Editor's note: All day today we're celebrating Scott Rolen's career and legacy with Scott Rolen Honorary Retirement Day.
From 1996 - 2002, the Phillies might have lacked winning baseball teams, but they did offer fans hope for the future, both on the major league roster and in the minor leagues. A not-insubtantial portion of that hope was placed in one individual--1997 Rookie of the Year Third Baseman Scott Rolen. Of course, Rolen did not end up being a part of the Phillies success of the mid-to-late aughts, but that was certainly not because the Phillies found a more promising third baseman.
In fact, since Rolen's departure halfway through the 2002 season, the following players have played over 500 defensive innings at third base for the Phillies (in order of defensive innings at 3B): David Bell, age-34+ Placido Polanco, age-33 Pedro Feliz, Cody Asche, Abraham Nunez, Greg Dobbs, age-36 Michael Young, and Tomas Perez. The only good players on that list were, for the most part, too old to be good during their Phillies tenures.
Rolen manned third base for the Phillies for parts of 7 seasons, producing 29.5 fWAR with a .282/.373/.504 (126 OPS+) line with 150 HR and 559 RBI. Since 2003, the first full non-Rolen season the Phillies had to endure, Phillies third basemen have produced 10.1 fWAR with a line of .253/.311/.367. Sure, the offensive environment has been tundra-esque in the latter half of that window, but that drop-off in production is stark. In particular, the lack of power of post-Rolen third basemen makes even the oil industry's estimations of alternative energy sources look like a freaking atom bomb. If you take out Placido Polanco's notable contributions to that third base cohort, the remaining flotsam produced a total of 2.5 WAR.
Some highlights from that crew:
Tomas Perez--A favorite of mine in MVP Baseball 2004 for no other reason than that I enjoyed saying his first name out loud to make it sound like a fictional breed of foot fungus ("Toe Moss"), played 3B for the Phillies for a significant amount of the 2003 season. If other options existed, I imagine he would have played a less significant amount, as he only provided the Phillies with .265/.316/.383 and -0.3 fWAR. Not a great way to usher in the non-Rolen era, to say the least.
Abraham Nunez--To be perfectly honest, I had forgotten Abraham Nunez even existed until starting this post. And for good reason. Over 2 seasons from 2006 to 2007, Nunez made 656 PA for the Phillies and mustered a .221/.310/.277 triple slash, good for a 50 wRC+, or, 50% worse than league average. Let it suffice to say that Nunez was unable to fill Rolen's shoes and proceed to forget about him forever.
Pedro Feliz was the 3rd best Phillies third baseman of the 2000s and occupied the far left side of the infield for the 2008 World Series Champions. Despite those accidental accomplishments, Feliz was uninspiring, at least offensively, during his stint with the Phillies. In his two seasons and over 1000 PA, Feliz provided a .699 OPS, over 100 points lower than Rolen's over that span (.803).
The last player I will highlight here is noted steroids user David Bell. Over 3+ seasons with the Phillies from 2003 - 2006, he posted a .715 OPS, which, on the whole, really doesn't look too bad compared to the other luminaries on this list. We'll always remember him as worse than he actually was because he burst onto the scene in 2003 with a hot line of .195/.296/.283 in a year in which Rolen posted a non-sarcastically hot line of .286/.382/.528.
It has been over a decade since Scott Rolen forced his way out of Philadelphia and the Phillies have yet to find a third baseman capable of holding down the position at even an average level. This year provides no indication that that problem has been solved, as Phillies third basemen have combined for a 74 wRC+ and a .625 OPS, a line that Fangraphs' Steamer projections projects Rolen would have matched (74 wRC+, .630 OPS) if he played full time in 2014, his age 39 season.
Based on his minor league offensive prowess and surprisingly capable defensive showing in limited playing time, Maikel Franco might represent the opposite rim of the Grand Canyon of 3B production that started with Rolen's departure. Let's hope so because 12 years is a long time for a team to consistently tolerate sub-par production from a single position.