Schilling has controversy, you’re going to get into the Hall of Fame."
While jumping all the way to 75% in 2021 seems unlikely, the former Cardinals great is trending up. And with six more years on the writers’ ballot, we should eventually see the day Scott Rolen gets to Cooperstown.