Rolen, Helton and Jones have history on their side for Hall of Fame

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Jan. 5—The Baseball Hall of Fame voting results won’t be announced until Jan. 25, but thanks to the public ballots compiled by Ryan Thibodaux, we have a pretty good idea of how things are trending.

David Ortiz is a toss-up, the final year trio of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling will fall short and for everyone else it’ll be wait until next year.

But those who fall short can at least take solace in this: Almost everyone who finishes in the top 10 of voting eventually winds up in the Hall of Fame.

Dating back to 1936 only 20 players who have ever finished in the top 10 failed to earn induction. Some had to wait a while — Jim Kaat waited 32 years between his first appearance in 1989 and his selection by the Golden Days Committee this year — but sooner or later the call eventually came.

Bonds, Clemens, Schilling and Sammy Sosa will have to count on a future Veterans or Steroid-Era Committee for their ticket, but what about the middle class of this year’s ballot? Specifically guys like Scott Rolen, Todd Helton and Andruw Jones?

All are deserving but borderline players who didn’t get much traction early but whose candidacies have been picking up steam. Their cases also aren’t complicated by performance-enhancing drug issues or debates over the merits of their position — like Billy Wagner and relief pitchers — and all are on track to receive close to or more than 50% of the vote.

With several top vote-getters set to fall off next year’s ballot, all should get a closer look going forward, so what are their odds and the pros and cons for each?

Scott Rolen: Unique resume aging well

Rolen has seen his vote surge over the past four years, going from 10.2% of the vote in 2018 to 52.9% last year, and he’s currently on pace to finish with close to 70% of the vote in 2022.

What’s going on? Simply put, Rolen’s traditional resume isn’t overwhelming, but he’s greatly benefitted from the increased prominence of advanced metrics.

In his 17-year career, Rolen was a seven-time all-star and eight-time Gold Glove winner who batted .281 with 316 home runs and 1,287 RBI. He won Rookie of the Year, finished fourth in NL MVP voting in 2004 and helped lead the Cardinals to the 2006 World Series title. That’s pretty good, but at first glance it might not seem Hall of Fame worthy.

Upon closer inspection, Rolen’s 70.1 career Wins Above Replacement is the ninth highest total by a third baseman in MLB history and the highest of any eligible third baseman not in the Hall of Fame.

His .855 career OPS is pretty solid too, and he’s only one of 15 infielders to ever win at least eight Gold Gloves, trailing only Brooks Robinson (16) and Mike Schmidt (10) among third basemen. Under that light, Rolen looks more like an all-time great, so it’s no surprise he’s trending toward induction.

Todd Helton: Home-field disadvantage

Many great hitters of the Steroid Era have faced suspicion that their numbers weren’t legit, but for Helton that’s not due to suspected performance-enhancing drug ties but due to his home ballpark.

As a Colorado Rockies lifer, Helton posted staggering numbers at the notoriously hitter-friendly confines of Coors Field, but even in his prime he was often considered a product of his thin-aired environment.

Truth be told, that isn’t an unfair criticism, as career home/away splits are quite stark and his relatively modest 369 career home runs doesn’t exactly scream Hall of Famer. But like Rolen, Helton has factors working in his favor that should help his legacy improve with time.

One, Helton batted .316 with a .414 on-base percentage, .539 slugging percentage and .953 OPS for his 17-year career. That’s outstanding. Two, adjusting for ballparks to eliminate the Coors Field effect, Helton had a career OPS+ of 133, with 100 representing an average hitter. That’s really good, and notably its within a point or two of Hall of Famers like George Brett, Al Kaline and Jackie Robinson.

Lastly, Helton was a three-time Gold Glove winner whose defense was never fully appreciated during his career. That is part of why statistician Jay Jaffe’s JAWS stat — which attempts to quantify Hall of Fame worthiness — pegs Helton as the 15th greatest first baseman in history. His 54.2 JAWS is equal to the average Hall of Fame first baseman, and with Larry Walker recently breaking the “Coors Field” barrier there’s a good chance Helton will someday join his old teammate in the hall.

Andruw Jones: Superstar faced steep decline

Andruw Jones is arguably the greatest defensive centerfielder ever and early in his career it wasn’t outlandish to think he could wind up going down in the same class as Willie Mays. But when the end came for Jones, it came abruptly and it wasn’t pretty.

Jones made his MLB debut at age 19 and over his first 11 full seasons he was a five-time all-star and 10-time Gold Glove winner who averaged 33 home runs and 100 RBI over 157 games per season while batting .263 with an .841 OPS.

Then in his age-31 season, his production plummeted and he started getting hurt. Over his last five years he batted .210 while averaging 13 home runs and 34 RBI over 87 games per season.

There are other factors at play with Jones too, including a domestic violence accusation in 2012, but the ugly end of his playing career is likely the main reason why he’s not in the hall already.

He’s one of just four players with 400-plus home runs and 10-plus Gold Gloves — Ken Griffey Jr., Mays and Schmidt are the others. Jones will likely benefit as time goes on and voters start taking a closer look at his peak, during which he was undeniably a Hall of Fame caliber player.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @MacCerullo.

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