Jimmy Rollins: Hall of Famer?
Yesterday, June 14, 2014, Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins surpassed Mike Schmidt’s record for most hits with the Philadelphia Phillies, hitting number 2,235 off Edwin Jackson of the Chicago Cubs in his third at bat. One would have to immediately wonder if breaking a mark held by Mike Schmidt, whom many would consider the greatest third baseman of all-time, puts Rollins in the discussion for a hall of fame spot. Rollins is not a guy you completely rule out upon immediately hearing his name, but has he achieved enough to be voted into the hall of fame, let alone be in the discussion.
35 year old Rollins has played in Major League Baseball for fifteen years, all of which he has spent with the Philadelphia Phillies. His first four years with the team were subpar offensively statistically speaking, but Rollins had two of his three all-star appearances within those first four years, if you were to include his 2000 14 game big league stint, which I am including out of kindness. His OPS+, which normalizes park effects and allows us to compare players offensive output in a fair way, with 100 being league average, for those first four seasons are 83, 93, 85, and 90. Another comprehensive statistic to measure the offensive output for a given player is wOBA, weighted on base average, which also paints Rollins as subpar in those first four seasons, with two average scores, one below average score, and a poor score. Why exactly did Rollins get elected to two all-star teams (the value of an all-star team appearance can be debated, but I will leave it alone for now) with such mediocre offense? The answer is found in his defense. Measuring defense comprehensively and well with statistics is just not possible at this point in time, so when one measures defense it should be by the eye largely. A statistic like defensive WAR is weak due to how it poorly measures defense (if it is not, then Andrelton Simmons is already one of the greatest players of all-time), UZR is weird with locations, and errors are often left up to the official scorer, who may be incompetent or biased.
Going beyond just those four years, Rollins has been one of the premier defensive shortstops in Major League Baseball during his tenure. His quick decision making, his speed, his agility, and his arm all make him a top defensive shortstop, making up for what he may lack offensively. Rollins probably does not get enough credit defensively due to playing alongside Omar Vizquel, who is unquestionably one of the greatest defensive shortstops of all-time. I am sure most who are reading this have seen Rollins play at least once on television or online, allowing even the most casual fan to see what a tremendous defense asset Jimmy Rollins is at shortstop. So much of defensive ability in baseball history is unfortunately left to the individuals who saw a player play or covered a team, which is why Honus Wagner is considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest shortstop, of all-time. Is Rollins on the level of Wagner, Vizquel, or Ozzie Smith? Most likely not, but that question would be better suited for an actual baseball historian. Is Rollins defense a big positive into moving him into the hall of fame discussion? Without a doubt, his defense plays one big role.
Rollins added to his mastery as a defensive shortstop with some quality seasons offensively, posting three seasons with an OPS over .800, six seasons with an OPS+ better than 100, and a wOBA north of .340, including his 2007 Most Valuable Player award winning season in which he posted a weighted on base average of .371. Only once did Rollins have a batting average over .300 and that was his 14 game rookie ‘season’. While all of those are positives, with the exception of the 2007 MVP season, Rollins has posted merely good numbers at best. Rollins possesses nothing extraordinary in counting statistics (runs, home runs, stolen bases) outside of his team record 2,235 hits. I would certainly hope someone would not use the argument that “Schmidt is in, so Rollins must get in!” Mike Schmidt is literally the greatest third baseman, not just due to defense but also video game-esque numbers. Schmidt’s average OPS+ is 147, which really puts Rollins’s 97 career OPS+ in a bad light, but I just wanted to note that there is no real comparison between Schmidt and Rollins other than both are/were Phillies and both held the hits record for the Philadelphia Phillies organization. A real comparison for Jimmy Rollins would be Alan Trammell. Trammell, the career Tiger’s shortstop was equally as good defensively as Rollins and has Rollins beat in most counting or rate statistics. More hits, better OBP, better OPS, better OPS+, Trammell has him cornered in about every category and matched with every award, with the exception of Rollins’s 2007 MVP award. Trammell has been on the hall of fame ballot for thirteen years now, receiving only 20.8% of the vote in his thirteenth year on the ballot. As hall of fame season begins during the off-season, I am sure I will have more on the case of Alan Trammell, who should be in.
What does Trammell’s failed candidacy say about Jimmy Rollins? His chances of making it into Cooperstown seem slim, maybe even non-existent. Rollins best hope is some form of narrative that writers from the Baseball Writers Association of America. Perhaps it will be “Rollins brought a championship to Philadelphia for the second time in the city’s history” or “Rollins won the MVP during a year where there were tons of quality candidates.” I do not buy into any of these narratives and you likely will not either, but there is a slight chance that some of the writers who vote will, and that is where Rollins hope in staying on the ballot for more than one year lies. I am a fan of keeping players who are likely not hall of famers, but had great careers on the ballot for more than one year if only for the discussion it brings up between fans. An example of this would be Kenny Lofton during the last voting process. I dismissed Lofton out of hand without looking up his career numbers. “He was a good player, but he moved around team-to-team so often he could not have been that good” was my thought at the time. After doing fairly extensive research on Lofton, I still came to the conclusion that he was slightly short of being hall of fame-worthy, but the fact that he was on the ballot allowed me to review his career and realize what a great player he truly was. A similar scenario is what I envision and hope for in regards to Jimmy Rollins. He will be remembered as a very good, if not great, two-way player at arguable the most difficult position on the field, shortstop.
Rollins probably has a couple more years left in him as a valuable starting shortstop, be it for Philadelphia or some team that acquires him in a trade or free agency. His top asset, his defense at shortstop, has slipped some over recent years, but he would be an upgrade for a number of teams, especially those with shortstops who are anemic hitters. The additional years will not alter the case of Jimmy Rollins in any certain way. He will not hit any special marks with home runs, hits, or stolen bases. It is unlikely he will win any more Gold Gloves, Silver Sluggers. He probably will not see another all-star appearance with the rise of younger, more athletic shortstops getting that spot. He will not add to his case from an advanced statistical point of view, as there will be no more seasons of 120+ OPS+ or seasons with an OPS over .800. Regardless of the future and Cooperstown, Jimmy Rollins has certainly had a career to remember.