Category Archives: Philadelphia Phillies Gear

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Before Pedro Martínez became a multiple-time Cy Young award winner, he was a young kid in the Dominican Republic trying to follow his older brother, Ramon, into the Dodgers’ baseball academy. Ramon ensured that Pedro would not only develop his baseball skills but his speaking skills as well.

Pedro took advantage of the opportunity and while he assisted the academy on a nearly full-time basis, he also dedicated himself to learning English, something that would serve him well throughout his career in the majors.

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Each offseason, MiLB.com goes position by position across each system and honors the players — regardless of age or prospect status — who had the best seasons in their organization. Click here to locate your favorite club.

The magnifying glass over the Phillies’ farm system focuses on its top two prospects. Top-ranked Alec Bohm, depending on how the club acts in free agency, could occupy third base sometime next season. Second-ranked Spencer Howard, after a healthy and dominant rise to Double-A in the second half of 2019, is on track to provide innings to a starting rotation that struggled to fill holes last year.

Zoom out, however, and the system showed its value down the ranks. Former first-round pick Adam Haseley arrived early and held his own in an outfield decimated by injuries. Double-A Reading produced the Eastern League’s best regular season with an 80-59 record and featured nine of Philadelphia’s top dozen performers. Here’s a look at all 12:
Phillies Organization All-Stars

Catcher — Deivy Grullon, Lehigh Valley (108 games), Philadelphia (four games): With J.T. Realmuto occupying the starting spot with the big league club, Grullon — the No. 19 Phillies prospect — used a career year in the International League and a September callup spent mostly in the bullpen to state his case for the backup role in 2020. With 21 homers, the 23-year-old tied Bohm for most in the system. His .851 OPS, 77 RBIs and 9.8 percent walk rate all set career bests. A strong start propelled Grullon — he hit .393 with 19 strikeouts in 17 games in April.

[udpated title]
IronPigs’ Grullon blasts off

00:00:59 • November 26th, 2019

First baseman — Austin Listi, Reading (62 games), Lehigh Valley (71 games): The 26-year-old was named the Phillies’ Minor League Hitter of the Year in 2018 but posted a .702 OPS — more than 200 points lower than his .915 mark of last year — in 62 games with the Fightins to start this season. Listi, though, bumped his numbers up when he reached Triple-A for the first time. He left the yard 12 times in 259 at-bats and looked more like his old self with an .838 OPS. And his production for the year — 45 extra-base hits, 83 RBIs, 67 runs scored — nearly equaled that of his breakout 2018 totals of 63 runs, 44 extra-base hits and 84 RBIs.

Fightins hitting coach Tyler Henson said the discrepancy in Listi’s production had to do with his efforts to learn third base at Double-A. The promotion to Triple-A moved him back to first base and the comfort in the field translated at the plate.

“Once he moved up to Lehigh, he did a heck of a job with drawing walks, and I think we saw the guy that had such a good year in 2018,” Henson said.

MiLB.com Organization All-Stars: Team by Team

Second baseman — Phil Gosselin, Lehigh Valley (78 games), Philadelphia (44 games): A native of the Philly suburbs, Gosselin signed a Minor League deal with Philadelphia and had some memorable moments for the big league club after an April 17 callup. But the 31-year-old spent most of the season as an IronPig, hitting .314 with a .901 OPS and 132 wRC+ to post his best numbers since 2014 with Gwinnett in the Braves system.

Third baseman — Alec Bohm, Lakewood (22 games), Clearwater (40 games), Reading (63 games): The third overall pick of the 2018 Draft lived up to expectations. MLB.com’s No. 34 overall prospect put up a 367/.441/.595 slash line for a month in the South Atlantic League, then dominated the Florida State League over the next seven weeks with an OPS north of .900. Upon arriving in the Eastern League on June 21, Bohm led the circuit in homers (14), RBIs (42) and total bases (119) through the end of the year. Altogether, his 160 wRC+ topped all Phillies Minor Leaguers. Of that group, none who totaled at least 250 plate appearances had a lower strikeout rate than Bohm, who Henson said can hit any pitch in any count.

“The most impressive thing to me … was just the presence he brings in a clubhouse, the presence he brings in a lineup, how much better the whole team gets when he’s in the lineup. You don’t see that that often,” the hitting coach said. “He’s going to be a special player, and I think that over time we’re all going to witness that.”

[udpated title]
Bohm goes yard again

00:00:41 • July 21st, 2019

Shortstop — Nick Maton, Clearwater (93 games), Reading (21 games): The Phillies’ No. 14 prospect improved in several categories before getting his feet wet at Double-A over the final weeks of the season. His .276 average, .738 OPS and 11 stolen bases for the Threshers were career highs. The 22-year-old drew 50 walks between the two stops, good for sixth-most in the organization, while his 51 RBIs slotted ninth.

Maton, Henson said, is an aggressive hitter who will have to learn to avoid chasing as he climbs the system. But …

“Nick, he’s got some of the best hands I think I’ve ever seen out of a hitter,” Henson said. “They’re fast. They’re strong. He can snatch a ball and hit it out pull-side with ease. And he plays really good defense. I’m anxious to see this next year and watch his growth.”

Outfielders

Josh Stephen, Reading (113 games): Stephen spent 2018 at Class A Lakewood but didn’t really fit in the picture at Clearwater to begin this year. As the higher-ups mulled his placement, Stephen’s greatest strength supplied the answer.

“He handles the fastball better than probably 90 percent of people in baseball,” Henson said. “He doesn’t swing and miss. He doesn’t foul them off. His percentage of putting the ball in play and put it in play at a pretty good exit velo on the fastball stood out.”

