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    Tuesday, February 14, 2023

    Scott Rolen's Hall of Fame Resume, and the Larger Context of Third Base, Part 2

    Last time, I wrote about Scott Rolen’s Hall of Fame induction, and started moving beyond Rolen and into the wider context of his position, third base. Go back and check that out if you didn’t see it, because it’s going to be context for the rest of this piece, where I move from talking about third base and the Hall in general, to talking about specific third basemen.

    <Moving Beyond Rolen>

    The Hall has always undervalued having a mix of skills, that’s something that happens across positions. Especially players who don’t fall in the top seven or eight at their position; sure, sometimes they nail it, but not always. Shoot, that’s part of what hurt Duke Snider, who had the record for “lowest first-ballot vote to get inducted by the BBWAA” prior to Scott Rolen’s election this year; like Rolen, he’s even tenth-best at his position by bWAR!

    If there’s something stand-out about third base in this regard, a big reason why it’s especially undervalued in Hall voting, my guess is that doing a lot of different things well seems like the default way to build up an overwhelming amount of value at this position, and it leads to them being more likely to slip through the cracks.

    For instance, let’s take a look at the players roughly in the tier below Rolen. I went through and looked at the top third basemen by Baseball-Reference WAR, this time using the designations Jay Jaffe uses for JAWS so that each player will only be featured at one position (specifically, at the position where they accumulated the most value in their career).

    Using those designations, Rolen is tenth. Edgar Martinez is eleventh (again, Jaffe doesn’t have a DH designation yet, so Edgar and Molitor both count as third basemen), so we’ll ignore him. The twelfth-through-sixteenth spots for third base are: Graig Nettles, Buddy Bell, Home Run Baker, Ken Boyer, and the late Sal Bando. Of those five, only Baker is in Cooperstown, an early Veterans Committee pick (he retired in 1922, and thus got overlooked in the initial Hall shuffle). Nettles, Bell, and Bando have combined for six appearances on any Hall ballot, four of them from longtime Yankee Nettles, and all of them from the BBWAA process. None of them has been reconsidered by the VC since then.

    Boyer by himself has reached 21 appearances between the BBWAA and Veterans Committee, but even that feels misleading; he actually was dropped after five ballots because he failed to reach 5% on any of them (the voting rules were a little different back then). The BBWAA actually reinstated him five years later and he immediately started hitting the 15%-25% range, although he has yet to climb much above that since then (even in his VC appearances). It’s also worth noting that Ron Santo (speaking of overlooked third basemen) got this same special treatment following his own one-and-done BBWAA appearance. And while we’re on this subject, when Boyer hit the ballot for the first time in 1975, he was vying to become just the second third baseman elected by the BBWAA, ever. Yes, despite forty years of Hall elections up until that point.

    Sunday, February 5, 2023

    Scott Rolen's Hall of Fame Resume, and the Larger Context of Third Base

    I’m not sure if it came through in my discussion of the Hall of Fame election results (or just in general, over my years of writing), but I’m actually a really big fan of Scott Rolen! He’s on the short-list for my favorite players of all-time, no worse than third on any given day. He is a pretty big reason this site is called “Hot Corner Harbor”, and I grew up watching his play in awe and wanting to play third base as well as he did.

    Actually, let’s just put a few more highlight videos here first, for emphasis:

    In the wake of his election, it’s been good to see so many people celebrating a great player that I loved growing up! I’ve also seen some people tie it into how third base has been kind of ignored in Hall of Fame voting, a point I’ve touched on in the past and that I’ve been thinking about again.

    Of course, there’s also been some discussion from people who can’t appreciate Rolen’s greatness. I wrote up several words reminding everyone of just how strong his case was during the last few days before the announcement, when it looked like he might fall short. Thankfully, I don’t need to use it as a persuasive piece, but I think it could still be a lead-in to another point I wanted to make. If you don’t feel the need to revisit that, feel free to skip, but for anyone who wants to see it again:

    First, there’s all of the basic, flashy stuff; Rolen is a 7-time All-Star and 8-time Golden Glove winner (fourth-most for third basemen). He managed 2077 hits and 316 homers, as well as 517 doubles (that mark is 52nd all-time). He won a Rookie of the Year Award in 1997 and a World Series in 2006 (I still think he deserved World Series MVP in that one over David Eckstein, with his .421/.476/.737 slash line). If you like Wins Above Replacement, Rolen has 69.9 according to Fangraphs and 70.1 according to Baseball-Reference, totals that are usually indicative of clear Hall of Famers. Of course, I imagine those doubting Rolen’s credentials don’t use WAR quite as much, so I’ll back off from that for now.

    All of that is really good, even if it doesn’t quite reach the eye-popping factor of 3000 hits or 500 homers (and that really shouldn’t be a case-ender anyway; most Hall of Famers don’t have 3000 hits or 500 homers, that’s part of what makes those groups special). Of course, Rolen’s case only looks better the more context you apply.

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