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Rollins has elite counting stats for a shortstop, deserves support for the Hall

His stats and accomplishments should get him support for the Hall of Fame

This year’s Hall of Fame ballot is being considered by voters this month, and it includes several players with strong Phillies connections:

- Curt Schilling: 10th and final time on the ballot — his vote totals jumped in 2019 (to 60.9%) and 2020 (70.0%), but leveled off last year (71.1%), short of the 75% mark needed to get in. This being his last chance may prompt enough additional voters to get him over the top.
- Scott Rolen: 5th time — has climbed from 10.2% his first time on the ballot, up to 52.9% last year (coincidentally also about where Schilling was in year 4). His chances of getting in over the next several years are looking pretty good.
- Bobby Abreu: 3rd time — he barely made the 5% cutoff his first year (5.5%), but climbed some to 8.7% in year two. While he has a strong case statistically, it’s looking like an uphill climb as of now.
- Jonathan Papelbon: 1st time — the Phillies’ all-time saves leader (123), and has the 10th most saves in MLB history.
- Ryan Howard: 1st time — Howard put up huge numbers as the Big Piece in the middle of a dynamic Phillies lineup, but his decline (particularly post-achilles injury) will likely mean he won’t get the 5% necessary to remain on the ballot.
- Jimmy Rollins: 1st time

It’s Rollins’ case that we’ll focus on here, and it’s one that will split fans (and BBWAA voters) along some of the divides we’ve seen recently:

  • stats focus vs. impact on an era or a franchise
  • traditional vs. advanced stats
  • peak performance vs. long-term endurance

The more analytically-minded among us will look at his WAR numbers and decide he doesn’t measure up. (For the same reason, Chase Utley will look like a shoo-in to the more sabre-savvy voters, and will get plenty of support when he’s eligible in two years.)

Rollins would have more WAR than many shortstops already in the Hall, but that’s typically not enough reason. His chances will rely on valuing his other pluses, including counting stats that would rank high among the 26 Shortstops in the Hall.

John Stolnis recently laid out the key points of Rollins’ case when he compared it to that of Abreu:

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.

Rollins’ resume is a substantial one:

- MVP trophy, and votes in 5 seasons
- four Gold Gloves
- more than 2,400 hits
- more than 230 homers
- more than 850 extra-base hits
- the most hits in the history of a 139-year-old franchise*
- a Silver Slugger
- three All-Star appearances, though not his MVP year

All on top of his swagger, presence, and leadership on the 2007-2011 Phillies.

Speed, Defense, Power

Jimmy Rollins had a rare combination of speed, defense, and power, especially for his position, and that puts him on several exclusive lists:

All shortstops with 200 HR & 2000 hits: Cal Ripken Jr., Derek Jeter, Robin Yount, Miguel Tejada, Rollins

All shortstops with 700 XBH & 400 SB: Honus Wagner, and Rollins

All shortstops with 400 SB & 200 HR: Rollins. That’s the list.

All shortstops with 2000 hits & 4 Gold Gloves: Jeter, Ozzie Smith, Luis Aparicio, Alan Trammell (all in the Hall), Omar Vizquel, and Rollins

As Jayson Stark put it in Jimmy Rollins’ unique Hall of Fame case:

The offensive quality he has in common with Smith, Vizquel and Aparicio is that they could all flat out steal a base. But here’s what they don’t share: Those three hit fewer home runs combined (191) than Rollins has hit by himself.

So the only two really similar players to Rollins on this list are Jeter and Trammell. I don’t think anyone would argue Rollins has had a better career than either of them. But here we go again: He’s hanging with special players, no matter what combination of stats you want to use to measure him.

Rollins is also one of only four players in history to accomplish a 20-20-20-20 season (38 doubles, 20 triples, 30 home runs, and 41 stolen bases in 2007), and the only infielder to do it. The other three:

  • Frank Schulte in 1911 (30-21-21-23), when he won the NL’s Chalmers Award, equivalent to the MVP.
  • Willie Mays in 1957 (26-20-35-38)
  • Curtis Granderson also in 2007, his 7.9 fWAR season

Then there’s this:

Rollins’ 38-game hitting streak across 2005-06 is the longest streak in the majors in the last 34 years. Think of all the great hitters that have come through the majors over that time. None of them had as long a streak as Jimmy Rollins.

That is the 8th longest streak in MLB history, and the longest by any shortstop in the last 127 years (Bill Dahlen, 1894).

Joe DiMaggio had his incredible 56-game streak 80 years ago. Since then, only two players have had a longer one than Rollins — Pete Rose (44) in 1978, and Paul Molitor (39) in 1987.

Ranks among switch hitters

Before considering his place among the game’s shortstops, it’s worth noting that Rollins was among the most prolific switch hitters in MLB history, at any position:

Only 8 switch hitters had more total bases: 5 are already in the Hall, 2 either will be (Carlos Beltran) or are banned (Pete Rose), and 1 had good stats but not for a mostly corner outfielder (Chili Davis).

Only 4 switch hitters had more doubles: Rose, Beltran, plus Hall of Famers Chipper Jones and Eddie Murray

Only 5 had more extra base hits: the above 4, plus Mickey Mantle

And back to that combination of power and speed, Rollins is the only switch hitter in history, at any position, with 800+ extra base hits (857), and 400+ stolen bases (470).

