How Disappointing were the Hall of Fame Vote Totals for Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley?
Our esteemed editor Kevin Kinkead asked if I had it in me to write a post about the Phillies who weren’t elected to the Hall of Fame, specifically Jimmy Rollins, who garnered just 14.8% of the vote from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
I told him I would.
But I needed there to be a couple caveats first:
- I do not have the privilege of voting for the Baseball Hall of Fame
- I tend to be on the side of believing in a smaller Hall of Fame than most people.
That said, the low vote totals for both Rollins and Chase Utley (28.8%) tell me something more about the voters than it does the players – they are voting purely on analytics, and not really on having watched the players play the game of baseball.
And that’s the thing. When you are a member of the BBWAA, you have to have been a member in good standing covering the sport for at least a decade before you are allowed to vote for the Hall of Fame. The reason that criteria exists is because when it comes to voting, the Hall of Fame wants only those writers, impartial as they are supposed to be (ahem…), to vote for the Hall of Fame because they WATCHED these players play the game of baseball on a regular basis for at least a decade.
It’s supposed to be about what you see, supported by the numbers in statistical analysis.
Sadly, we’ve turned the other way around.
The majority of the votes for the Hall of Fame are being done through a lens of analytics and not through the lens of eyeballs.
Practically every column written by a BBWAA voter who chooses to make their votes public (it should be required that they all do like we do in the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association with our annual awards voting) dives into those numbers. They make a case for voting (or not voting) for a particular player based on numbers they cull together to make their arguments.
Very few of these folks tell you that they voted because of what they saw a player do.
Been in baseball for over 50 years and I’ve seen a lot of great shortstops. I can’t believe that Jimmy Rollins only received 14% of the vote on his 2nd HOF ballot. His body of work speaks for itself. Jimmy is a HOF shortstop.
— Larry Bowa (@LarryBowa10) January 25, 2024
Because some players’ value of greatness – which is the measure for enshrinement in the Hall of Fame, goes beyond mathematical computations.
For example, Jimmy Rollins, according to the computer analysis, wasn’t a great defensive shortstop. He was good, not great, the numbers say. Just a quick look at his Baseball-Reference page and you can find that his defensive stats, provided by Baseball Info Solutions, tells you that for his career, Rollins was worth a grand total of three defensive runs saved above the league average per 1200 innings played (which is approximately 135 games per season).
By comparison, Trea Turner is considered league average at shortstop in his career, with his DRS/yr being a zero.
Now, we just watched a down year defensively for Turner, but keep in mind in the past, Turner has been moved from the shortstop position both in Washington and L.A. to play either the outfield or second base because his defense at shortstop was just average.
For those of you who have actually watched Rollins and actually watched Turner field the position, is there any doubt that Rollins is worth more than three more runs saved over his career than Turner?
Of course not. Rollins was a far better defensive shortstop. He was one of the best defensive shortstops of his era. He won four Gold Gloves, and deservedly so.
But the analytics tell you something different. So, especially for those voters who didn’t get to watch his peak seasons for the Phillies on a regular basis, because they are based in other cities, they rely on the numbers.
It’s ridiculous that the voters don’t recognize his numbers, which are more than comparable to Ozzie Smith and Barry Larkin. In fact, jimmy’s fielding percentage is better than Ozzie. https://t.co/BZGs1ByaAF
— Mike Missanelli (@MikeMiss25) January 25, 2024
And with there being a shift from the traditional counting stats to more deep dive analytical numbers, they can sit there and justify not voting for Rollins based solely off stats like the one I mentioned above.
There are others that hurt Rollins’ cause. For a Hall of Fame candidate, his career WAR is low (47.6). His career slash line was solid, yet not spectacular (.264/.324/.418/.743) and his seven-year peak WAR ranks 34th all-time for shortstops, and is below the average of the 23 shortstops in the Hall.
But the numbers don’t tell the story of who Rollins was as a player. He was a catalyst for one of the best teams of his time in the sport. He won an MVP Award. He led the league in triples four times and stolen bases once. Guys who do that don’t usually also have 20-homer seasons on their resumes – he had four, maxing out at 30.
Oh, and he’s the all-time leader in hits for a Phillies franchise that has existed for 140 years. That’s saying something too.
His value to the Phillies franchise is unmatched. He would go on the Phillies Mt. Rushmore without question.
And I don’t believe he’s a Hall-of-Famer.
But that doesn’t excuse the low voting percentage for him. He’s close. Darn close. Compare him to the shortstops already in the Hall and he probably deserves to be in. I understand that standards have changed for admission to the Hall, so then compare him to the shortstops that also played during his era. Were there any significantly better?