The result was the best offensive year yet for the 2016 11th-round pick. Stephen’s .483 slugging percentage ranked third among non-complex hitters in the system, while his 47 extra-base hits were fourth. He added nearly 200 points to his OPS from the year before, finishing with an .826 mark to go with a 140 wRC+ — fifth-best among Phillies Minor Leaguers.

[udpated title]
Stephen slaps triple

00:00:50 • November 26th, 2019

Adam Haseley, Reading (44 games), Lehigh Valley (18 games), Philadelphia (67 games): A lot was asked this season of Haseley, the eighth overall pick in the 2017 Draft. His first 41 games came at Double-A, where he hit .268 with an .827 OPS and 21 walks against 30 strikeouts. Just six games into Haseley’s first taste of Triple-A, Andrew McCutchen tore his ACL and brought him to the big leagues earlier than expected. The 23-year-old traded in his prospect status for 1.7 bWAR and a spot in the conversation for Opening Day center fielder in 2020.

Were there signs that Haseley had it in him?

“Yeah,” Henson said. “His game-planning is unbelievable. He’s by far way more advanced than anybody else we had In Double-A, with having an idea of how guys were going to pitch to him and get him out. He is one of the only guys I’ve ever had that studied the pitcher as much as he does.”

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Mickey Moniak, Reading (119 games): Yes, Moniak was drafted first overall in 2016. No, his numbers might not yet match the caliber of a top pick. But the Phils’ No. 8 prospect is still only 21 and showed signs that he’s no longer a kid from California. Moniak set a career best with a .439 slugging percentage. His .741 OPS also was his highest in affiliated ball. He reached double-digit homers — 11, to be exact — for the first time as a pro. No Phillies Minor Leaguer matched his 13 triples, and his 67 RBIs, 52 extra-base hits and 204 total bases put him in the top five in the system.

“For him, it’s learning how to manage at-bats, learning how to control the strike zone,” Henson said. ” … Early, you got to see Mickey get himself out a lot — early in counts, on soft pitches and just trying to force the envelope, trying to make everything happen. As the year progressed, he got way better at it. And, obviously, then his power numbers started to climb.”

Utility — Darick Hall, Reading (132 games): Hall entered the season as one of the best power hitters in the system, totaling 55 homers in 2017-18. Not much changed. The 24-year-old added 20 dingers and a system-best 38 doubles to slug .454 for the Fightins. Although he hit a career-low .235 in 456 at-bats, Hall more than doubled his walk rate from Double-A last year, bringing it up to 11.2 percent. The 25 percent strikeout rate wasn’t ideal, but it didn’t stop him from posting a 133 wRC+, sixth-best among Phillies prospects.

“Darick Hall did have a good year,” Henson said. “I think there’s way more in his tank than what he obviously showed. The last month, he kind of scuffled. I think he’s a guy who hits 30 [homers] and drives in 80-100 a year.”

[udpated title]
Phils’ Hall crushes grand slam

00:00:48 • November 26th, 2019

Right-handed starting pitcher — Spencer Howard, GCL Phillies East (one game), GCL Phillies West (one game), Clearwater (seven games), Reading (six games): Shoulder soreness limited Howard to 71 innings on the season, but that was enough to slide up to MLB.com’s No. 88 overall prospect. He fanned 38.4 percent of batters he faced in the Florida State League, posting a 1.29 ERA and 1.54 FIP for the Threshers. Those numbers ticked only a tad higher in his first taste of Double-A, where the 23-year-old whiffed 31.2 percent of batters, compiling a 2.35 ERA and 2.62 FIP.

“He’s got four plus pitches,” Threshers pitching coach Brad Bergesen told The Philadelphia Inquirer, referring to Howard’s fastball, changeup, slider and curveball. “Every game [in 2018] he would have a couple and then maybe the other two weren’t working, so he put them in his back pocket. This year, a curveball might pop out the first couple times and he’s not just getting away from it. He’s able to make an adjustment and carry out that four-pitch repertoire game to game.”

[udpated title]
Lindow fans 8 straight

00:00:59 • November 26th, 2019

Left-handed starting pitcher — Ethan Lindow, Lakewood (23 games), Clearwater (three games): The 2017 fifth-round pick took home the Paul Owens Award as the top Minor League pitcher in the system. Over 94 2/3 innings at Lakewood, Lindow pitched to a 2.66 ERA and struck out 103 batters while walking 20. Only five Phillies prospects fanned more than his 119 on the year. He finished the season by yielding three earned runs in three starts at Clearwater, putting up a 1.87 ERA there. His emergence was a much-needed boost to a system thin on starters.

“He’s a special pitcher,” Phillies director of player development Josh Bonifay told The Inquirer. “He attacks the zone. He mixes all pitches in the zone. He limits hard contact. That’s hard to do at a young age. He’s able to spin the fastball where it gets above the barrels. He’s able to put hitters away with his off-speed pitches.”

Relief pitcher — Tyler Carr, Lakewood (11 games), Clearwater (27 games), Reading (one game): Carr, a 2018 31st-round pick out of South Alabama, has zoomed through the Minor Leagues. He allowed one earned run for the Blue Claws, then posted a 1.64 ERA and 0.93 WHIP over 49 1/3 innings for the Threshers. And the 23-year-old right-hander couldn’t have ended the season more appropriately, making one appearance with Reading in which he struck out six of the nine batters he faced and gave up a lone hit in 2 2/3 frames. Results can vary from year to year for relievers, but more of the same from Carr and he won’t be eligible for this list much longer.

Joe Bloss is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @jtbloss. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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Position: Pitcher
Teams: Boston Beaneaters, 1890-1901; St. Louis Cardinals, 1904-1905; Philadelphia Phillies, 1905-1906
Manager: St. Louis Cardinals, 1904-1905
Managerial Record: 80-88

Kid Nichols
Kid Nichols relied almost entirely
on one pitch — his fastball.

