Recognizing Scott Rolen’s Greatness

So many times we get caught up in following the all-time greats and we fail to pay attention to those who were not as great, but were still damn good players. This thread is going to focus on a player that never really got the recognition that he deserved over the course of his career. Even though his career is still ongoing and hes producing solid numbers, he is still not getting the recognition he should be getting. His career took place during the steroid era in which you could basically jack 40+ homers and you could be horrible defensively and still be considered a good player. However, baseball has shifted away from the power game with the abolition of steroids in the past couple of years and it has focused more on defense, which was always Rolen’s strength. Rolen was also one of those players, similarly to Ken Griffey Jr., that if he stayed on the field a lot more, he would have had a much better career. Given the amount of shoulder injuries that Rolen has had in his career, it is even more remarkable that he has battled back to being a solid everyday player and has been able to stay at third base and play good defense, thus not limiting his value. So maybe Rolen’s inability to consistently stay on the field limited some of his value to the common fan. However, anyone who follows baseball religiously knows that Rolen is a much better player than the common fan perceives him to be.

You don’t have to be a Cardinals fan to know who the most popular player in the Cardinals organization has been over the past decade. Rolen has been overshadowed by Albert Pujols as well as some other great Cardinals players on those strong World Series Cardinals teams. The Cardinals made the World Series in 2004 and won it in 2006. In those two year Rolen ended up having some of the best seasons of his career. In 2004, Rolen had the best year of his career. He posted career highs in home runs (34), OBP (.409), wOBA (.421), RC+ (162), and WAR (8.8). He also posted an outstanding UZR of 21.2. However, most impressively, Rolen was the most valuable player on his team in 2004 in terms of WAR. He had a higher WAR than both Pujols and Edmonds! In 2006, Rolen posted a .373 wOBA, 130 RC+, a UZR of 11.7 and a 5.5 WAR which was good for second best on his team. I think you can guess who might have been ahead of him in WAR. So as you can clearly see, Rolen was a key contributor on both of those World Series teams.

So we know that Rolen was important to the Cardinals success, but lets look at how his own success stacks up against some other third basemen. The following WAR Graph will show how Rolen’s career stacks up against Ron Santo, George Brett, and Brooks Robinson. I chose two players that played a lot longer and are considered much better players than Rolen and I chose Santo because he is on Rolen’s level in terms of length of career and many people feel like he should be a HOF’er.

The graph shows the cumulative WAR by age for these four players. Rolen stacks up pretty well here as he remains with the group throughout his prime years. He is right on par with Brooks Robinson and he only trails George Brett by about 8-10 WAR until through 30 years old. However, after the age of 30 Rolen’s curve flattens out. This is mostly because he began to be troubled by injuries and the most amount of games that he played since they won the World Series in 2006 was 128. He begins to fall behind Robinson, Santo, and Brett. If Rolen had stayed healthy, maybe he would have been on track to catch those three. Rolen’s WAR per 600 PA’s is 5.42, Santo’s is 5.06, Robinson’s is 4.82, and Brett’s is 4.72. Now im only doing this to show the impact that injuries had on Rolen. Im not implying that Rolen is better than any of these guys. This next graph shows his early 30’s injury impact even further in terms of WAR.

Here is each players WAR that corresponds to how old they were in that given year. You can clearly see that Rolen’s blue line is close to Brett’s and Robinson’s. Santo had a great peak and then declined early so his line is a good bit higher. Rolen tails off at about 32 and has not gotten 4+ WAR in a season since age 31. Brett and Robinson were able to maintain that success, which is why they are better players than Rolen.

So having said that, where does Rolen rank among third basemen all-time?

We know that these players are definitely better than Rolen.

– Eddie Mathews

– Mike Schmidt

– Brooks Robinson

– Chipper Jones

– George Brett

– Wade Boggs

These players are DEFINITELY better than Rolen. Im not going to put Alex Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez or Harmon Killebrew on this list because they played different positions for more than half their careers. So, that leaves guys like Paul Molitor, Ron Santo, Dick Allen, and Tony Perez. However, I am going to give Rolen the edge on these guys cause they have similar numbers offensively and Rolen is MUCH better defensively. However, that could be argued. Either way, Rolen ends up being a borderline top 10 third basemen of all-time.

I think I have made my point very clear. Rolen is not only one of the most underrated players in our era, he is one of the most underrated players of all-time. He is and should be a HOF’er and hes a top 10 third basemen of all-time. He has my recognition and hopefully he now has yours.

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