Wednesday, June 11, 2014
Jimmy Rollins' unique Hall of Fame case
By Jayson Stark
So what do you think: Is a player with this set of credentials a Hall of Famer?
We're talking about an active player who is (or will be):
• His franchise's career hits leader.
• The owner of the second-most Gold Gloves of any active player at his position.
• The only active player at his position who has won an MVP award.
• About to crack the top five for most extra-base hits in history by someone who plays his position.
• A man with a unique set of offensive and defensive credentials that is unprecedented in the history of his position.
Jimmy Rollins, 35, is playing in his 15th season with the Phillies.
So, let's ask again. Is a player like that a Hall of Famer?
Well, that player is Jimmy Rollins, and the answer is no. Or at least not yet.
But the point is, this is a guy we're going to have to give some thought to -- any day now, in fact, when he passes Mike Schmidt and becomes the career hits leader in the history of the Philadelphia Phillies. (He's now just four away.)
And that'll be a fun discussion, too, because Jimmy Rollins has had a fascinating career. Fascinating.
For a decade and a half now, the town he plays in has spent almost as much time focusing on all the stuff he hasn't done -- doesn't walk enough, doesn't keep the ball on the ground, doesn't always run as hard as Chase Utley, yada-yada-yada -- as all the incredible stuff he has done. But this just in:
I've looked at the careers of everyone who has ever played shortstop in the major leagues -- and we've never seen a player quite like this man. Ever.
So what exactly has made Rollins so different? Let's take a look:
So what other shortstops will you find in that 400/200 club? Um, you won't find any. Not unless Derek Jeter (349 SB, 257 HR) has 51 stolen bases in him over the next four months, anyway.
And I find that kind of amazing. Not that there's anything defining about the 400/200 club. But it does show us that Rollins has brought a power/speed package to his position you very rarely see. Right?
The 200 HR/2,000 Hits Club
Rollins' totals: 207 homers, 2,231 hits.
Only 36 men in history whose primary position was shortstop hung around long enough to get 2,000 hits, according to Baseball-reference.com. But when you add in the power to make 200 home run trots, you get a much more exclusive group:
Cal Ripken Jr. is a Hall of Famer, Jeter can start writing his 2019 speech and not only is Rollins going to blow past Miguel Tejada's numbers, he has brought speed and leatherwork to the table at a level Tejada never did -- and without any performance-enhancing drug stains.
So, while I don't believe in any magic Hall of Fame numbers, if Rollins is in a group with only Jeter and Ripken, he's in tremendous company.
The 2,000 Hit/4 Gold Glove Club
Rollins' totals: 2,231 hits, four Gold Gloves.
Ready for the shortstops who are on this list? There are only six:
Two players in that group -- Ozzie Smith and Luis Aparicio -- are already in the Hall of Fame, with Jeter right over the horizon. Many, many people think Alan Trammell ought to join them, and Omar Vizquel may not get there, but he has a heck of a case.
And then, there's Rollins.
The offensive quality he has in common with Smith, Vizquel and Aparicio is that they could all flat out steal a base. But here's what they don't share: Those three hit fewer home runs combined (191) than Rollins has hit by himself.
So the only two really similar players to Rollins on this list are Jeter and Trammell. I don't think anyone would argue Rollins has had a better career than either of them. But here we go again: He's hanging with special players, no matter what combination of stats you want to use to measure him.
The Whole Package
OK, now let's add this all up. You can find shortstops who have more hits than Rollins and shortstops who have piled up more homers and extra-base hits.
You can find shortstops who have swiped more bases and shortstops who have won more Gold Gloves. But
You won't find a single shortstop in the history of this sport who has done all the stuff he's done:
An MVP trophy and four Gold Gloves and more than 2,200 hits and more than 200 homers and nearly 800 extra-base hits and closing in on the most hits in the history of his franchise. (The only other active players who can say they hold that last distinction, on their current clubs, by the way, are Jeter and David Wright.)
And we haven't even mentioned that this is a man who has also strung together the longest hitting streak (38 games) of the last quarter-century is one of four players who ever lived with a 20-homer, 20-steal, 20-double, 20-triple season has stayed healthy enough to play at least 140 games at short in 11 different seasons, a total reached in the last 30 years by only Derek Jeter, Omar Vizquel and Cal Ripken has started an All Star Game and has led his league in runs, steals and triples.
Not a single other shortstop who ever played baseball has done all of that. Not one. So what are we supposed to make of that?
Now, being a unique player doesn't make you a Hall of Famer. That's for sure. And Rollins' wins above replacement (WAR) totals (43.2) certainly don't scream "Hall of Famer" at you, even though four HOF shortstops (hey there, Phil Rizzuto) had fewer.
And, as I've already made clear, I no longer believe there is any set of magic numbers that makes any player an automatic Hall of Famer. Him included.
But the most fun part about all monumental baseball milestones is they give us a reason to stop and reflect, to think and argue, to assess what we think matters and what we think doesn't.
So when you look up and find a player like this ascending to the top of the hit list of a franchise that has been around for 132 seasons, it's an excellent reason to launch the conversation.
Well, I don't think Rollins would be a Hall of Famer if he retires tomorrow, but if you want to talk about it, aw, what the heck. Bring it on. And bring all these amazing numbers along with you.