- Derek Jeter – Hall of Famer
- Alex Rodriguez – Known PED user, also didn’t last at SS, shifting to 3B
A great case can be made for Rollins. I think he just misses, but again, I have a much tougher standard than most (It amazes me that voters can find 10 guys on every ballot to vote for induction into the Hall. Seriously.)
But he is worth far more consideration than 14.8%. That’s the same percentage as Bobby Abreu. It’s less than Omar Vizquel. Do either of those names make you say, “Oh yeah… Hall of Fame caliber.”? Come on.
As for Utley, he’s another one being penalized, but for different reasons. He had an injury-shortened career. It’s hard to imagine saying a guy with fewer than 2,000 hits in a career belongs in the Hall. But then I make this comparison:
Was Sandy Koufax one of the greatest pitchers ever in the the sport? He was. There is no question.
Sandy Koufax was a great pitcher for five years. He had two good seasons before those five, giving him a strong seven-year peak, but that’s it. He hung them up after that. He could have been even greater if he kept pitching.
Utley did keep going, but was robbed of a few peak years because of injury. Still, if you want to look at the analytics-side of things, Utley had the second-best seven-year peak based on WAR of any player on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot behind only A-Rod.
And, if you consider WAR for his first 10 seasons as a starter, from 2005-2014, the only player in the sport during that decade with a higher WAR was Albert Pujols.
(h/t Jayson Stark of The Athletic for that data).
Was there a better second baseman in the sport during his era? No.
Chase Utley only got 28 percent?
Do they only let Mets fans vote for the Hall of Fame? https://t.co/Uf33PctDD1
— Eric Boehm (@EricBoehm87) January 25, 2024
It’s criminal that he only got 28.8% of the vote. I get it that, like Rollins, he’s a debatable option. He never won an MVP. He never led the league in anything except runs scored (2006) and being plunked by pitches (three times) and he never won a Gold Glove (although he has a higher DRS/yr than Rollins at plus-9!)
But he was a winner. Everywhere he went. He was a next-level ballplayer. He was the Phillies’ best-player during their reign atop the N.L. East. He hit five home runs in the 2009 World Series. You just watched Chase play and you knew he was the best in the business at his position.
And if I had a vote, I wouldn’t have voted for him either. I’m closer on Utley than Rollins. But I think both fall just short. I can’t justify in my mind voting for a guy who didn’t play enough – even if when he played he was Hall of Fame-worthy. There are so many other players who are woulda, coulda, shoulda Hall of Famers, but for one reason or another didn’t get the opportunity to get enough on their resume.
As a proponent for a smaller Hall of Fame, I wouldn’t want to start making exceptions now.
And maybe I’m wrong about the voters. Maybe they really did contemplate this as much as I would if I were a voter. Maybe they all do take it incredibly seriously and truly examine and think about their votes.
I’m sure some do. In fact, I know a few who do really put the time into it. And I don’t always agree with them. But I will always respect their votes because I know that there’s a legitimate process that went into it.
Like Stark, for example. He made a legitimate case for voting for 10 players (Carlos Beltran, Adrian Beltre, Todd Helton, Andruw Jones, Joe Mauer, Rollins, Gary Sheffield, Utley, Billy Wagner and David Wright).
I could never vote for 10 guys. It cheapens the notion of being enshrined in the Hall where only the best of the best are honored. But I think he makes a compelling case for all 10.
The problem is, not every voter is that thorough. Not every voter actually watches these guys play. Not every voter casts a vote without bias or an agenda.
And frankly, it’s the biggest problem with Hall of Fame voting in all sports, but especially baseball.
Do I think Rollins and Utley will eventually end up in the Hall? I do. I think Utley has a chance of actually getting voted in and I think Rollins will eventually be put in by one of those era committees after his 10 years on the ballot are up.
So, this is all probably a moot point.
But the fact that there are 385 voters who submitted ballots and there were 2,696 votes cast means that the average voter voted for seven players on their ballots. That means half the voters voted for more than seven. It’s crazy.
What’s even crazier is 274 of them didn’t think Utley was among the top seven on the ballot and 328 didn’t think Rollins was either.
For what it’s worth, if I had a vote, I would have voted for Beltre, Mauer, and Jones.
But with each passing year, I’m leaning more and more towards the belief that people in my industry shouldn’t be the ones who have the sole authority to make these decisions. Should we have a say, sure. But it shouldn’t be us and us alone.