Are Bobby Abreu and Scott Rolen Hall of Famers?
At Baseball Nation, Grant Brisbee searched for the next Lou Whitaker — as he put it, “the player that seems like a no-doubt Hall of Famer to us nerds right now, but who will fade from the collective memory of voters during the five-year grace period, possibly dropping off the ballot in the first year.”
At Adam Darowski’s Hall of Stats, which ranks Hall of Fame players, Rolen comes in as the seventh-best third baseman behind Brooks Robinson and ahead of Ron Santo, both Hall of Famers. As Brisbee notes, Rolen’s case is hurt from being hurt. From 2005 to 2012, Rolen’s last season, he accrued 500 or more plate appearances in a season once. Among the 11 third basemen in the Hall of Fame, Rolen’s 8,518 PA would rank seventh, so it isn’t as if there is no precedent for player’s with comparatively smaller amounts of playing time getting inducted. Rolen’s 70.0 WAR, per Baseball Reference, would also rank seventh of the 11 Hall of Fame third basemen.
Rolen only had one elite season, a 9.1 WAR output with the Cardinals in 2004. He crossed 5 WAR only three other times. However, Rolen played in 17 seasons and was above average in 11 of them. Hall of Fame candidates usually get in on the merits of peak (a la Sandy Koufax) or longevity; for Rolen, his case is clearly dependent on the latter.
As for Abreu, playing time was never an issue. He retired just 74 PA shy of 10,000, playing in at least 150 games and logging 650 PA per season well into his mid-30’s. Darowski’s Hall of States rates him as the 21st-best right fielder, behind Bobby Bonds and ahead of Ichiro Suzuki. Of note, he is also ever so slightly behind Vladimir Guerrero, Dave Winfield, Gary Sheffield, and Sammy Sosa.
Unlike Rolen, Abreu never had an elite season, peaking at 6.6 WAR in 2004. However, he was incredibly consistent, crossing 6 WAR four times and finishing between 5-6 an additional three times. He graded out as an average defender overall, per B-R, but was saved by playing in the American League for the final 5.5 years of his career, looking past a short stint with the Dodgers before he faded out of baseball.
Brisbee suggests Rolen could fall off the ballot in his first year of eligibility, which would happen if he receives less than five percent of the vote. He expects Abreu to linger around for at least a few years before eventually falling off. It’s hard to disagree with that forecast. Despite as many as four or five players getting elected into the Hall of Fame this year — with the 133 ballots publicly released as of this writing, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, and Craig Biggio would get in while Mike Piazza is on the fringe — the Baseball Writers Association of America has typically been stingy about inducting players. No one was elected last year; only Barry Larkin made it in 2012; Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven got the nod in 2011; Andre Dawson made it in 2010; and Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice were enshrined in 2009, just to name some examples.
The current ballot is jam-packed with worthy candidates. Aside from those already named, there’s Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina, and Alan Trammell, among others. Tons of big names will join the ballot in the coming years, such as Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz in 2015, and Ken Griffey, Jr. and Jim Edmonds in 2016. It will be very easy to come up with ten candidates and everyone’s ballot will have at least a few honorable mentions. As a result, it is difficult to see either Rolen or Abreu getting the requisite 75 percent of the vote to earn induction into the Hall of Fame.