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Rolen’s value is kind of the dividing line between the Hall of Famers and other more modern third basemen who didn’t get in, including Ken Boyer, Darrell Evans and Graig Nettles (all excellent two-way players).

Here’s another way to look at it. MLB Network ran a list of the ninth-best players at each position:

C – Joe Mauer (55.2)

1B – Willie McCovey (64.5)

2B – Roberto Alomar (67.0)

SS – Pee Wee Reese (68.4)

3B – Scott Rolen (70.1)

LF – Willie Stargell (57.5)

CF – Richie Ashburn (64.2)

RF – Tony Gwynn (69.2)

That’s pretty good company if you ask me. All are Hall of Famers except for Mauer, who is not yet eligible (and joins Beltre on the ballot next year). No, these are not necessarily players viewed as inner-circle Hall of Famers, with the exception of Gwynn, but it’s a strong list of well-qualified Hall of Famers.

3. Yes, his defense was that good.

Rolen’s WAR is boosted by strong defensive metrics; but if you want to believe in the eye test, then his defense also passes with Secretariat-like flourish. He won eight Gold Gloves, which speaks to how his D was viewed while active. Going back into the contemporaneous accounts, some commentary:

  • Tony La Russa called Rolen the best defensive third baseman he had ever seen. “I told him once, my happiest day would be if there’s a game where 27 ground balls get to third base,” La Russa said in 2002. “The way he plays that position, the way he runs the bases, the way he takes his at-bats, he is a complete player.”

  • Mike Schmidt, who won 10 Gold Gloves, said in 2004 that Rolen is “better than me.”

  • Dusty Baker, Rolen’s manager in Cincinnati: “He has one of the truest throws to first I’ve seen.”

  • Jim Fregosi, Rolen’s first manager in the majors: “He’s got more range than any of our shortstops.”

  • Terry Francona, Rolen’s manager with the Phillies, when asked if Rolen could play shortstop: “He’s covering short now.”

The anecdotal evidence backs up the statistical measurements. Rolen was the Nolan Arenado of his generation.

4. His hitting was better than you realize.

We’ll start with some old-school stats. It’s fair to say that Rolen’s counting stats don’t scream super loud, in large part because he did miss significant time with injuries in his 30s. Still, among third basemen (who played at least 50% of their games at the position), he is:

Tied for 15th in home runs (one less career long ball than George Brett)

For rate stats (minimum 6,000 plate appearances), he is:

  • Seventh in OPS (his OPS was .855; Brett’s was .857)

  • 12th in OPS+ (122, the same as fellow Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Paul Molitor and Tony Perez)

  • Seventh in slugging percentage

It all adds up to a borderline top-10 offensive third basemen and one of the greatest defensive third basemen of all time. (Baseball-Reference’s fielding metrics credit only Brooks Robinson and Adrian Beltre with more fielding runs at third base.) That’s why Rolen is top 10 at the position, and in my book, if you’re top 10, you’re a Hall of Famer.

Part of the key here: Third base is the ultimate hybrid position: some offense and some defense. It is a reason that it’s the most underrepresented position in Cooperstown. It is a difficult position to evaluate.

5. He was underrated in his own time.

One of the anti-Rolen arguments is that his only top-10 MVP finish came in 2004, when he finished fourth. But that’s kind of the point to everything here: We’re smarter than we used to be, better at understanding why teams win and lose baseball games than we were in 1997, when Rolen was named National League Rookie of the Year. Rolen’s initial years were spent on bad Phillies teams; his first four Philadelphia teams averaged 91 losses, which didn’t help him get a lot of recognition early on. Defense has always been an underappreciated art, and every gifted defensive third basemen since Brooks Robinson has played in his shadow and rarely gets enough credit. (Although Nolan Arenado is finally breaking that trend, in part because it’s been nearly 50 years since Robinson played, so that shadow is finally waning.)

From 1997 to 2004, his eight-year peak, Rolen was third in WAR, behind Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez. In raw batting totals, he was eighth in doubles, 14th in RBIs, 17th in runs and 23rd in home runs. I’m not advocating that he should have won multiple MVP awards, and he wasn’t a top-10 hitter in the game (except 2004), but he was a very good, productive hitter who was one of the game’s best all-around players for eight seasons and still a solid player after that. We just didn’t know how good at the time.

6. Joey Votto agrees.

“I loved playing with him,” his former Reds teammate said in a video posted on social media. “I learned so much. If any player is lucky enough to have a role model and a teammate like him, they’re as lucky as it gets. I shaped my career, my effort, my work in his mold. He’s a Hall of Famer today. Deserving. And I have nothing but respect for him and his achievements.”

Is Rolen a slam dunk Hall of Famer? Of course not. But one question that is worth asking about every Hall candidate: Does a player raise or lower the current Hall of Fame standards? Rolen raises the standards.