After falling 47 votes short of election in 2022, Scott Rolen will look to make further progress toward eventual enshrinement in Cooperstown as he appears on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s Hall of Fame ballot for the sixth time.
Rolen once appeared to be a Hall of Fame long shot, receiving just 10.2% of the vote in his first year of eligibility in 2018. But the seven-time All-Star has made a steady climb in the ensuing years, earning 17.2% in 2019, 35.3% in 2020, 52.9% in 2021 and 63.2% last year.
As Rolen moves toward the 75% mark needed for election, here are five reasons why he deserves a place among the game’s all-time greats in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
He’s one of history’s greatest defensive third basemen
Rolen’s fielding prowess at the hot corner is at the center of his Hall of Fame candidacy. He won eight Gold Glove Awards, fourth most all time among third basemen behind Brooks Robinson (16), Mike Schmidt (10) and Nolan Arenado (10).
The numbers back up Rolen's trophy collection. He recorded 21.2 defensive WAR in his big league tenure and 114 defensive runs saved from 2003 until the end of his career in '12. DRS figures aren’t available prior to '03, so the first six-plus seasons of Rolen’s career aren’t counted. But he still ranks 16th in MLB (all positions included) since 2003.
He was a strong hitter, too
While not on the level of elite hot-corner batsmen such as Schmidt (148 OPS+), Eddie Mathews (143), Chipper Jones (141) and George Brett (135), Rolen was an excellent offensive player in his own right.
From his NL Rookie of the Year Award-winning 1997 campaign through 2004, when he finished fourth in the NL MVP voting, Rolen averaged 28 homers and 102 RBIs per season with a collective .287/.379/.524 slash and 133 OPS+. While his production tailed off in his 30s, he finished his career with a 122 OPS+. On its own, that wouldn’t be enough to get him elected. But when you consider what he did on the other side of the ball, the complete package is Hall of Fame caliber.
He’s in elite company all time on offense
Rolen didn’t come close to some of the counting-stat milestones that typically make a hitter a lock for Cooperstown (barring any transgressions that might complicate said hitter’s candidacy), falling more than 900 hits short of 3,000 and nearly 200 homers shy of 500.
However, Rolen is one of 35 hitters with at least 2,000 hits, 300 homers and 500 doubles. Twenty-one of these hitters are in the Hall of Fame. Of the 14 who aren’t, four (Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Canó and Adrián Beltré) are not yet eligible for consideration, and four (Barry Bonds, Alex Rodríguez, Rafael Palmeiro and Manny Ramírez) were linked to PEDs.
The remaining six are Dave Parker, Luis Gonzalez and four players who are currently on the BBWAA ballot: Todd Helton, Jeff Kent, Carlos Beltrán and Rolen.
He stacks up well against other HOF third basemen
With 70.1 WAR per Baseball-Reference, Rolen ranks 10th among third basemen behind nine Hall of Famers and Beltré, who isn’t yet eligible but is likely to be a first-ballot inductee.
Rolen is better than the average Hall of Fame third baseman in both career WAR and seven-year peak WAR, as well as JAWS, the metric created by sabermetrician Jay Jaffe as a means to measure a player's Hall of Fame worthiness by comparing him to the players at his position who are already enshrined.
Although he placed among his league’s top 10 in WAR only three times in 17 seasons -- 10th in 2002, third in '04 and ninth in '06 -- Rolen was consistently productive throughout his career. He had at least 4.0 WAR in 11 seasons, tied with Wade Boggs for third most among third basemen. The only third basemen with more are Schmidt and Mathews with 13 each.
He was one of the best players in baseball during his peak
Rolen produced 46.2 WAR from 1997-2004, averaging 5.8 WAR per season. Only two position players had more in that span: Bonds and A-Rod. To put it another way, Rolen had an eight-year run in which he was MLB’s leader in WAR among position players not linked to PEDs.
Rolen enjoyed his best season in 2004, slashing .314/.409/.598 (158 OPS+) with 34 homers and 124 RBIs over 142 games for the Cardinals. His production was worth 9.2 WAR. In many years, Rolen’s output would have made him a top MVP contender, but the '04 NL field was stacked. Seven NL players recorded at least 8.0 WAR, a mark considered to be MVP-caliber on Baseball-Reference’s WAR scale.
Bonds (10.6 WAR) won his fourth straight MVP Award after hitting .362 with 45 homers, 232 walks and a 1.422 OPS. He was followed by Beltré (9.6 WAR, 48 HR, 1.017 OPS) and three Cardinals -- Rolen, Pujols (8.5 WAR) and Jim Edmonds (7.2 WAR).