When he first joined the Boston Beaneaters in 1890, Charlie Nichols looked so youthful and so physically unprepossessing that he was called “Kid.” The nickname stuck with him for the remainder of his life.

Nichols is the only 300-game winner in major-league history who got by with just one pitch. He had a fastball, period. And at that, it was by no means an overpowering fastball.

What Nichols did possess in spades, however, was control. When he walked a batter, it was usually only because he was afraid to let him hit. Later in his career, Nichols developed a changeup but used it only infrequently. Until the end of his career, his fastball remained his “out” pitch.

Charles Augustus Nichols (1869-1953) began his career in 1887 with his hometown Kansas City club in the Western League. After two years, Nichols landed with Omaha in the Western Association, managed by 29-year-old Frank Selee (already a keen judge of talent). Selee was hired as the Beaneaters’ manager the following year and proceeded to sign Nichols.

Nichols won 27 games as a rookie in 1890 and 273 games in his first 10 seasons, more than any other pitcher during the decade of the 1890s. On eight occasions he collected 30 or more victories, reaching a high of 35 in 1892. Never a strikeout or an ERA leader, Kid nevertheless topped the National League three times in shutouts and always ranked among the leaders in both complete games and saves (staff leaders were also often used as stoppers then).

The Boston Beaneaters were the most formidable team in the game in the 1890s, and no one had more to do with Boston’s success than Nichols, who had 10 straight winning seasons. In 1898, Ted Lewis, Vic Willis, and Nichols (who won 31 games) teamed up to win 82 games among them, bringing the Beaneaters their fifth flag of the decade.

The club began to falter after that, however. When team owner Arthur Soden lost several stars to the American League by refusing to match the offers made them by junior loop clubs, Nichols quit the Beaneaters and bought a part interest in the Kansas City team in the Western League.

After two years as a player-manager with Kansas City, Kid was lured back to the majors by the St. Louis Cardinals. He won 21 games for St. Louis in 1904. When the club got off to a poor start the next year, Nichols was released, finishing his career with the Phillies. Despite 361 career wins, Nichols was not named to the Hall of Fame until 1949.

Here are Kid Nichols’ major league totals:

W L ERA G CG IP H ER BB SO
361 208 2.94 620 532 5,084 4,912 1,660 1,272 1,877

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CLEARWATER, Fla. — John Vukovich, the late, great Phillies coach who spent his entire big-league playing career battling to make teams as a utility man, once described the final days of spring training as a time he’d wake up in the middle of the night and see snakes.

Phil Gosselin knows all too well what it’s like to come to camp having to fight for the last spot on a roster.

But he doesn’t see snakes.

“I’m used to it,” he said with a laugh. “I wouldn’t know what to do if I showed up [in February] and they told me I was on the team.

“There are times [late in camp] when you’re getting changed and you look around to see if you’re being called into the manager’s office. But it’s part of the business. One of my college coaches used to say, ‘Pressure is a privilege.’ So you just show up, play well and see what happens.”

Gosselin, a local guy from West Chester who played at Malvern Prep before a stellar career at the University of Virginia, has made four straight opening day rosters with three different clubs, and “each time I didn’t find out if I made it or not until the last day,” he said.

Now, at age 30, and after stints with the Braves, Diamondbacks, Pirates, Rangers and Reds, Gosselin is in camp with the Phillies, once again trying to win the final spot on the roster. He has spent parts of the last six seasons in the majors and getting to do so again this year with the Phillies would be …

“Pretty surreal,” he said. “Whether it’s opening day, September, whenever. I went to Phillies games as a kid, watched them all on TV.”

Gosselin and his brother, Matt, were in the upper deck at Citizens Bank Park the night Alex Rodriguez belted a controversial home run off a television camera in Game 3 of the 2009 World Series. A few years later, as a rookie member of the Atlanta Braves, he had to remind himself to focus on the game and not get caught up in the fact he was standing between Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. Scott Rolen was his all-time favorite player. As a kid growing up in Chester County, he had a mini locker in his bedroom with Darren Daulton’s nameplate on it.

“In a roundabout way, the Phillies are the reason I’m here,” he said in the team’s clubhouse Tuesday morning. “They’re the reason I fell in love with baseball.”

Gosselin was thrilled when his agent, Barry Meister, called over the winter and said the Phillies were interested in signing him to a minor-league deal and giving him a look in spring training. Sure, there was the attraction of having the opportunity to wear the uniform of his boyhood dreams. But there was more than that.

“I wanted to go to the team with the best opportunity and I felt like this it,” Gosselin said. “The Phillies are trying to win now. I think I’ve been around a little bit and I can help doing some of the stuff off the bench, bouncing around and things like that. So I think they’re more likely to give somebody like me an opportunity than maybe a 20-year-old prospect just because they’re trying to win now, as opposed to a team that is in rebuild mode and is going to choose a guy they drafted and is younger.”

The Phillies typically go with an eight-man bullpen which leaves just four bench jobs. One of them will go to a backup catcher, Andrew Knapp or Drew Butera, and one will go to super-utility man Scott Kingery. Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr are the lead candidates for what looks like two extra outfield jobs, but Quinn is down with an oblique strain and might not be ready for opening day. In addition to Gosselin, the Phils have veteran infielders/outfielders Sean Rodriguez, Gregorio Petit, Andrew Romine and Gift Ngoepe in camp on minor-league deals looking for jobs.

Good thing that Gosselin, who can also play corner outfield spots, has learned to just go out and play and not stress about roster machinations.

