Scott Rolen is inevitable. Will 2023 be the third baseman's Hall of Fame year?
Scott Rolen’s combination of defensive wizardry and offense made him one of the most complete players in baseball.
Though injuries would eventually take a toll on his body, the third baseman was a feared batter during his peak years.
Rolen played 17 seasons in the majors and ranks in the top 15 among third basemen in home runs (316), RBI (1,287) and slugging percentage (.490). Defensively – both by traditional statistics and advanced measurement – he was one of the best third basemen of his generation, winning eight Gold Glove Awards.
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A second-round pick by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1993, he made an immediate impact when he reached the big leagues, unanimously winning the National League Rookie of the Year award in 1997. The following season, he established himself as a legitimate star with a .290/.391/.532 slash line, 31 home runs, 110 RBI and his earning his first Gold Glove.
The seven-time All-Star went on to play for the St. Louis Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays and Cincinnati Reds before retiring in 2012.
Rolen, who is in the Cardinals Hall of Fame, was an integral part of the club that won the World Series in 2006. He hit .421 (8-for-19) with five runs scored in five games against the Detroit Tigers.
USA TODAY Sports examines Rolen's case:
Why Scott Rolen belongs in the Hall
Rolen hit with consistent power and could flat out play the hot corner. His eight Gold Glove Awards trail only Brooks Robinson (16), Mike Schmidt (10) and Nolan Arenado (10) among third basemen in MLB history. He is also one of 15 infielders ever to win at least eight Gold Glove Awards.
During Rolen's peak years from 1997-2004, he was one of the more powerful sluggers at the plate. He had at least 25 home runs and 100 RBI in five seasons. Only nine players in the majors had more such seasons during that span.
His WAR (46.3) during those eight years was higher than any player in the majors aside from Barry Bonds (71.2) and Alex Rodriguez (62.4), but they were later linked to performance-enhancing drugs. It was also higher than Hall of Famers Jeff Bagwell (44.1), Chipper Jones (43.6), Larry Walker (43.4), Derek Jeter (41.7) and Vladimir Guerrero (40.3) over the that span.
And an eight-year sample size is not a small one.
Among the 17 third basemen in the Hall of Fame, his career WAR (70.1) would rank ninth, just behind Ron Santo (70.5) and ahead of Home Run Baker (62.8). The average WAR for Hall of Fame third basemen is 59.8.
Where Scott Rolen doesn’t stack up
Rolen was often injured, mostly the latter part of his career. From 1997-2003, he played 150+ games five times, but never again after those seasons. From 2005-2012, ages 30-37, he averaged just 105 games, diminishing his overall case.
He retired with 2,077 career hits, which is a low number by Hall of Fame standards. There hasn't been a position player elected with fewer than that total since Johnny Bench in 1989 – and he's considered one of the greatest catchers all time.
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Rolen is trending upwards over the past few years on the ballot. As of Jan. 20, he has been named on 79.9% of ballots publicly revealed and listed in Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame Ballot Tracker, just over the 75 percent needed.
Over the last four years, he more than doubled his support from 35.3% in 2020 to over 70% this year.
Will Rolen ultimately get in?
It's looking good for Rolen to join Fred McGriff this year. This is the sixth time he's been on the ballot, and given the momentum he's seen the past few years and continues to get, he will become the 18th third baseman to be enshrined in Cooperstown.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Hall of Fame 2023: Scott Rolen is inevitable but is this the year?