The Cooperstown Case for Scott Rolen

During the Cardinals’ successful teams of the early-to-mid 2000’s, one of the most key contributors was their all-star third baseman. But overall, his career was so successful, he has gained traction in recent years for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

So, on this edition of The Cooperstown Case, we take a look at the career of World Series champion Scott Rolen.

A second-round pick by the Phillies in 1993, Rolen right off the bat made an impact on the field and at the plate when he made his MLB debut in August of 1996. He unanimously won the National League Rookie of the Year award in 1997. His early career success continued in 1998, with a .290/.391/.532 slash line, to go along with 31 home runs and 110 RBI, earning his first Gold Glove award in the process. Of all third basemen in Major league history, only two players have more Gold Gloves than Rolen (8): Hall of Famers Brooks Robinson (16) and Mike Schmidt (10).

After years of frustration over a lack of team progress, Rolen demanded, and was later granted, a trade. On July 29th, 2002, Philadelphia traded Rolen and Doug Nickle to the St. Louis Cardinals for Plácido Polanco, Mike Timlin, and Bud Smith. Later that year, he received an eight-year deal which was worth approximately $90 million.

Two years later, Rolen had what is considered his best season in his long career. During the 2004 season, Rolen was continuously ranked at the top of most offensive statistics in Major League Baseball. He, along with Albert Pujols and Jim Edmonds, formed the trio “MV3”, a nickname given for their outstanding 2004 seasons. Injuries hampered him in the final stretch of the season, but he finished with career-high .314 batting average, 34 home runs, and 124 RBIs. He also finished fourth in the National League MVP voting, as the St. Louis Cardinals finished with a record of 105-57, and won their first National League pennant in almost 30 years.

However, they were swept in the World Series by the Boston Red Sox.

Injuries continued to plague Rolen during the 2005 season, and had surgery on a torn shoulder, missing a significant portion of the season; despite the Cardinals finishing 100-62, they would fail to advance to the World Series, falling to the Houston Astros in the NLCS.

The following season, his comeback was instrumental to the Cardinals’ success. Although they finished 83-79 and barely squeaked into the postseason, Rolen was a consistent presence, hitting .292, hitting 22 home runs and 95 RBI, and almost winning the National League Comeback Player of the Year Award. On top of that, the Cardinals won the 2006 World Series over the Detroit Tigers, their first title since 1982.

Yet again, however, Rolen began dealing with more injury issues, and eventually, in 2008, he was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for Troy Glausb. Despite mediocre offensive production, in 2008, which was the lone full season with the Blue Jays, Rolen played in 115 games, and only hit 11 HR with 50 RBI and a 109 OPS+. His defense remained first-rate, however, allowing for a 3.4 WAR, which once again showcased his value as a double threat.

Rolen spent the final three seasons of his career with the Cincinnati Reds. And while he continued to struggle offensively, it was his stellar defense that kept him going in the big leagues. Rolen finished the 2009 season with a 5.2 WAR.

When his career was all said and done after the 2012 season, Rolen finished with a .281 average, 2077 hits, 316 home runs and 1,287 RBI’s. He was a seven-time All-Star, and an eight-time Gold Glove Award winner.

So what makes a strong case for Rolen?

Rolen has the ninth best WAR (70.1, Wins Above Replacement according to Baseball-Reference) all-time in baseball history. Seven of the eight players with a higher WAR are already in Cooperstown. Meanwhile, Adrian Beltre is not eligible until 2024, although he also has a strong case for induction into the Hall of Fame.

Over the past four ballots, his voting has increased:

2018: 10.2%
2019: 17.2%
2020: 35.3%
2021: 52.9%

Injuries, however, have played a major role in hampering his candidacy, especially in his later years post-Cardinals. Offensively, his production dipped as well from 2008-2012, although as stated earlier, his defense continued to shine.

A St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer, it remains to be seen if Rolen will get the call to Cooperstown. With six years remaining on the ballot, he has proven he has a strong case, however.

(Photo Credit: STLToday)

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