Gosselin does not have an out in his contract at the end of camp. If he has to open the season at Lehigh Valley, he will go there and keep reaching for his dream of one day being in the big leagues with the team of his boyhood dreams.

“Obviously, we all want to be in the big leagues, but if you’re going to be in Triple A, that’s as good a spot as any, especially for me because it’s close to home,” Gosselin said.

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With his hiring as the new Phillies manager, Joe Girardi has already earned a special place in the annals of the team’s long history. In so doing, he has joined some of the Phils most notable skippers even before putting on a uniform.

For example, only one manager hired by the Phillies during their 137-year history came to the team with more experience as a major league pilot than Girardi, who has 11 years as the head man in the dugout.

Bucky Harris led teams for 19 years before joining the Phils in 1943. Hard as it is to believe, Harris was dismissed at mid-season by Phillies owner William Cox as the result of constant battles between the two (One of the outcomes of these battles was Cox’s getting banned for life from baseball.)

Coincidentally, before last week Harris was the only manager ever to lead a Washington team to a World Series victory when his Senators won in 1924. Altogether, he managed for 29 years, winning another World Series in 1947 with the New York Yankees.

Like Girardi, who so far has posted a 988-794 record as a manager, Steve O’Neill, who led the Phillies for three years starting in 1952, also joined the club with 11 years managerial experience. But nobody else among the Phils’ 55 different people who have guided the team comes close.

Along with that mark on his resume, Girardi is also the first Phillies strategist in nearly the last three decades to come here after previously managing in the big leagues for more than two seasons. Jim Fregosi was the last one to do it when he joined the club in 1991 with six years of experience in the majors.

Girardi won one World Series as a manager and was a member of three World Champs as a player. A catcher, he played for 15 years in the big leagues, compiling a .267 lifetime batting average. One season (2000), while playing with the Chicago Cubs, he replaced the injured Mike Piazza on the National League All-Star team.

The new Phillies skipper is the eighth catcher to hold the reigns of the local team. Jack Clements, a lefthanded backstop who managed in part of 1890, Chief Zimmer (1903), Red Dooin (1910-14), Pat Moran (1915-18), Jimmie Wilson (1934-38), O’Neill, and Pat Corrales (1982-83) preceded him.

Of course, as the new man in town, Girardi will have more important duties than just being saluted for his previous numbers. He has to make this team a winner again, something that has conspicuously evaded his three immediate predecessors.

Hopefully, even though he has a degree in industrial engineering, Girardi will not be too locked into the rubbish called analytics, although it is evident that he is not opposed to mixing this system with what really counts, such as a player’s ability, his guts, his knowledge of the game, his hustle, his tenacity, his enthusiasm and various other physical and mental characteristics.

Hopefully, too, he will not tell every hitter to swing up or to wait until the fifth or sixth pitch to do it; he will not constantly use five, six, or seven pitchers in a game while relying mostly on pitch counts for his starters and yanking them even though they’re firing a two-hit shutout in the seventh inning; he will make defensive shifts only when they are really necessary; and he will call for sacrifice bunts, stolen bases, pinch-hitters and other increasingly lost arts. Such maneuvers, of course, have been mostly ignored as seemingly everyone in baseball is undergoing numerous but often – to at least some of us –unwelcome changes.

Did you know that the average number of relievers used in a game during the regular season was 6.72? No starting pitcher – whose won-lost records are irritatingly never mentioned by many who write about baseball these days – completed more that two games, and there were only 42 complete games pitched in the entire majors. Former Phillies Hall of Fame pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander once hurled 16 shutouts in one season (1916).

There were 6,776 home runs hit in 2019, an increase of 671 over the previous year’s record. There were more than 8,000 more defensive shifts – the last-recorded number was 32,673 in 2018 – compared to 2,463 in 2010. In 2018, batters struck out 41,207 times. That number was passed in 2019 with one week to go in the season. There were some 800 fewer balls put into play by batters. The number of pinch-hitters was the lowest in 68 years, while the number of pinch-runners reached a 76-year low.

Only one team stole more bases than Rickey Henderson did by himself (130) in 1982. And sacrifice bunts, stolen bases, hits, singles, and balls hit in play were at all-time lows while strikeouts, hit batters, and number of pitches per game were at all-time highs.

What’s happening to our old game? Well, in 2019 the average time to play a game was 3 hours and 10 minutes. The average time in 1972 was 2:23. (The Phillies played a game in 1919 in 51 minutes.) Longer games have seemingly had an impact on attendance. Average attendance at major league games in 2019 was 28,198, down more than 4,000 from the record set in 2007. What does that tell you?

Girardi, of course, faces other important matters. Hopefully, he will not be subjected to stupid trades like the one two years ago that sent away Howie Kendrick for money and a minor league pitcher, who the Phillies dumped last year after he had a losing record at Class A Clearwater. Since then, Kendrick has had several standout seasons for the Washington Nationals.

Somehow, somewhere, the powers that be need to figure out that this team badly needs pitching, and go out and grab some good hurlers instead of relaying on a staff that’s been highly unsuccessful.

There are lots of other issues that need to be resolved. But if his press conference last week was any indication, Girardi is a guy who is intense, intelligent, aggressive, focused, enthusiastic, tough, articulate, tenacious, and who will not rest until a winning team arrives again.

“I’m well aware of the passion of the baseball fans here,” he said. “This is a special place, and I know the importance of winning here.” To that, he added: “I’m a manager who really cares. I care about everyone involved here. I want to win. That’s why I came here.”

And if he does win, his name will be added to even more lists relating to Phillies managers. Certainly, the best list of all would be the one that includes only Charlie Manuel and Dallas Green.

