Sunday, June 15, 2014

Rollins Rolling Towards Cooperstown

Rollins has steadily compiled numbers that rank among those of baseball's best shortstops
Now that Jimmy Rollins is the Phillies franchise hits leader (which is really quite impressive considering the team has been around in some capacity since 1883), people will inevitably begin to talk about his Hall of Fame chances. After all, the man he just passed, Mike Schmidt, was a first ballot Hall of Famer who sailed into Cooperstown with 96.5 percent of the vote in 1995, and their career averages are almost identical, with Rollins at .268 to Schmidt's .267.

But that's where the statistical similarities between the two end, and right now, at least, Rollins' Hall hopes don't look nearly so good. Based on bWAR, Rollins has never been the best player on his own team, let alone the league (his undeserved 2007 MVP award notwithstanding). His offense has been uneven over the course of his career, and his bat rates a hair below average when adjusted for league and park (97 OPS+, with more seasons below 100 than above it). He's yet to bat .300 in any season (and at this stage of his career, probably never will) or post an OBP above .350. He falls short by JAWs, Black Ink, Gray Ink, Hall of Fame Standards, and Hall of Stats, and just barely qualifies by Hall of Fame monitor. With only three All-Star game appearances, one Silver Slugger, one World Series ring, one top-nine MVP finish and 43.6 career bWAR to his name, Rollins neither looks nor smells like a Hall of Famer, something his .268/.328/.425 seems to confirm. His most similar batter, Ray Durham, just fell off the ballot on his first try.

And yet, part of me thinks Rollins has been underappreciated by baseball fans outside Philadelphia. Here's a guy who comes to play everyday, and when the season's over you look up and realize that he stroked 35-40 doubles, swiped 30 or 40-odd bases, blasted 10-20 homers, and collected a good number of hits and runs. Combined with great defense at a premium position (four Gold Gloves), that's pretty valuable. Since 2000 Rollins has compiled more WAR than any shortstop not named Derek Jeter (omitting Alex Rodriguez, who moved to third base after 2003). He ranks as baseball's 16th most valuable position player during that span, with more fWAR than Matt Holliday, Torii Hunter, Vladimir Guerrero, Joe Mauer David Ortiz, and one-time teammate Bobby Abreu. Rollins is also the only National League shortstop to be named MVP in the past 18 seasons, and he's the only shortstop ever with more than 200 home runs and 400 stolen bases.

Which is weird because I feel like when people think of the best shortstops of the past 15 years, Rollins' name rarely comes to mind. I'd wager a bet that most fans wouldn't have him in their top-three, or probably even their top five. I'd imagine Jeter tops everyone's list, and is followed in some order by Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez, Michael Young, Miguel Tejada, and Rollins.

But because of Rollins's durability and longevity (ten seasons with at least 154 games played and a dozen with over 600 plate appearances), his counting numbers are better than all of them (except Jeter) and numerous other shortstops that came before him. J-Roll has scored more runs than Joe Cronin and Ozzie Smith, clubbed more doubles than Luke Appling, and compiled more base knocks than Pee Wee Reese. He's also hit more home runs than Barry Larkin and Alan Trammell (his second and fourth-best comps, respectively), and stolen more bases than Jeter and Omar Vizquel.  His rate stats aren't great, though his .753 OPS isn't far off from Robin Yount's .772 mark

When all is said and done, Rollins could rank within the top-ten all-time among shortstops in runs scored (he needs 130, or about two more decent seasons, to get there). He's already eighth in doubles with 466 and only needs three more to pass Tejada. Similarly he needs just four home runs to pass Rico Petrocelli at 210 and break into the top ten. 2,500 hits would put him in the top-12, and 2,600 would vault him into the top ten.

So while Rollins isn't Hall of Fame worthy quite yet, he's going to be an interesting candidate if he keeps climbing the leaderboards over the next few years. Assuming he winds up with around 2,500 hits, 500 doubles, 1,400 runs, 250 homers, 500 steals, and 1,000 RBI, the switch-hitting speedster will have a diverse statistical portfolio unlike that of any other shortstop that would seem to merit indeuction. At 35 he still has a few more years in front of them, years that will make or break his Cooperstown case. If he falls apart next year and is forced to retire, I don't think he makes it in. But if he has a couple more solid seasons and hangs around until his 40th birthday like Jeter, then his career numbers are going to be too impressive to overlook.

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