It was pretty cool, Ryan Howard said, that he and Jimmy Rollins would be placed together on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot for the first time. They played 11 seasons together with the Phillies, won MVPs in consecutive seasons, and were key cogs of one of the franchise’s greatest eras.
So it felt fitting that their Hall of Fame candidacies would come under the microscope together. But, Howard said, the ballot — which was released Monday — could have been even better.
“Chase messed it up because he played for like another 12 years,” Howard said of Chase Utley, who will not be eligible for election until 2024. “It’s always an honor to be on something like that, and then to be on something like that with Jimmy is really cool. Like I said, Chase messed it up. He played like 40 years after us. But no, it’s cool.”
Howard and Rollins joined Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz, Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Papelbon, and Mark Teixeira as first-timers on the ballot. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Curt Schilling are on the ballot for a 10th and final season. Former Phils Scott Rolen, Bobby Abreu, and Billy Wagner are also on the ballot again.
A player needs 75% of the votes to enter the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. and must garner at least 5% to stay on the ballot for another year. The voters, who are eligible members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, must complete their ballots by Dec. 31 and the results will be announced on Jan. 25.
Neither Howard or Rollins has a surefire case for the Hall of Fame, but Rollins’ argument is strong. He is the Phillies’ career hits leader and retired with 2,455 hits for three teams. Since 1911, just eight other shortstops have totaled 2,400 hits. Six of the eight are Hall of Famers while the other two — Omar Vizquel and Miguel Tejada — have tarnished their candidacies with off-the-field transgressions.
Rollins won an MVP in 2007 when he became the only player in history to hit at least 20 doubles, 20 triples, 20 home runs, steal 20 bases, and record 200 hits in a season.
His fielding percentage with the Phillies (.983) is the best among NL shortstops between 2000-14 with at least 1,000 games played. In those 15 seasons, his Defensive Runs Above Average — an advanced metric calculated by FanGraphs — is the best among all shortstops. Rollins led National League shortstops in fielding percentage three times. He is the only NL shortstop to win four Gold Gloves since Ozzie Smith won 13 straight from 1980-92.
“With Jimmy, his knowledge and understanding of the game, plays he would make ... If he was going in the hole, he would tell me prior to ‘Be ready because I’m going to skip it.’” Howard said. “If the grass was a little bit wet and he had to go to that third base-shortstop hole, he wasn’t going to try and air it out. He was just going to try and get me a nice, long, bounce. Just like that, who let you know prior what they were going to do. I didn’t play with many guys like that.”
Rollins’ biggest hurdle could be that his Wins Above Replacement (47.6) is the 25th-highest among all shortstops, per Baseball-Reference.
In the last 60 years, no shortstop has reached the Hall of Fame with a lower WAR. Since 1980, just one player — outfielder and designated hitter Harold Baines — has retired with a lower WAR and entered Cooperstown. Rollins finished in the top 10 in WAR just once in his career and is well below the average WAR (67.5) for a Hall of Fame shortstop.
“Jimmy Rollins was a guy who played every day. He was an underrated player. He didn’t get the credit from a defensive side that I saw,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said earlier this year. “From an offensive standpoint, his numbers speak for himself when you compare him to shortstops as far as runs scored, RBIs, and things like that.
“He stole bases and he’s knocking in the bottom of the order most of the time. He’s a better player than baseball gives him credit for. I think he’s underrated. He’s a better player than that.”
Howard led the majors in home runs (262) and RBIs (796) from 2005-11. He has the second-highest totals of homers (382) and RBIs (1,194) in franchise history. His slugging percentage (.559) in those seven seasons between 2005 and 2011 was the fourth-best in the majors and his OPS (.929) ranked 12th. He won the MVP in 2006 by hitting 58 homers, which is the second-highest total by a player in the last 20 seasons.
Like Rollins, Howard’s WAR does him no favors as he finished his career with 14.7 Wins Above Replacement because of poor defensive grades. His WAR is slightly below Bill Buckner and just better than Kevin Millar. His Hall of Fame case would have been much stronger if it wasn’t for the ruptured Achilles tendon on the final swing of the 2011 season.
Utley’s case for the Hall of Fame is solid but not perfect. However, there are still two more election cycles before he’s up for debate. And when he does get on the ballot, his two old teammates may still be vying for election.
“Jimmy and Chase were two of the smartest, most intuitive players I played with,” Howard said. “Just from understanding situations and knowing what was going on. Obviously, the play that Chase made in the World Series to get [Jason] Bartlett at home plate. It was that kind of knowledge of knowing like that’s what you’re going to do. That’s a split-second decision. Not even. Because the ball is up the middle and he has no shot to get the runner at first but to fake the throw and then get him out at home plate, there’s not too many guys who are making that play.”