And while those are arbitrary cutoffs, the same point can be made another way: if we combine extra base hits and stolen bases, only 3 switch hitters ever had a higher combined total than Rollins’ 1,327: Beltran, Tim Raines, and 1910s-20s Hall of Famer Max Carey

Hitting stats as a shortstop

There are some who say you should compare hitters regardless of their position, but that ignores the fundamental concept of position scarcity. It’s much harder to play shortstop than, say, left field, and as a result there are many more good hitters available who can play LF than who can play shortstop at the major league level. And so we usually compare players, especially those at tougher positions, with other players at the same position.

One question that always comes up in doing that is where to draw the line for minimum playing time to qualify for a position. For example, Ernie Banks played 45% of his games at short — is that enough to call him a shortstop and count all of his career stats in comparing shortstops? Alex Rodriguez played 46% of his games there. We could use the cutoff of 50% — if they played at SS in at least half their games, say, then ALL of their stats would count when considering shortstops. That excludes Banks and ARod, for example, but would still include Robin Yount (55%), who moved to the outfield for the second half of his career. Likewise, the turn of the century’s George Davis(1) played 58% of his games at Short, and makes the cut.

Using the 50% cutoff, below are MLB’s all-time leading shortstops in some key counting stats. Players already in the Hall of Fame are noted.

Rollins is:

12th in hits
9th in runs
10th in stolen bases
8th in home runs
6th in doubles
5th in extra base hits
5th in total bases

And more to the point perhaps, this is where Rollins would rank among all shortstops in the Hall, if his stats were included (in yellow) and every category was ranked from highest to lowest.

* Hall of Fame Shortstops include players with less than 50% of games at SS: Ernie Banks (45%), John Ward (44%)
* TOB: Times on Base

Shortstop Batting Splits

The method above (choosing a minimum playing time threshold) is one perfectly valid way of comparing hitting stats at a position. The flaw inherent in it though is that it lumps together players who were able to stick at Short their entire careers, with those who became too heavy, or slow, or who had to move off the position for any number of reasons. For some (e.g. ARod), one could argue that on a different team, or in a different situation, they would have stayed at shortstop. But the bottom line remains — they didn’t.

Instead of arbitrary all-or-nothing cutoffs, we could instead look at their splits by position. We could then at least credit someone like ARod with his stats at shortstop, and they would show, for one thing, that he came only 1 HR shy of reaching Cal Ripken Jr’s record of 345 at the position.(2)

Shortstop Batting Splits — All-time Rankings

Below are the all-time Shortstop rankings based on position splits — either as reported by baseball-reference (BR), estimated based on games by position for any seasons with incomplete splits (est), or a combination of the two (B/e).

You will note that Honus Wagner, the greatest player ever at SS (at least until ARod, anyway), doesn’t appear as prominently in these rankings as we might have thought. The reason is that Wagner came up playing a variety of positions. He didn’t appear in his first major league game at SS until his fifth season in the majors, and didn’t become a full-time shortstop until his 7th season. As a result, only 68% of his games were played at short.

The other thing that jumps out is where Rollins’ sustained above-average performance at a demanding position has put him on these lists:

  • Only Jeter had more doubles while at Short
  • Only Ripken had more extra base hits
  • Only Jeter and Ripken had more total bases
  • Only Jeter scored more runs

And again, this is where Rollins’ stats would rank among all Shortstops in the Hall:

It would be much more difficult to do the same splits analysis for WAR, but obviously it would have the same effect of moving Rollins up the rankings.

Hall of Fame Consideration

What do these accomplishments mean for his chances at induction into the Hall of Fame?

They are impressive enough that they should at least earn Rollins enough support to remain on the ballot and get a fuller assessment of his credentials.

His rate stats may be low enough that the hardware, his value to a championship team, and his counting stats won’t save him, no matter how impressive:

His batting average (.264) and OBP (.324) would both rank near the bottom, better than only four Hall of Fame shortstops in each case. His OPS of .743 does better, ranking higher than nine of the 26 shortstops already enshrined. His rWAR of 47.6 is better than six.

Aside from the rate stats, there have been other objections of varying cogency to Rollins’ enshrinement:

“he had too many plate appearances”

Rollins batted lead off for many years when he wasn’t a great fit for that spot (though he was arguably the “least bad” option), and that got him more PAs than if he had batted say 6th or 7th. But is this a complaint that we hear when someone gets Hall consideration because they reach a big round number such as 3,000 hits, or 500 home runs — no, of course it isn’t. And reaching high numbers of other stats shouldn’t get this kind of reaction either.

“if you put in Rollins, you have to put in ______”

Like say Miguel Tejada? Even if PEDs aren’t an automatic disqualifier for a voter, when a player is a borderline candidate to begin with, and their key plus was their power, I doubt Tejada has much chance.

Omar Vizquel? Setting aside his off-the-field issues (though they should count), Vizquel was very good defensively, but purely an accumulator — the Jamie Moyer of shortstops. While Rollins wasn’t a great hitter, he was a far better hitter than Vizquel: 95 wRC+ vs. 83, 95 OPS+ vs. 82.

As Adam Darowski of Sports Reference put it recently in comparing Rollins and Vizquel:

Jimmy Rollins was the face of the Phillies franchise during their run of continued success, provided excellent defense and compiled a substantial resume of accomplishments and stats that very few shortstops have matched.

He deserves consideration for the Hall of Fame.