Jimmy Rollins, Hall of Fame Candidate


Jimmy Rollins

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

34 players who have ever worn a Phillies jersey while playing professional baseball have been inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.

Only a select few, 6 to be exact, have been inducted into the Hall of Fame wearing the Phillies cap. They include Jim Bunning, Richie Ashburn, Mike Schmidt, Robin Roberts, and Chuck Klein. The other inductees played for the Phillies during some part of their careers, but due to either the time in which they played or that they played their best seasons with a team other than the Phillies, identify with another franchise as their “main” team.

The last Philadelphia Phillies player to be enshrined in the hall was Jim Bunning in 1996. Since then a number of very talented and extremely productive players have played for the Phillies, many still active with the team, having yet to hang up their cleats. One of those players is Jimmy Rollins, or as we like to refer to the little shortstop with a cannon for an arm, J-Roll.

You might be asking yourself how it is that the baseball writers association might vote in Rollins who has garnered none of the “magic” numbers that afford a player almost a red carpet into the Hall of Fame. Rollins hasn’t reached, nor will he, 3,000 hits, 500 home runs, or any incredible combination of the two statistics that would make him a shoe in to the hall. Still, not all HOF inductees must satisfy those arbitrary and to some extent quite antiquated methods of measurement.

The most recent HOF inductee was former Reds shortstop Barry Larkin who did not reach either 2,500 hits or 200 home runs in his career, yet the voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of American placed him on 86.4% of ballots, making him the most recent member of baseball’s exclusive club.

Jimmy Rollins has played 12 full seasons in Major League Baseball, not including the 14 games he played in 2000 or any of his games played thus far in 2013. At 34 years old, the shortstop has time to play a few more seasons, so when evaluating him for the HOF, remember that his current statistics are not set in stone. In fact, Rollins is currently in year 2 of a 3-year contract with the Phillies that has a possibility to become 4 years due to a 4th year vesting option which is based on playing time. So, without further adieu, let’s dissect Jimmy Rollins.

In his career, Jimmy Rollins has accumulated 2081 hits, scored 1205 runs, hit 197 home runs, knocked in 812 runs, and stolen 408 bases. He holds a career slash line of .270/.328/.431, and .161 ISO. He has 4 gold gloves, 1 silver slugger award, 1 MVP award, has won one World Series, been an All-star 3 times, joined the 30HR/30SB club in 2007, and holds the record for most at bats in a single season with 716 in 2007.

Rollins plays one of the most demanding defensive positions on the diamond in shortstop. He captains the infield, has involvement in numerous types of plays including simple ground balls, double plays, stolen base attempts, and cut-offs from the outfield. Throughout his career he has dazzled Philadelphia fans and baseball fans alike with his solid range, great arm, and most importantly, fantastic instinct and fielding acumen. Rollins positions himself incredibly well, knowing every tendency of a hitter, understanding the battery’s strategy, and putting himself in the best position possible to get the outs. To say that Jimmy Rollins has been a great defensive player throughout his career would constitute accurate, if not a slight understatement.

Recently on Fangraphs David Lauria interviewed the Phillies shortstop, asking him various questions, some concerning defense. Here’s Rollins answer when asked about his knowledge or use of modern defensive metrics:

"“I’ve seen them, but I can’t really tell you what any of it means. I’m sure they mean something. Defensive positioning helps increase how many balls you get to, but range is always going to factor into that — how far you’re going left and right, the plays you make and don’t make. Getting outs when they’re needed, making big plays, turning double plays — especially double plays; those are big. I’m sure there’s a measure for that. Doing those things when they count is how you measure up. I’m not sure if there’s a metric system for that.”"

So, according to these metrics, how does Rollins fare? The three most utilized defensive metrics available to the public include Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), and Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA). In his career to date Rollins has a 52.8 UZR, 56 DRS, and -49.0 FRAA. UZR is a zone based defensive metric that has much of its core in the range of a given player, and Rollins scores well here, ranking second behind only J.J. Hardy since 2000.

