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Jimmy Rollins and the Hall of Fame

Posted By Bill Baer On September 16, 2013 @ 7:25 am In MLB,Philadelphia Phillies,Sabermetrics | 62 Comments

In the comments of Saturday’s article on the declining Jimmy Rollins, a few were discussing the shortstop’s chances of making the Hall of Fame. Rollins is currently sitting on 2,158 career hits, 1,238 runs, 450 doubles, 107 triples, 199 home runs, 831 runs batted in, and 423 stolen bases. Baseball Reference gives him credit for 41.8 career Wins Above Replacement while FanGraphs pins him at 45.5.

Per Baseball Reference, here is the complete list of Hall of Fame shortstops and their career WAR:

Player WAR/pos From To Age
Honus Wagner 113.3 1901 1917 27-43
Cal Ripken 95.5 1981 2001 20-40
Ozzie Smith 76.5 1978 1996 23-41
Luke Appling 74.4 1930 1950 23-43
Arky Vaughan 73.0 1932 1948 20-36
Barry Larkin 70.3 1986 2004 22-40
Joe Cronin 66.3 1926 1945 19-38
Pee Wee Reese 66.2 1940 1958 21-39
Lou Boudreau 63.1 1938 1952 20-34
Luis Aparicio 55.5 1956 1973 22-39
Bobby Wallace 55.2 1901 1918 27-44
Joe Tinker 53.3 1902 1916 21-35
Dave Bancroft 48.6 1915 1930 24-39
Travis Jackson 44.1 1922 1936 18-32
Rabbit Maranville 42.8 1912 1935 20-43
Phil Rizzuto 40.5 1941 1956 23-38
George Davis 37.7 1901 1909 30-38
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/15/2013.

With the exception of Phil Rizzuto, Rollins would actually need to cross the 55 WAR threshold before he passes a shortstop who played in the post-integration era of baseball.

In Hall of Fame discussions, players can qualify with a great peak (e.g. Sandy Koufax) or with longevity (e.g. Bert Blyleven). Rollins has neither. Via Baseball Reference, his single-season high in WAR was 6.1 in 2007, the year he controversially won the NL MVP award. Reds shortstop and Hall of Famer¬†Barry Larkin¬†matched or exceeded that three times. Cal Ripken six times. Rollins posted 4+ WAR in five consecutive seasons from 2004-08. While great, it isn’t elite-level longevity. Larkin, for example, averaged just under 6 WAR from 1988-99, an 11-year span.

Then there’s the fact that Rollins was, at best, an average hitter over his career. Baseball Reference credits him with an adjusted OPS of 96 while FanGraphs lists him the same in wRC+. Here’s the same list of Hall of Fame shortstops listed by OPS+:

Player OPS+ From To
Honus Wagner 153 1901 1917
Arky Vaughan 136 1932 1948
Lou Boudreau 120 1938 1952
Joe Cronin 119 1926 1945
Barry Larkin 116 1986 2004
Luke Appling 113 1930 1950
Cal Ripken 112 1981 2001
George Davis 112 1901 1909
Bobby Wallace 104 1901 1918
Travis Jackson 102 1922 1936
Pee Wee Reese 99 1940 1958
Dave Bancroft 98 1915 1930
Joe Tinker 96 1902 1916
Phil Rizzuto 93 1941 1956
Ozzie Smith 87 1978 1996
Luis Aparicio 82 1956 1973
Rabbit Maranville 82 1912 1935
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/15/2013.

Rollins’ problem is that, for all of the great things he did on offense, he erased a lot of it by making a ton of outs. He has a .269 career average and a .327 on-base percentage. The aggregate league averages over his career were .268 and .338. He led the league in outs on four separate occasions: 2001-02, ’07, and ’09. Even his career slugging percentage (.426) was a point below the league average.

Any argument in favor of enshrining Rollins in Cooperstown will make heavy use of counting stats, but they are skewed because he took so many at-bats as the lead-off hitter. Additionally, the offenses for many of the teams he was involved with were above-average, leading to lots of lineup turnover. Rollins’ counting stats would look a lot different if he had spent his career with, say, the Seattle Mariners and was used as their #7 hitter. Ultimately, Rollins doesn’t have a good enough case to get into the Hall of Fame, but considering that Jack Morris has been on the precipice of baseball’s highest honor recently, you never know what spurious logic the Baseball Writers Association of America could develop in the coming years.


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