Rich Westcott is a writer and historian specializing in the Phillies and Philadelphia sports. He is the author of 26 books and was the publisher and editor of the newspaper called Phillies Report. He was once a sports writer for the Daily Times.

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Here’s a look at the Phillies involvement in baseball’s major awards, Cy Young, MVP, Rookie of the Year and Manager of the Year categories. Plus, Phillies who finished in second place.

Lefty Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt dominated in their era on the field and in the trophy room. What is hard to believe … Charlie Manuel never winning an award after five consecutive division titles, two pennants and a world championship. His team dominated, yet a Manager of the Year Award never came his way. But, hey, he has a World Series ring. Take that!

• Phillies alumni

Cy Young Award

(Voted annually by the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA). From 1956-66 there was one Cy Young Award winner for the Major Leagues. Beginning in 1967, one was selected for each league.)

Steve Carlton (1972, 1977, 1980, 1982)
John Denny (1983)
Steve Bedrosian (1987)
Roy Halladay (2010)

Runners-up
Jim Bunning (1967, Mike McCormick)
Roy Halladay (2011, Clayton Kershaw)

MVP Award

(The BBWAA first began voting for the MVP in each league in 1931.)

OF Chuck Klein (1932)
RHP Jim Konstanty (1950)
3B Mike Schmidt (1980, 1981, 1986)
1B Ryan Howard (2006)
SS Jimmy Rollins (2007)

Runners-up
Chuck Klein (1933, Carl Hubbell)
Robin Roberts (1952, Hank Sauer)
Johnny Callison (1964, Ken Boyer)
Greg Luzinski (1975, Joe Morgan)
Greg Luzinski (1977, George Foster)
Lenny Dykstra (1993, Barry Bonds)
Ryan Howard (2008, Albert Pujols)

Rookie of the Year

(A bit complicated because there have been two groups that have been selecting — The Sporting News (TSN) and the BBWAA. The BBWAA awards are recognized as “official.”)

RHP Jack Sanford (1957)
3B Dick Allen (1964)
3B Scott Rolen (1997)
1B Ryan Howard (2005)

Runners-up
1B Ed Bouchee, 1957
CF Willie Montanez, 1971
LHP J.A. Happ, 2009

Manager of the Year

(The BBWAA began honoring managers in 1983. Prior to that, the two wire services, The Associated Press and United Press International, made yearly selections. The AP honored winners in each league from 1959-83 and then went with one winner from 1984-2000. Unable to locate complete information concerning UPI awards history.)

Five Phillies managers have received Manager of the Year honors:

Eddie Sawyer (1950, AP, UPI)
Gene Mauch (1962, AP, UPI)
Gene Mauch (1964, AP)
Danny Ozark (1976, AP)
Jim Fregosi (1993, AP)
Larry Bowa (2001, BBWAA, 113-48 points over Jim Tracy, Los Angeles Dodgers)

BBWAA runners-up
Jim Fregosi (1993, Dusty Baker)
Charlie Manuel (2007, Bob Melvin)
Charlie Manuel (2008, Lou Piniella)
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Philadelphia Phillies

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On Wednesday, the Houston Astros pulled off the most surprising trade of the deadline season, acquiring right-handed starter Zack Greinke from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for four prospects and substantial cash considerations. Greinke joins a rotation that already includes Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, and while you might suspect you know how good that trio is, you probably didn’t know that they’re on pace to accomplish a historic feat.

According to Griffin Waugh of CBS Sports’ research department, those three could become the first trio of teammates to finish top-five in the majors in WHIP since Dolf Luque, Pete Donohue, and Eppa Rixey did it with the 1925 Cincinnati Reds. As it stands, Verlander ranks No. 1 (0.811), Greinke No. 3 (0.945), and Cole No. 5 (1.002). Yes, WHIP has its flaws and isn’t predictive, but that’s nifty trivia and somewhat indicative of how good the three have been at suppressing baserunners.

To think, no one even talks about Wade Miley, who is expected to be the Astros’ fourth starter come playoff time. Miley has a 146 ERA+.

While Greinke will fit in just fine from a production standpoint, it’s worth noting he is a departure for the Astros when it comes to style. Houston’s rotation ranks third in baseball in average fastball velocity, with Cole sitting around 97 mph, Verlander about 95 mph, and the left-handed Miley 91. Greinke, conversely, checks in at 90 mph — placing him ahead of just Kyle Hendricks, Mike Leake, and Adam Wainwright, so far as qualified right-handed starters go.

Of course, Greinke has proved to be proficient without velocity. He has a deep arsenal that he leverages and locates well. He’s undoubtedly among the most intelligent and athletic pitchers in the game, with the latter coming in handy as a fielder and, at least in a small sample this season, as a hitter — in 48 at-bats this season he hit .271/.300/.583 with three homers.

The Astros already had a good shot at winning the World Series. Yet the trade improved their chances by the most in baseball, three whole percentage points, according to Stephen Oh’s SportsLine projections. The Astros’ 22 percent likelihood ranks second in baseball, behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers (27 percent), who appear to have an easier road to the Fall Classic.

In other words, now that the Astros have Greinke in tow it looks like we could be heading for a rematch of the 2017 World Series.

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Thursday, July 11 will mark the official start of the second half of the 2019 Major League Baseball campaign.
Stream MLB games now on fuboTV.

The Houston Astros will visit the surprising Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas.

A majority of the rest of the league will be back in action come Friday, but before then, it’s time for a discussion of some of my thoughts and expectations for some teams and players as the “dog days” of summer and an important trade deadline still await.

Here are my five thoughts about the National Pastime:

1.) Los Angeles Dodgers – Is this finally the year?

1988 will hang over this franchise’s head until the day they claim another World Series championship.

