That Seventies Vibe

Before I catch up with this week’s batch of Baseball Prospectus links, a just wanted to give a quick shout-out for a book I haven’t yet read but am looking forward to cracking, Dan Epstein’s Big Hair and Plastic Grass. Earlier in the week a friend of mine suggested I hit the book release party in Brooklyn because he knew I’d be on the same wavelength as the author.

One look at the cover and the subtitle and you can see why:

Pretty cool, no? Through another mutual friend (Stu Shea, who laid a Topps ’75 Roy White on me in honor of my mustache) I was introduced to Epstein chatted with him for a few minutes as a funky soundtrack —the Commodores’ “Machine Gun,” the Jimmy Castor Bunch’s “It’s Just Begun,” the Spinners’ “Rubberband Man” — and it was quickly apparent we were on the same wavelength. If I needed further proof, Epstein’s readings for the evening provided it: one on the Cleveland Ten-Cent Beer Night Riot (as made famous in one of my favorite baseball books, Seasons in Hell), the other a postmortem tribute to Dock Ellis from his blog. I’ve got a stack of new baseball books to get through this summer, and this will surely be among them.

• • •

Onto this week’s links: The NL Hit List, the AL Hit List, and a quick JAWS-flavored take on Scott Rolen’s Hall of Fame chances.

The 35-year-old Rolen is enjoying something of a resurgence at the moment, hitting .271/.335/.549 for the Reds. His 10 homers rank fifth in the NL, his slugging percentage ranks ninth, and his .306 True Average is just outside  the lower reaches of the NL’s top 20 (it was there yesterday when I wrote this, but he went 0-for-4). The power resurgence is a particularly interesting development, as Rolen hasn’t hit more than 11 homers in a single season or slugged anywhere near .500 since 2006 due to years of shoulder troubles.

Coming into the year, Rolen had tallied 74.7 career WARP, and 52.4 peak WARP (his seven best seasons at large), for a JAWS score of 63.6. That’s a hell of a score, actually; it ranks fourth all-time among third basemen, and is well above the JAWS standard at the position…

Rolen ranks as high as he does because of his defense. His Fielding Runs Above Average total is second only to Brooks Robinson among hot cornermen, and about 100 runs above the average Hall third baseman. That gives him enough of a boost that his peak score ranks fourth among third basemen, while his career score ranks sixth, with a good chance of passing both Paul Molitor and George Brett before it’s all said and done. Molitor, of course, spent a good portion of his career at DH, but is lumped in with the third basemen here because he did generate a fair bit of value above replacement defensively over the course of his career.

Rolen’s clearly in good shape on the JAWS scale, but that doesn’t mean he’s a lock for the Hall. Even with his seven Gold Gloves … He’s got just five All-Star appearances, which isn’t an overwhelming amount for a Hall of Famer. He’s never finished higher than fourth in an MVP vote, and never led the league in a key offensive category. While he did win a ring with the 2006 Cardinals and had a strong World Series that year, his overall postseason line (.228/.321/.421 in 131 PA) thus far suggests somewhat more harm than good done to his reputation. Furthermore, he had a five-year period from age 30 to 34 where he averaged just 111 games a year, suppressing his career totals to the point that he has “just” 1,849 hits (and 293 homers) right now. While he’s likely to stick around long enough to pad those totals, it’s worth remembering that no player from the expansion era (1961 onward) has been elected while having less than 2,000 hits.

I look at Rolen, I see a guy who might wind up like Bobby Grich, another personal favorite who generated a lot of value due to great defense, plate discipline and a bit of pop but missed a lot of time in his mid-30s due to back woes, retiring after his age 37 season.

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