David Murphy: The pros and cons of Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard as they join the Hall of Fame poll |
PHILADELPHIA – You’d be hard pressed to find a team that enjoyed Phillies success from 2008-2011 without having an infallible Hall of Famer in their lineup.
Truth be told, this is one of the strongest arguments for each of the Big Three of the time. The history of these teams is in many ways the history of its individual stars: a brief but wonderful all-time production run followed by a precipitous decline that left us all wondering what could have been.
This year, Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard will make their first appearances on the Baseball Writers Association of America’s Hall of Fame ballot. Chase Utley will have to wait another three years. For now, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of Howard and Rollins, who will need to receive 75% of the votes cast in a year to be included.
– Case for: Fans dig the long ball, and no one hit more than Howard when he was in his prime. For six years, Howard was the most amazing home run hitter in a home run sport. Between 2006 and 2011, he hit 262, which is 18 more than the next closest player (a guy named Albert Pujols). Howard also had 88 RBIs more than Pujols during that streak.
Howard’s case says he was such an astronomical power hitter in his prime that we should ignore the fact that he only spent six and a half seasons as a top player. He says we should consider the fact that he was Rookie of the Year at the age of 25, and that he might have had two or three more MVPs had he arrived sooner. As it stands, he’s finished in the top-five four times, winning one, while serving as the centerpiece of a team that was arguably one of the majors’ top two teams for four years.
– Case Against: Really, it boils down to two names: Mark Teixeira and Paul Konerko. It would be terribly difficult to frame a case for Howard who also excludes Teixeira and Konerko. And if those three are present, you would probably argue that almost a fifth of the first baseman active during Howard’s Peak deserve to be included. Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols and Joey Votto, to start.
While this may sound like profanity to those of us who remember how dangerous a Howard hitter was in his prime, Konerko and Teixeira both have similar resumes, World Series titles included.
Konerko: .279 / .354 / .486 (.841 OPS), 439 HR, 1412 RBI, 118 OPS +, 9,505 PA.
Teixeira: .268 / .360 / .509 (.869 OPS), 409 HR, 1298 RBI, 126 OPS +, 8029 PA
Howard: .258 / .343 / .515 (.859 OPS), 382 HR, 1,194 RBI, 125 OPS +, 6,531 PA
Howard has hit a lot of home runs, but so have a lot of other non-Hall of Fame players. Howard retired with 382 home runs: 31 current retirees have touched at least that many and are not in the Hall.
How do you balance longevity against a player’s peak performance? That’s a valid question, but it opens another box of worms when you consider a contemporary like Prince Fielder, who had a six-year run where he hit 230 home runs with a .401 base percentage. 950 OPS and 151 OPS +.
You can certainly argue that Howard was the best of that group of powerful first baseman who populated the majors in the early 2000s. But his overall numbers just don’t set him apart enough from this group (Teixeira, Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez , etc.) to place it with guys like Cabrera and Pujols and David Ortiz.
– Argument for: It starts with his defense. We’re not even going to attempt to quantify it, as there simply aren’t enough reliable metrics to measure its abilities against those of previous generations. But the fact that Rollins has won Glove’s gold medal four times at the most difficult position in the game is a good place to start. That’s especially true when you hold him against a player who might represent his strongest argument for inclusion: Barry Larkin, elected in 2012. Rollins’ tally stats compare favorably to Larkin’s: 231 home runs (Larkin : 198), 1421 runs (Larkin: 1329), 936 RBI (Larkin: 960), 470 bases stolen (Larkin: 379). Larkin won three Gold Gloves, one less than Rollins.
Rollins has more circuits than all but two of the 19 shortstops, behind Cal Ripken’s 431 and Robin Yount’s 251. He would rank in the Hall of Fame’s 10 best shortstops for races and stolen bases and in the top 12 for RBIs. Particular attention should also be given to his remarkable MVP season of 2007, when he almost single-handedly led the Phillies to a division title.
– Case against: You can argue that Rollins was no better than his team’s fourth-best hitter during the Phillies’ four-year run from 2008-2011. He ended his career with an entirely average score of .264 / .324 / .428 forward slash. The OPS + metric ranks him 5% below the league average for his career.
The strongest case against Rollins lies in the shortstops who are not Hall of Fame members. Specifically, Alan Trammell, who has four gold gloves and a World Series ring, and a career WAR of 70.3 that eclipses Rollins’ 47.6. Trammel does not have an MVP, but he has a second place and three top 10. Trammel’s peak year of candidacy was in 2012, when he was named on just 36.8% of the Hall of Fame ballots. Fame. Rollins has the advantage in the races. Trammel has the advantage in the RBIs. If Trammel never came close to appearing on half of the ballots, it’s hard to argue that Rollins should appear on three-quarters of them.
Rollins has the strongest case due to his defense and the position he played. His case would be even stronger if he hadn’t played shortstop alongside Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter. As it stands, Rollins’ 42.2 WAR placed 16th in majors between 2001 and 2012, a 12-year span in which Jeter and Rodriguez were the only two other shortstops ahead of him on the list. My intimate feeling is that Rollins will gain quite a bit of momentum each year, especially as voters credit him with an increasingly rare longevity in the modern era of professional athletics.
Howard? If there was something between the Hall of Fame and the Hall of Very Good, he would be first in the ballot. Beyond that, the odds are against him.