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Struggling to Gain Momentum: Why Jimmy Rollins’ Hall of Fame Bid is Stalling

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Jimmy Rollins has the most hits in Phillies history. (Matt A. Brown/Icon Sportswire) Locally, there is a feeling from many that it’s a matter of when, not if Philadelphia Phillies icon Jimmy Rollins is elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. A majority of voters, though, don’t seem to share that perspective. At the time of publication, 31.8% of ballots have been made public and are accounted for thanks to the tremendous work down by Ryan Thibodaux’s team. Rollins has received votes on 13.9% of ballots. That’s enough where he isn’t in danger of falling below the 5% threshold needed to remain on the ballot, but hardly a sign for Rollins that in his third year of eligibility he’s gaining momentum towards the 75% needed for election. Let’s start with this: As much as their two careers were intertwined on the Phillies and briefly with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Rollins and long-time double play partner Chase Utley are not a package deal. Utley, appearing on the ballot for the first time in 2024, currently has garnered votes from 42.6% of voters. Utley really does seem to be a case of when, not if in regards to the Hall of Fame. This isn’t going to be a debate about whether Rollins or Utley was the better player, because frankly it’s not relevant right now. While voters are limited to checking 10 names per ballot, this isn’t such a crowded group of names that voters who would like to vote for Rollins are unable to because they instead are picking Utley and nine others. So why isn’t Rollins gaining steam? There are some back-of-the-baseball-card — or in today’s world, top-of-the-Baseball-Reference-page — marks that Rollins is on par with some Hall of Famers with. He’s the all-time leader in hits for the Phillies, a franchise that began play in 1883. Proponents of Rollins’ Cooperstown case often point out that he finished his career with 2,455 hits, more than Hall of Famer Barry Larkin’s 2,340. However, if you keep pulling on that thread a bit, comparing Rollins to Larkin looks less and less like a good strategy to make the former’s case. Both Rollins and Larkin were players who spent the overwhelming majority of their careers with an NL franchise — Larkin played all 19 years of his career with the Cincinnati Reds — won an MVP and won a World Series. Rollins won four Gold Glove Awards, as opposed to three from Larkin. But the rest of Larkin’s resume trumps Rollins, and probably not by a little. Take all these honors selected by flawed humans with a grain of salt, but Rollins was a three-time All-Star, as opposed to Larkin being a 12-time All-Star. Rollins won one Silver Slugger Award in 2007, as opposed to nine from Larkin. There are some back-of-the-baseball-card stats that Rollins tops Larkin in, such as the aforementioned career hits, home runs — 231 to 198 — and stolen bases, 470 to 379. However, there are others that aren’t even close. Larkin had nine seasons where he hit .300 or better, nine more than Rollins. Larkin finished his career with a .295 batting average, 31 points higher than Rollins’ .264 mark. Larkin had a .371 career on-base percentage, 47 points higher than Rollins at .324. When you get into some of the more advanced stats, Larkin continues to have a significant edge. In terms of OPS, Larkin finished with an .815 mark and Rollins was at .743. OPS+, which adjusts for ballparks, has Larkin at a 116 career mark and Rollins at 95. And then there are the three most used analytical numbers in Hall of Fame evaluations, WAR, WAR 7 and JAWS. At this stage, most have a general understanding of what WAR represents, even if the exact calculations vary per site and are relatively complicated. WAR 7 is a player’s seven peak WAR totals — they don’t have to be consecutive — added up to get an idea of how great a player was at their peak. And JAWS is a metric created by Jay Jaffe that divides career WAR by WAR 7 and uses it to compare candidates to those who have been inducted into the Hall of Fame at their respective position. In terms of Baseball Reference‘s WAR calculation, Larkin is a 70.5, as opposed to 47.6 from Rollins. Larkin has a 43.3 WAR 7, as opposed to 32.7 from Rollins. And Larkin has a 56.9 JAWS, as opposed to 40.1 from Rollins. The conclusion you are left with after doing 15 minutes of research is this: those screaming from the rooftops that if Larkin is in Rollins has to be as well aren’t helping the case of the Phillies legend. If anything, they are hurting it. Of course, there’s no reason Larkin and Rollins can’t both be Hall of Famers just because one has superior numbers to the others. If that was the case, Larkin wouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame, because his numbers aren’t as good as Cal Ripken Jr.’s. There would be one new electee to the Hall of Fame about every five years if you used that standard. The thing is, Rollins’ advanced numbers don’t compare favorably to the average Hall of Famer at the position either. And again, they aren’t that close. Rollins has a 47.6 WAR, while the average Hall of Fame shortstop is at 67.7. Rollins has a 32.7 WAR 7, while the average Hall of Fame shortstop is at 43.2. Rollins has a 40.1 JAWS, while the average Hall of Fame shortstop is at 55.4. In terms of career WAR, Rollins’ career is more in line with Troy Tulowitzki and Nomar Garciaparra, two players who had better peaks than him but not enough luck staying healthy to mount serious Hall of Fame cases. Among shortstops, Rollins is 43rd in MLB history in WAR 7, slightly behind Miguel Tejada, Hanley Ramirez and Andrelton Simmons, all excellent players who won’t be in Cooperstown. And as far as JAWS, Rollins is at 40.1, the exact same mark as Marcus Semien, a tremendous active player who probably won’t be a Hall of Famer after his career ends. These three advanced metrics aren’t the be-all-end-all. Yadier Molina, for example, has some shortcomings in them relative to Hall of Fame catchers. But Molina is one of the inner-circle defensive catchers of all time. He won nine Gold Glove Awards, four Platinum Glove Awards and is third all-time in defensive runs saved (a stat that goes back to 2003) at 184. Rollins was an elite defender at his peak, but he’s 35th all time in terms of DRS at 50. He doesn’t have 3,000 hits. There really isn’t that one area where Rollins stands out relative to other Hall of Fame candidates that would allow him to overcome some other shortcomings in his case. The problem with these discussions is if you think someone comes up short, it seems like you’re dissing their entire body of work. That’s not the case here — Rollins is one of the seven greatest players in Phillies history, and from here, deserves to have his No. 11 retired by the franchise regardless of whether he’s ever elected to the Hall of Fame or not. Heck, back in November of 2020, Phillies Nation did an entire month looking back at what Rollins did during his 15 seasons in red pinstripes. But it’s OK to believe someone is an all-time great for an individual franchise, but not quite a Hall of Famer. Who knows, maybe Rollins will have a meteoric rise up the Hall of Fame ballot like his former teammate Scott Rolen did. But right now, he’s on track to remain on the Cooperstown ballot for all 10 years without ever getting to 75%.

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