In retrospect, it’s incredible the early 2000s Phillies did not reach the postseason.
The 2022 MLB Hall of Fame ballot was released this week and, making their appearance for the first time are three former Phillies: the all-time franchise leader in saves, Jonathan Papelbon, the franchise’s all-time single-season home run leader and 2006 NL MVP, Ryan Howard, and the franchise’s all-time hits leader and ‘07 NL MVP, Jimmy Rollins.
Papelbon, Rollins and Howard join other former Phils Bobby Abreu, Scott Rolen, Billy Wagner, and Curt Schilling on the ballot, a larger-than-normal sea of red under consideration for enshrinement in Cooperstown.
The Hall of Fame debate over the last decade has grown quite toxic, with arguments over players linked to performance enhancing drugs and the continued debate over which statistics to use and not use turning vitriolic on social media. While most writers take their duty as voters seriously, some continue to make a mockery of the selection by making the Hall of Fame all about them, and not the legends of the game they covered (or in some cases, didn’t cover).
Nevertheless, considering who is Hall worthy should be a fun exercise, so this will be an attempt at that.
Incredibly, four of the players listed above played for the 2000 Phillies: Rollins, Abreu, Rolen and Schilling. That team went 65-97 under future World Series winning-manager Terry Francona and finished dead last, 30 games out of first. Of course, Rollins didn’t join the team until a September call-up and Schilling was out the door, traded to the Diamondbacks at mid-season. One wonders what could have been had Schilling not been dealt and the front office not engaged in a contractual squabble with their ace right-hander.
Of course, Rolen would be gone two years later, while Abreu lasted until the trade deadline in 2006. Hall of Famer Jim Thome joined in 2003 and teamed up with Rollins and Abreu to form a dynamic middle of the order. It’s a shame that crew couldn’t get the job done. Ryan Howard’s arrival midway through the 2005 season, Chase Utley’s rise to power, and Rollins’ emergence as one of the best shortstops in baseball eventually helped catapult the Phils to the top of the baseball world a few seasons later, but it’s fun to remember that Rollins and Abreu were teammates long before Howard and Utley joined the crew.
From 2001-2006, Rollins and Abreu were mainstays in the Phils’ lineup and now both are on the Hall of Fame ballot. Now in his 3rd year on the ballot, Abreu garnered 8.7% of the vote last year. Rollins (as well as Howard and Papelbon) will need to earn at least 5% of the vote to stick on the ballot next year and it’s likely he has a better chance of reaching that threshold than Howard does.
But what about Rollins vs. Abreu? How do their cases stack up? To start, let’s break down the numbers.
The Case For Abreu
The numbers lay out a clear case for Abreu as the superior offensive player. His career 60.2 WAR is substantially higher than Rollins’ 47.6, and he beats out Rollins in OPS+, doubles, homers, and RBIs, while slightly nudging him in hits.
JAWS is the metric created by Fangraphs’ Jay Jaffe that has become the standard bearer to compare players at different positions against those of different eras. Abreu’s JAWS of 50.9 among all-time right fielders is just below the average of 27 Hall of Famers at that position (57.3), but is comparable to future and current Hall of Famers like Ichiro Suzuki (51.9), Dave Winfield (51.0) and Vladimir Guerrero (50.3).
Meanwhile, Rollins’ JAWS score of 40.1 was below the average of 23 Hall of Fame shortstops (55.5), a 15.4 difference that is significantly larger than Abreu’s 6.2, although it is superior to Hall of Famers Travis Jackson (39.6), Phil Rizzuto (38.4) and Rabbit Maranville (37.2), all of whom were voted in decades ago when shortstops were not considered offensive threats.
Abreu is one of seven players with 250+ HR and 350+ SB (Barry Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Jeter, Craig Biggio, Joe Morgan, Bobby Bonds) in his career, and all of them, except for the Bondses, are in Cooperstown. Abreu was simply an on-base machine, as noted by Cooperstowncred:
If you add up all times players reached base (hits, BB, HBP, and times reaching base on an error) during their careers, Abreu ranks 52nd with 4,051 times reached. There are 11 players with more TOB that are not yet in the Hall: Rose, four not yet eligible players (Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Adrian Beltre, and Miguel Cabrera), four PED linked players (Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, Gary Sheffield, Manny Ramirez), Omar Vizquel, and Rusty Staub.
Based on the numbers alone, Abreu’s candidacy is better than Rollins’, and it’s probably not particularly close.
The Case For Rollins
There is a reason the Cooperstown museum is called The Hall of Fame and not The Hall of Stats. One could argue Rollins’ impact on the game, and his franchise, should earn him extra merit by the BBWAA.
Voters love hardware and Rollins won the 2007 NL MVP award, carrying the Phillies to their first division title in 14 years with a historic 20-20-20-20 season (homers, stolen bases, doubles and triples). He was a four-time Gold Glove winner, took home a Silver Slugger award, went to three All-Star games, and authored a number of big postseason moments, none bigger than his walk-off two-run double in Game 4 of the 2009 NLCS.
As MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki noted:
Rollins is one of just five shortstops in baseball history (minimum 51 percent of career games played at the position) with at least 2,000 hits and 200 home runs. Cal Ripken Jr., Derek Jeter, Robin Yount and Miguel Tejada are the others.
But forget about shortstop for a second. Here is the list of all players in baseball history with 200 homers, 2,000 hits and 450 stolen bases: Barry Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Joe Morgan, Paul Molitor, Roberto Alomar and Rollins. Henderson, Morgan, Molitor and Alomar are in the Hall of Fame. Bonds is not.
So Rollins has a few numbers working in his advantage, too. Of course, the second half of Rollins’ career hurt him. From 2009-2016, he had a career OPS+ of 91 and had WARs of 1.8, 2.0, 2.7, 2.5 and 1.3 from ‘09 to ‘13 (although he had a crazy-good 4.1 WAR in ‘14 despite a .717 OPS and 100 OPS+).
Meanwhile, Abreu never finished higher than 12th in MVP voting. He won one Silver Slugger, and one Gold Glove, and even that award was tinged with controversy as Abreu was renowned for being a below average defender. As for the playoffs, Abreu received three postseason at bats in his second season with the Astros in 1997, then didn’t see significant action in October until the last few years of his career with the Yankees and Angels in 2006, ‘07 and ‘09. He finished with an .810 OPS in 20 postseason games but was not an integral part of a championship team during his career.
On the surface, Abreu’s case for induction is better than Rollins. Abreu’s versatility, durability and consistency were remarkable, and he put up some truly eye-popping numbers during the course of his career. He was really good and one of the most underrated players of his era.
However, if I had one selection left on my ballot and my decision came down to J-Roll or Abreu, I would pick Rollins, whose intangibles make up the gap in the counting stats between the two. In addition to some solid stats of his own, the intangibles listed above, his postseason heroics, and his greater overall impact on the game would sway me in his direction.
This is not to slight Abreu, who is also deserving of consideration. It’s an extremely difficult choice and, if you would pick Abreu over Rollins, you would certainly have plenty of ammunition with which to defend that position.