The Dodgers have been one of the National League’s best teams over the past handful of seasons; even representing the National League in the previous two World Series matchups. Despite their regular season success and, seemingly, never-ending pockets, Los Angeles has played second fiddle to both the analytical-darling Houston Astros and 108-win, powerhouse Boston Red Sox in the last two Fall Classics.

The Dodgers were the first team in the league to reach 60 wins this year, and are poised to surpass the 100-win plateau for the second time in three seasons.

Cody Bellinger is a front-runner for the NL Most Valuable Player, and left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu looks like a favorite for the Cy Young award even though he shares a spot in the rotation with the likes of Clayton Kershaw and dynamic right-hander Walker Buehler.

Is the third time the charm for the boys in blue?

2.) Minnesota Twins – Will we be seeing Major League Baseball’s first 300 home run team?

Last year, the “Twinkies” hit a total of 166 long balls as an entire roster in 162 games. Through 89 contests this season, Minnesota has already reached that mark on the dot (166) and still have at least 73 regular season matchups at their disposal.

The Twins are roughly averaging 1.87 home runs per-game through those 89 games. Now that average does not account for extra-innings, so it’s not exactly spot-on. However, if they sustain that average, we could not only see them shatter last year’s record of 267 set by the 2018 New York Yankees, but 300 total team home runs is not exactly out of reach. That’s a frightening thought.

The Twins sit 134 homers short of an elusive 300 total; divide that 134 by their 73 remaining regular season games and the home runs per-game is eerily similar to their current pace. Should Minnesota roughly slug 1.84 home runs per-game, they would reach 300 and set a new, previously unheralded bar for other teams to chase. First-year manager Rocco Baldelli is getting the best of the talent at his disposal; something Paul Molitor and Ron Gardenhire weren’t able to do in year’s past.

3.) Philadelphia Phillies – Are the wheels falling off?

2018 offseason acquisitions: Bryce Harper. J.T. Realmuto. Jean Segura. Andrew McCutchen.

Wouldn’t this be something. No playoffs again in Philadelphia? Though the Phillies still hold a Wild Card spot in the National League, the tires have blown on such a promising season since around the start of June. The Atlanta Braves have caught and passed the Phillies, so too have the surprising Washington Nationals, who are even shocking me with their latest run of dominance. The Nationals are my favorite team, but I didn’t even pick them as a postseason team when doing preseason predictions. While Philadelphia was reeling and gasping for air, Washington rattled off 28 wins in 39 games and now hold an edge on the Phillies by half-a-game in the Wild Card standings.

Philadelphia locked up the most prized off-season free agent for 13 seasons (Bryce Harper) and swung a trade for the most sought-after trade target (J.T. Realmuto) in less than two weeks this past offseason. Expectations were as high as they’ve been since 2011 in the City of Brotherly Love; fittingly, the last time the franchise reached the postseason. Does the team have a rallying cry left in them before the season passes them by? Or will focus shift to 2020 come the trade deadline?

4.) Pete Alonso, Cody Bellinger, Mike Trout, Christian Yelich – 60 home runs still in reach?

We haven’t seen 60 home runs by a player in a hot minute. You have to go back to 1961 in the American League and 2001 in the National League.

Is this the year we see it again?

Trout ended the first half on a patented hot streak and sits at 28, Alonso and Bellinger have both reached 30 on the dot; while Yelich picked up where he left off in his 2018 Senior Circuit MVP campaign and has already slugged 31 home runs in 2019. Should Trout reach that mark, he would become the first AL hitter to reach that mark since Roger Maris infamously captivated the baseball world with 61 in 1961 (there were eight more games on the schedule in 1961 than when Babe Ruth posted his record 60 back in 1927 — 162 games as opposed to 154). If one of the NL contestants should reach the elusive 60 home run milestone, they would go down in history as the first NL hitter to do so since Barry Bonds destroyed 73 baseballs into the stands in 2001.

Who’s got my vote? Yelich. The NL Central is going to be an absolute dogfight until season’s end. Yelich will be playing meaningful games until the bell rings on Game 162. No discredit to Alonso, Bellinger or Trout, but their teams are on different sides of the spectrum than Yelich’s Milwaukee Brewers. The New York Mets and Los Angeles Angels are likely to be sellers; again watching the postseason from their couches. It’s likely those stars will get rest in otherwise meaningless Septembers, unless managers Mickey Callaway and Brad Ausmus are willing to push them out there each day in chase of the mark. As for Bellinger, the Dodgers are a runaway train in the NL West yet again. Manager Dave Roberts will want the third-year slugger rested for October.

“Save some of those home runs for when they really count.” – Roberts, probably.

5.) D.J. Lemahieu – First player to win a batting title in both leagues since 1902?

What were you doing in 1902? Rhetorical. Don’t answer that.

If you were Ed Delahanty, though, you were winning a batting title (.376 average) with the American League’s Washington Senators. Add that to his title in 1899 with the National League’s Philadelphia Phillies (.410 average), and you’ll see what we’re getting at. Delahanty still remains the only player in Major League Baseball history to be crowned a batting title in both leagues. Should Yankees’ utilityman D.J. Lemahieu’s pace remain, he would be re-writing the record books and joining Delahanty in baseball lore.

Lemahieu is currently hitting at a .336 clip; this after winning his first title back in 2016 with the Colorado Rockies. Lemahieu hit .348 that season for Colorado, in the midst of a five-year stretch where four different Rockies took home a batting title:

Michael Cuddyer – 2013 (.331)
Justin Morneau – 2014 (.319)
Lemahieu – 2016 (.348)
Charlie Blackmon – 2017 (.331)

Lemahieu has been a god-send for a Yankees team that has been injured and banged up all over the diamond since Spring Training. It would be such an incredible story to see this feat reached, and I think it happens. Lemahieu currently has a 12-point advantage over his next-closest Junior Circuit competitors; Houston’s Michael Brantley and Boston’s Rafael Devers both start the second-half with respective .324 marks.

