Jimmy Rollins and the Hall of Fame
February, 26, 2013
By David Schoenfield | ESPN.com
Andrew Cutraro for ESPN The MagazineJimmy Rollins has been one of the most productive position players over the past 10 years.
Does this surprise you? Over the past 10 seasons, Jimmy Rollins has been the 10th-best position player in baseball, at least according to FanGraphs and its wins above replacement metric.
I guess it surprises me, not that I haven't appreciated Rollins' broad base of skills -- speed, defense and good power for a middle infielder -- but I've never thought of him at quite that elite level, except maybe during his MVP season in 2007, and even then there was an ugly debate over whether he really deserved the award.
Anyway, upon seeing that ranking, my first thought was: You know, that's not a bad Hall of Fame argument: Jimmy Rollins was one of the top 10 players in the game for a decade, and that certainly smells like a Hall of Famer, if Hall of Famers smelled of something other than sweat, grass stains and chewing tobacco. I mean, if you're one of the very best players in the game for a long period of time -- and WAR is the best mechanism we have for determining that -- then that has to put him in the Hall of Fame discussion.
And again, with Rollins, that surprises me. I viewed him as a popular player, but overrated by the general population of baseball fans, in part because the stolen bases made him such a valuable fantasy player, and in part because the general population doesn't always pay a lot of attention to on-base percentage, a skill Rollins has failed to excel at in many seasons.
But the whole top-10 over 10 argument ... well, I soon realized, that's the Jack Morris argument: You know, Jack Morris won the most games in the '80s, and then suddenly I felt a little dumber. (By the way, Morris ranks seventh in FanGraphs WAR from 1980 to 1989 and 13th in Baseball-Reference WAR.)
The obvious problem with comparing a player to his peers over a certain period of years is players aren't being compared equally: Some get only some of their peak years in there, some get all of them and so on. Did you know Frank Viola is tied for the most wins from 1984 to 1993? Or that Jimmy Key is second in wins from 1985 to 1994?
2003 to 2012
FanGraphs: Pujols, A. Rodriguez, Utley, Cabrera, Beltran, Beltre, Wright, Suzuki, Holliday, Rollins (44.3), Berkman, Jeter, C. Jones, Teixeira, Rolen.
Baseball-Reference: Pujols, Rodriguez, Utley, Beltre, Beltran, Teixeira, Cabrera, Suzuki, Jones, Wright, Mauer, Hunter, Berkman, Rollins (35.9), Holliday.
1993 to 2002
FanGraphs: Bonds, Bagwell, Piazza, Griffey Jr., Sosa, A. Rodriguez, Walker, Palmeiro, Biggio, Olerud, I. Rodriguez, Thome, C. Jones, Martinez, B. Williams.
Baseball-Reference: Bonds, Bagwell, Griffey, A. Rodriguez, Sosa, Piazza, Walker, Lofton, Biggio, I. Rodriguez, Thome, Williams, Palmeiro, Martinez, Olerud.
1983 to 1992
FanGraphs: Boggs, Henderson, Ripken, Raines, Sandberg, O. Smith, Trammell, Bonds, Whitaker, Murray, Gwynn, Puckett, Molitor, Strawberry, Van Slyke.
Baseball-Reference: Henderson, Ripken, Boggs, Sandberg, O. Smith, Raines, Trammell, Bonds, Whitaker, Gwynn, Butler, Puckett, Molitor, Murray, Strawberry.
1973 to 1982
FanGraphs: Schmidt, Morgan, Carew, Grich, Brett, Cey, Jackson, Simmons, Bench, Bell, Nettles, Foster, Tenace, Rose, Singleton.
Baseball-Reference: Schmidt, Morgan, Carew, Brett, Grich, Cey, Bell, Jackson, Bench, Tenace, Harrah, Carter, Nettles, Simmons, Cedeno.
1963 to 1972
FanGraphs: Aaron, Santo, Mays, Yastrzemski, Clemente, B. Robinson, F. Robinson, B. Williams, Killebrew, Allen, Torre, McCovey, Fregosi, Rose, Kaline.
Baseball-Reference: Aaron, Clemente, Mays, Santo, Yastrzemski, B. Williams, B. Robinson, Allen, F. Robinson, Rose, McCovey, Fregosi, Torre, Killebrew, Kaline.
So, you see a lot of Hall of Famers or future Hall of Famers, or some of the all-time stathead favorites, like Bobby Grich or Ron Cey or Tim Raines, or some underrated gems like Gene Tenace and Buddy Bell. Obviously, ranking in the top 10 or 15 certainly isn't an automatic road map to Cooperstown, and several of the above fell off the ballot after one year, although in a case like Lou Whitaker, that doesn't mean they didn't have a solid Hall of Fame case.
OK, back to Rollins. Look at the all positives he has going for his Hall of Fame résumé:
- Career length. He's already at 2,024 hits as he enters his age-34 season; 3,000 is probably out of reach (he'd have to average 154 hits through age 39), but he should end up well north of 2,500.
- Speed. He has 403 career steals and just 83 caught stealing. His career total of 61 baserunning runs ranks 16th since 1901, according to Baseball-Reference.
- Power at a premium defensive position: 421 doubles, 105 triples, 193 home runs. Since 1901, he's 13th in extra-base hits among players who played at least 75 percent of their games at shortstop or second base. (Eight of the 12 ahead of him are in the Hall of Fame, and the others are Jeff Kent, Derek Jeter, Miguel Tejada and Lou Whitaker. Five of the next seven are Hall of Famers as well.)
- Defense. Four Gold Gloves and pretty good advanced defensive metrics (plus-51 runs via Baseball-Reference).
- Durability. Nine seasons of 154-plus games. Durability is a skill.
- That MVP Award in 2007. It was much-maligned in some circles at the time, due to his .296 average and .344 OBP (offensive numbers were still sky-high in 2007), but it wasn't that egregious as he ranked sixth (Baseball-Reference) and seventh (FanGraphs) among NL position players in WAR. I mean, this wasn't Andre Dawson 1987 or anything.
- Championship teams. Played on five straight division winners and has a World Series title. So far.
- Fame. I'd say yes.
All that said, Rollins was an outstanding player from 2004 to 2008, when he averaged five wins per season, but not as outstanding in other years when his batting average and OBP sagged. Also, the two sites evaluate his career WAR quite a bit differently: FanGraphs at 48.8, B-R at 40.3. (Baseball Prospectus has him at 37.0.)
As Rollins plays into his twilight seasons, I have a feeling he'll end up much differently than Morris. Whereas Morris has become overrated as he nears Hall of Fame election, it's possible Rollins was overrated while active but is headed for underrated status in retirement. Unlike Omar Vizquel, Rollins doesn't have one primary attribute to pin his Hall of Fame hopes around; like some of the other all-around players above, his career may slip into "oh, he was pretty good" status, while Vizquel soars toward Cooperstown.
Rollins is a long ways from retirement, and my final analysis is I don't think he's a Hall of Famer, barring a late-career surge -- I think his peak was too short, for starters -- but the man has been a terrific player. Phillies fans have been lucky to have him all these years.