The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Under the Radar: Part 3

This is the third installment of a series of blog posts called “Under the Radar.”  This series is a periodic examination of the careers of contemporary players who have achieved success in their major league careers, but who are not household names, like Jeter, A-Rod, or Griffey.

In Part 1 of this series (12/28/09), I took a look at the careers of Roy Oswalt and Carlos Beltran.  In Part 2 (1/14/10), I further examined the careers of Aramis Ramirez and Joe Nathan.  In this blog post, we will re-evaluate the relative success of Scott Rolen, third baseman for the Reds, and Jamie Moyer, currently toiling away with the Phillies.

Let’s begin with soon to be 35-year old Scott Rolen.

When Scott Rolen burst onto the scene as a 22 year-old kid back in 1997, he was touted in some circles as the Ssecond Coming of Mike Schmidt.  This appeared to be apropos, as Rolen was a rookie third baseman with the Phillies who had hit with power in the minor leagues.

In fact, Rolen’s career began significantly better than that of Mike Schmidt.  Whereas Schmidt actually produced a batting average under .200 in his second season, Rolen won the N.L. Rookie of the Year Award in ’97.  Rolen  hit 21 homers, drove in 92 runs, scored 93 runs, had an .846 OPS, and even threw in 16 stolen bases.

In Rolen’s second season, he won the first of his seven gold gloves.

In fact, any conversation about Rolen needs to begin with his defense.  Rolen has been the best defensive third basemen of his generation, and probably one of the top dozen fielding third basemen of all-time.  Although his skills have deteriorated from what they were earlier in his career, he has exhibited excellent range, sure hands, and a strong arm.

Rolen has also been generally more athletic than many third basemen; he has stolen 114 bases in his career.  Although this is not an awesome total, he has helped break the stereotype of the slow-footed, plodding third-sacker that was especially common in the middle of the twentieth century.

As a hitter, Rolen has a respectable .284 career batting average, a .370 on-base average, and he has slugged nearly .500 for his career.  In fact, his career OPS of .868 is better than every significant third baseman in history, other than Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, and Chipper Jones.

Rolen’s OPS+ (which takes ball-park factors into consideration) is 124.  Only Schmidt, Mathews, Jones, George Brett and Wade Boggs are significantly higher.  Rolen’s score is about the same as Ron Santo’s.

Rolen as five 100 RBI seasons to his credit, six seasons of at least 35 doubles, seven seasons of at least 25 home runs, and he has made five All-Star teams.

Finally, Rolen has also amassed 446 doubles, 283 homers, over 1,100 RBI’s, and over 1,000 runs scored.

Does Scott Rolen belong in the Hall-of-Fame?  Although his counting numbers at this point in his career do not rate amongst the all-time greats (just 1,810 hits, for example), there is no question that Rolen’s combination of hitting ability, defensive prowess, and general athleticism all rate in his favor.

When all is said and done, although there will be many who will argue that Rolen’s career didn’t finally measure up to his initial perceived potential, it will be quite likely that Scott Rolen will be considered one of the top ten or twelve third basemen of all-time.

Now let’s turn our attention to a pitcher who was already 34-years old when Scott Rolen was breaking into major league baseball.

Jamie Moyer, now 47-years old, is certainly an anomaly in baseball history.  His career trajectory looks nothing like the vast majority of the pitchers who have ever stepped up onto a pitcher’s mound.

Basically, Moyer’s career breaks down into three distinct segments.  Segment one was his initial nine seasons in a big-league uniform (ages 23-32) when he posted a career won-lost record of 59-76.  Now, at that point, the vast majority of pitchers would have seen the hand-writing on the wall, and would have set about identifying a post-baseball career for themselves.

Instead, Moyer suddenly achieved significant success as a pitcher.  Once he began pitching for the Seattle Mariners in the mid-1990’s, everything changed for him.  For eight seasons, from 1996-2003, Moyer enjoyed an astonishing won-lost record of 126-56, posting a .692 win-loss percentage.

In fact, he first became a 20-game winner at the age of 38, then topped that total with 21 victories at the age of 40!

Over the past six seasons, however, in the third segment of his career, Moyer has re-emerged as a mere mortal, posting a record of 73-63 during that time.

Overall, then, Jamie Moyer has won 258 games, while losing 195 in his career.  His career ERA of 4.22 makes it all but impossible, however, that no matter how many victories he ends up with, he will never make it into the Hall of Fame.  And, at age 47, it is extremely unlikely that he will ever see 300 victories.

Still, just ten more wins will tie Moyer with Jim Palmer for 35th on the all-time wins list, and fifteen more wins will tie him with Hall of Famer Red Ruffing for 32nd place.

Considering how poorly Moyer’s career began, and almost ended at age 32, Moyer has been Exhibit A regarding  the potential rewards of persevering through even long-term failure and disappointment.

At the age of 40, Moyer enjoyed his first and only invitation to pitch in an All-Star game.

It is impossible to imagine this honor tasting any sweeter than it must have to Moyer that year.

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4 thoughts on “Under the Radar: Part 3

  1. Moyer is very frustrating as a guy I didn’t like much as he killed my Oakland A’s when he pitched against us…..but was amazing to watch other wise. Slow, slower, and even slower is his style of pitching and just goes to show you that a 9o plus fastball is not needed to get hitters out. I’m very impressed with the latter part of his career and hopes he goes on further.

    • You are certainly right that he is living proof that pitching is all about location and messing up a hitter’s timing. Glavine, who just retired, is another case-in-point regarding the importance of location and changing speeds. Thanks for reading, Bill

  2. Moyer’s career reminds me a lot of old time pitcher Dazzy Vance who won no games prior to age 30, then had a great career in the 1920s, including a no hitter in 1925. He ended up a reliever for the 1934 Gas House Gang Cardinals and made his only World Series at age 43. He made the HoF with less wins and a lower ERA than Moyer. Not suggesting Moyer is HoF worthy, but the two men have similar careers.
    Nice post.
    v

    • Hi, yeah, when I was searching through career stats on Baseball-Reference.com, I found several pitchers, all borderline Hall of Famers, that seemed to be in Moyer’s class in terms of wins and ERA. A couple of them, like Red Ruffing and Dazzy Vance, as you pointed out, are in The Hall. Others, like Tommy John, Jim Kaat and a few others, are not. This seems to be the area where HOF voters have shown the most inconsistency and confusion. In general, the Veteran’s Committees have been more open to putting these men into The Hall than the BBWA has been. But, as wins gradually become devalued as a statistic, their chances of getting in will probably be reduced. As always, thanks for reading, Bill

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