Delahanty may have met his match.

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This post is part of a series concerning the 2020 Modern Baseball Era Committee ballot, covering executives and long-retired players whose candidacies will be voted upon at the Winter Meetings in San Diego on December 8. For an introduction to JAWS, see here. Several profiles in this series are adapted from work previously published at SI.com, Baseball Prospectus, and Futility Infielder. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.
2020 Modern Baseball Candidate: Tommy John
Pitcher Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Tommy John 61.5 34.6 48.0
Avg. HOF SP 73.2 49.9 61.5
W-L SO ERA ERA+
288-231 2,245 3.34 111
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Tommy John spent 26 seasons pitching in the majors from 1963-74 and then 1976-89, more than any player besides Nolan Ryan, but his level of fame stems as much from the year that cleaves that span as it does from his work on the mound. As the recipient of the most famous sports medicine procedure of all time, the elbow ligament replacement surgery performed by Dr. Frank Jobe in late 1974 that now bears his name, John endured an arduous year-long rehab process before returning to pitch as well as ever, a recovery that gave hope to generations of injured pitchers whose careers might otherwise have ended. Tommy John surgery has somewhat obscured the pitcher’s on-field accomplishments, however.

A sinkerballer who relied upon his command and control to limit hard contact, John didn’t overpower hitters; the epitome of the “crafty lefty,” he was so good at his craft that he arrived on the major league scene at age 20 and made his final appearance three days after his 46th birthday. He made three All-Star teams and was a key starter on five clubs that reached the postseason and three that won pennants, though he wound up on the losing end of the World Series each time.

Born in 1943 in Terre Haute, Indiana, John excelled in basketball as well as baseball in high school, so much so that the rangy, 6-foot-3 teenager was recruited by legendary Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp, and had over 50 basketball scholarship offers but just one for baseball (few colleges gave those out in those days). Reliant on a curveball learned from former Phillies minor leaguer Arley Andrews, a friend of his father, he pitched to a 28-2 record in high school despite his lack of top-notch fastball, signing with the Indians out of high school in 1961, four years before the introduction of the amateur draft.

John climbed the minor league ladder quickly and debuted in the majors on September 6, 1963, with an inning of scoreless relief against the Senators. He split the 1964 season between the minors and majors, spending time in an Indians rotation that also included 23-year-old Luis Tiant and 21-year-old Sam McDowell. He pitched far better than his 2-9 record indicated, suffering due to a lack of offensive support; during one six-start span in June and July, the Indians scored a total of nine runs for him. He struggled to incorporate a slider taught to him by pitching coach (and future Hall of Famer) Early Wynn, which compromised his mechanics. The following January, he was traded to the White Sox as part of a three-team, eight-player deal that sent slugger Rocky Colavito from the Kansas City A’s back to Cleveland.

John quickly emerged as a solid mid-rotation starter on the South Side. He spent seven seasons with the White Sox, pitching to a 2.95 ERA (117 ERA+) and 3.20 FIP while averaging 213 innings and 3.4 WAR per year. He shared the AL lead in shutouts in both 1966 (five, tied with Tiant and McDowell) and ’67 (six, tied with four other pitchers including the Tigers’ Mickey Lolich) and finished in the top five in ERA in both seasons. In 1968, the Year of the Pitcher, he posted a 1.98 ERA (also good for fifth in the league) with 5.6 WAR (sixth) and made his first All-Star team. He topped 5.0 WAR and placed in the league’s top 10 in each of the next two seasons as well. By 1971, however, he was clashing with another pitching coach who pushed him to integrate a slider, the great Johnny Sain. Via Jon Weisman’s Brothers in Arms, John endured 12 weeks of frustration while trying to integrate the pitch before reconnecting with Sain’s predecessor, Ray Berres, who told him, “Stick that slider up your ass… You don’t add a pitch if it takes away from your other pitches.”

In December 1971, John and one other player were traded to the Dodgers in exchange for slugger Dick Allen, who had spent just one year in Los Angeles and would go on to win AL MVP honors in his first year in Chicago. The trade wasn’t entirely one-sided, however, and John found a sympathetic collaborator in Dodgers pitching coach Red Adams, who told him to emphasize his sinker, which had plenty of movement to compensate for its lack of velocity. In his first three seasons in Dodger blue, John pitched to a 2.89 ERA (119 ERA+) and 2.94 FIP. But on July 17, 1974, at a time that he led the NL with 13 wins for a team that would go on to win the pennant, the 31-year-old southpaw’s left arm went dead. “It felt as if I had left my arm someplace else. It was as if my body continued to go forward and my left arm had just flown out to right field, independent of the rest of me,” he later told Sports Illustrated’s Ron Fimrite.

Dr. Jobe, who had removed bone chips from John’s elbow after the 1972 season, initially could not determine how damaged the pitcher’s elbow was. When rest and therapy proved inadequate, John asked Jobe to operate to alleviate what the doctor called “Overuse Syndrome.” The surgery to replace a ruptured elbow ligament had never been tried in a pitcher. On September 25, 1974, Jobe replaced John’s ruptured medial collateral ligament with a tendon harvested from the pitcher’s right wrist; three months later, he operated again to reroute the ulnar nerve. John spent all of 1975 undertaking a rehab for which there was no road map. On September 29, 1975, he finally got to pitch again, this time in the Arizona Instructional League.

