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    Utley and Rollins, Together Again

    John Foley Avatar
    November 27, 2023

    The two Phillies legends now share a Hall of Fame ballot.

    Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley complemented each other perfectly for years in the middle of the Phillies’ infield. Fittingly, the two superstars’ Hall of Fame cases now complement each other perfectly as voters assess this year’s candidates. One has a very strong traditional argument for Hall of Fame induction, and the other has an excellent case based on newer metrics.

    Rollins first became eligible for Hall of Fame consideration in 2022, garnering votes on 9.4% of the ballots cast. That figure increased to 12.9% in 2023, above the 5% needed to remain on the ballot for another year but well below the 75% needed for induction into Cooperstown. Utley appears on the ballot for the first time this year.

    The case for Jimmy Rollins

    Rollins’ case is very strong when it comes to traditional counting stats and longevity. In his 17-year major league career, J-Roll racked up 2,455 hits, 1,421 runs, 511 doubles, 115 triples, 936 RBI, and 470 stolen bases.

    There is no player in the history of Major League Baseball who tops Rollins’ career totals in all of the individual categories of doubles, triples, home runs, and stolen bases. Removing stolen bases from the equation, seven players best Rollins’ totals in doubles, triples, and home runs: Willie Mays, Lou Gehrig, Stan Musial, George Brett, Al Simmons, Rogers Hornsby, and Robin Yount. All seven of those players are in the Hall of Fame.

    Rollins’ counting stats are even more impressive when the pool of comparison players is limited to Hall of Fame shortstops. There are 25 players in Cooperstown who played at least 800 games at the position. The median career stats of those players work out to 2,309 hits, 1,256 runs, 83 home runs, 926 RBI, and 232 stolen bases. Rollins tops each of those figures. When looking for shortstops in the history of baseball with 700 career extra-base hits and 400 stolen bases, we find only Rollins and Hall of Famer Honus Wagner.

    J-Roll also has the hardware and accolades many voters look for when assessing candidates: four Gold Glove awards, three All-Star selections, a Silver Slugger award, and, most notably, the 2007 National League MVP award. During that 2007 season, Rollins played in every game and became the first (and, still, the only) player to accumulate 20 triples, 30 home runs, and 40 stolen bases in one season.

    Rollins has a higher career fielding percentage than any shortstop already in the Hall of Fame, and no shortstop in the history of the game with 400 stolen bases has a SB success rate that tops J-Roll’s 81.7%.

    The case against Jimmy Rollins

    As strong as Jimmy’s case is when it comes to traditional counting stats, it has weaknesses when voters view it through a more “modern” lens. His career bWAR (Wins Above Replacement-level player as calculated by Baseball Reference) is 47.6, which would top only five of the 25 Hall of Fame players with at least 800 games at shortstop. Those five players’ careers all ended between 1894 and 1956.

    J-Roll’s low bWAR figure stems largely from a career slash line of .264/.324/.418. The corresponding median figures for the 25 players in Cooperstown who played at least 800 games at shortstop are .285/.355/.413.

    Rollins would have a higher batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage if it weren’t for several subpar seasons at the tail end of his career. From 2013 through his retirement in 2016, Rollins slashed just .239/.309/.363 in 483 games. Of course, those same seasons helped bolster the impressive counting stats discussed above.

    The case for Chase Utley

    Chase Utley’s case is strongest in the areas where Rollins’ case is weakest, and vice versa.

    If voters looked at bWAR alone, Utley would be a Cooperstown lock. He collected 64.5 bWar in his career, which would be top-10 among the 18 Hall of Fame players who played at least 60% of their games at second base, comparable to Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar, and Craig Biggio. From 2005 through 2014, Utley’s 59.7 bWAR ranks second only to surefire first-ballot HOFer Albert Pujols. Chase also reached 9.0 bWAR in the Phillies’ 2008 championship season. Just seven other second basemen in the history of the game have reached 9.0 bWAR in a single season, and they are all in the Hall of Fame.

    Utley’s career .823 OPS also helps his cause. Only five of the 18 second basemen in our Hall of Fame sample had a higher career OPS. Chase posted an OPS over .900 in five separate seasons, a feat matched by just three other second basemen, all of whom are in the Hall (Rogers Hornsby, Charlie Gehringer, and Eddie Collins). Three additional second basemen have posted an OPS over .900 in four separate seasons. Two of them (Jackie Robinson and Roberto Alomar) are in the Hall of Fame, and the third is 8-time all-star and 2017 AL MVP winner Jose Altuve.

    Defensively, Chase never won a Gold Glove. Newer defensive metrics such as “Defensive Runs Saved” and “Outs Above Average,” however, indicate that he probably should have. On the basepaths, Utley’s stolen base success rate is the best in the history of baseball, and his career “Extra Bases Taken Percentage” (a Baseball Reference metric that measures the percentage of time that a runner advances more than one base on a single, or more than two bases on a double) was 54%. That’s significantly higher than the average MLB runner’s number during Chase’s career (40%).

    Utley’s postseason heroics also merit some consideration when assessing his case. He hit two home runs in the 2008 World Series as the Phillies beat the Tampa Bay Rays in five games, and he hit a record-tying five home runs in the 2009 World Series as the Phils lost to the Yankees in six games. Only nine players in the history of baseball have more World Series home runs than Utley, and eight of those nine are in the Hall of Fame. Additionally, Chase’s World Series HR/AB ratio is the best in history for a player with at least five home runs. He hit one home run per 6.43 World Series at-bats.

    The case against Chase Utley

    Due primarily to injury, Utley’s career numbers fall short of some traditional Hall of Fame milestones. 1,885 career hits, for example, will not impress old-school voters. No position player whose career began after 1959 has been inducted into the Hall without crossing the 2,000 hit threshold. Chase’s .275 career batting average won’t help with these voters either, as it would place him below all but a handful of second basemen currently in the Hall of Fame.

    The lack of an MVP season or a Gold Glove award will also hurt Utley’s case in some voters’ eyes. And those who value Rollins’ durability (2,261 games over 16 seasons if we set aside the 14 games he played as a September call-up in 2000) may look unfavorably upon the number of games Utley played (1,937 games over 16 seasons).

    Overall, there’s a perception that Utley had a relatively short, albeit incredible, peak to his career, largely correlated with the Phils’ 2007-2011 mini-dynasty.

    One final note

    When members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) fill out their ballots, they are constrained by almost no hard rules. They are simply instructed that “voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”

    That flexibility, in theory, would allow a BBWAA voter to assess Rollins’ case for Cooperstown using traditional metrics and Utley’s case for Cooperstown using newer, alternate metrics.

    In reality, however, each voter will likely adhere to one set of standards. It is unlikely that many ballots will feature yes votes on both Rollins and Utley. Though their careers will forever be linked in the memories of fans, we should probably dismiss any dreams of the two entering the Hall of Fame together.

    On the other hand, it should be hard for any voter to dismiss both Rollins and Utley. It’s reasonably likely that one of them will reach the Hall of Fame. And no matter which player ends up with the plaque, the other will immediately spring to mind when fans visit Cooperstown.

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