Rollins Turning Two

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive Runs Saved uses a combination of range, good-fielding plays made, and other factors to come up with a number of runs a player has saved with his defense. Rollins’ 56 since 2000 places him 4th in MLB behind Jack Wilson, Troy Toluwitzki, and J.J. Hardy. Finally, FRAA is calculated using play-by-play data, which is then manipulated by the sabermagicians at Baseball Prospectus to come up with a number. This metric dislikes Rollins defense, giving him a negative defensive value. Often these three metrics disagree as the category of defensive statistics has yet to become as well-rounded as offensive metrics, but they still provide us with a decent look into a player’s defensive value. Just to round out the defensive statistics, Rollins has the third highest fielding percentage amongst shortstops since 2000 with a .983 mark behind only A-Rod and Tulowitzki.

So, where does Rollins stand when comparing him to the shortstops already in the Hall of Fame. To compare Rollins’ offensive statistics or defensive ones to say a left-fielder would be ludicrous, just as trying to compare a catcher’s statistics would be to a third baseman’s. 22 shortstops have made it to the HOF, 3 of whom have at least 3,000 hits, and one of whom has over 500 home runs.

If Rollins retired today, he would rank 17 among HOF shortstops in hits, 5th in home runs, 14th in runs scored, 6th in stolen bases, 17th in runs batted in, and 20th in wins above replacement. Those rankings suggest a player that should already be considered for the Hall of Fame, and given that Rollins has a couple more years in the tank, his hits, home runs, runs scored, stolen bases, and RBIs have nowhere to go but up. Interestingly, if Rollins was not voted into the HOF, he wouldn’t be the first shortstop with numbers worthy of enshrinement to fail to reach the promised land. Alan Trammel, a shortstop for the Tigers, accumulated more than 60 fWAR in his career, but has yet to be voted in by the BBWAA.

Rollins’ numbers stack up well to against already inducted shortstops, but what about against his generation, his peers, those players with similar advantages and disadvantages to him? Since Rollins’ career began, he has been the 3rd most valuable shortstop in baseball behind only Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter.

One aspect of Rollins’ career that has made him so valuable has been his outstanding base running. Fangraphs accumulates a metric dubbed BsR which attempts to provide a value of a players overall base running contributions. Rollins’ 80.0 BsR is first amongst shortstops since 2000, ahead of 2nd place Jose Reyes by 23.6 BsR. Expanding that sample to all positions, Rollins ranks second behind only Juan Pierre in BsR since 2000. BsR includes not only statistics on stolen bases, but also taking the extra base, not being thrown out on the bases, as well as other aspects to base running. Rollins has been outstanding in this aspect of the game.

The Hall of Fame includes some of baseball’s best players, but it also excludes many of them. Trammel constitutes only one of many great players yet to reach the requisite percentage of votes from the baseball writers to allow entrance into Cooperstown. Pete Rose remains banned due to gambling, many think the writers will never allow prolific hitters like Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and Raphael Palmiero entrance due to issues each of these players had with performance enhancing drugs. In an era partially marred by these clouds of scandal, Jimmy Rollins has remained untouched. Rollins has never been on a list of players accused of doping, he has never shown physical signs of synthetic enhancement, nor has anyone ever accused J-Roll of any improprieties. If a qualification for the HOF is a spotless record than Jimmy Rollins can check that box.

Rollins may never reach the Hall of Fame due to various reasons, but the one glaring one will probably be that the people who vote often do so idiotically. How players like Tim Raines, Allan Trammel, and Dick Allen have not had a plaque made for them in Cooperstown astounds this writer, but these cases prove that great and deserving players often never attain the greatest personal career achievement in the sport. When Rollins officially retires, he should be not only considered for the HOF, he should be inducted, maybe not on the 1st ballot, but he shouldn’t have to wait long for his name to be announced. Mark my words, James Calvin Rollins should and will be the next Phillies inductee into baseballs Hall of Fame, barring of course the Curt Schilling isn’t voted in and happens to decide to not wear a Diamondbacks or Red Sox cap upon entrance.

*Thanks to Fangraphs, Baseball Prospectus, and Baseball-Reference for statistics used in this piece