The operation and the rehab worked. John returned to the Dodgers in fine form in 1976, throwing 207 innings with a 3.09 ERA (109 ERA+) and 3.08 FIP. He won The Sporting News‘ NL Comeback Player of the Year award as well as the Hutch Award, given annually to an active player “who best exemplifies the fighting spirit and competitive desire of Fred Hutchinson.” The next year, he began a true career renaissance, winning 20 games for the first time, placing fifth in the league with a 2.78 ERA, throwing a one-run complete game on three days of rest in the NLCS clincher against the Phillies, and finishing second behind Steve Carlton in the NL Cy Young race.

He made All-Star teams in each of the next three seasons, helping the Dodgers to another pennant in 1978 with a four-hit shutout of the Phillies in the NLCS before a victory in the World Series opener against the Yankees. New York prevailed in that series as they had the year before, and just a few weeks later, they signed John, who had reached free agency, to a three-year, $1.2 million deal, with an option for the fourth year.

John made 36 starts in each of his first two seasons in pinstripes, totaling a whopping 541.2 innings and notching 43 wins. His 2.96 ERA ranked second in the AL in 1979, and his 5.5 WAR seventh. He again finished as the runner-up in the Cy Young race, this time to Mike Flanagan. The Yankees missed the playoffs in 1979, and despite winning 103 games the following year, they were ousted in the ALCS by the Royals in 1980. They made it back to the World Series in 1981 to face the Dodgers. John spun seven shutout innings against his old teammates in a Game 2 win, but when summoned into a bases-loaded relief appearance in the eighth inning of a tied Game 4, he allowed two inherited runners to score in what proved to be the decisive rally. In Game 6, with the Yankees trailing three games to two, John threw four innings of one-run ball, but with two on and two outs in the bottom of the inning, manager Bob Lemon made the controversial decision to replace him with pinch-hitter Bobby Murcer, who flied out to end the threat. The Dodgers broke the game open against reliever George Frazier (who had already taken two losses in the series, including in Game 4) and claimed their first championship since 1965.

John didn’t complete his final year under contract with the Yankees; disgruntled after being moved to the bullpen, he was traded to the playoff-bound Angels on August 31, 1982, and threw a complete game victory in the ALCS opener against the Brewers, though he was roughed up in Game 4 and the Angels went down in defeat. He spent three more seasons with the Halos before drawing his release in mid-1985, briefly caught on with the A’s, then, improbably, wound up back in the Bronx in May 1986; he was 43 at the time. In 1987, he went 13-6 with a 4.03 ERA (110 ERA+), 3.88 FIP, and 2.4 WAR, which was certainly not too shabby for a 44-year-old. He spent two more years with the Yankees — and was the Opening Day starter for the last of them, the third-oldest in MLB history at the time at 45 years and 317 days — before calling it quits.

Thanks to his longevity and ability to eat innings like few other pitchers, John finished with some impressive career totals and lofty rankings: he’s eighth all-time in games started (700), 18th in batters faced (19,692), 20th in innings (4,710.1), and 26th in both wins (288) and shutouts (26). That said, he never led his leagues in any of the Triple Crown categories (wins, ERA, and strikeouts), made just four All-Star teams, and never won a Cy Young.

One can play “what if” and surmise that John might have gotten to 300 wins, and thus automatic enshrinement, had he not missed a year and a half due to his elbow injury, but it’s entirely possible that his elbow (or another body part) would have instead given way in his late 30s or early 40s, after he’d made a few million dollars in free agency, at an age when rehabbing might have seemed less appealing than when he was 31. His score of 112 on the Bill James’ Hall of Fame Monitor, which measures how likely (but not how deserving) a player is to be elected by awarding points for various honors, league leads, postseason performance and so on — the things that tend to catch voters’ eyes — marking him as “a good possibility” rather than “a virtual cinch.”

While 164 of John’s wins (about 56%) and 2,544.2 innings (54%) came after his fateful collaboration with Dr. Jobe, his WAR split is almost exactly down the middle: 31.1 WAR before, 31.0 after. For all of his longevity, his 65.5 total WAR (including offense) is just 57th all-time, ahead of only 23 out of 65 enshrinees, and just one out of the 10 contemporaries from “That Seventies Group,” Catfish Hunter (40.9), who’s also the only one from that group with a lower ERA+ (104) than John (111). In addition to his lesser run prevention relative to that group, his lack of strikeouts — he’s 61st all-time, having whiffed just 4.3 per nine overall and 3.4 per nine after surgery — means that he shares a greater portion of the credit with his fielders. With just four seasons of at least 5.0 WAR and among his leagues’ top 10, his 34.6 peak WAR is tied for 164th, matching or ahead of just seven of the 65. He’s 85th in JAWS, ahead of just 16 of 65, some of whom (such as Sandy Koufax, Dizzy Dean, and Addie Joss) threw fewer than half as many innings. As he’s significantly below all three WAR standards, to these eyes, one needs to apply a very large bonus for his being Patient Zero when it comes to his role as a medical marvel to justify his election. That the Hall honored him in tandem with Jobe in 2013 is enough for my tastes.

John debuted on the BBWAA ballot in 1995, receiving just 21.3% of the vote. He lasted the full 15 years but didn’t top 30% until his final one, when he got 31.7%. Though he appeared on the 2011 and ’14 Expansion Era ballots, and the ’18 Modern Baseball one, he didn’t break out of the “less than” pack, so it might be somewhat surprising that he’s back for another try. Then again, given the thousands of damaged pitchers who have undergone the surgery in an effort to continue their careers, it’s quite likely we’ll be talking about Tommy John for a long, long time.

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The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2020 Hall of Fame ballot. Originally written for the 2018 election at SI.com, it has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

“A hard-charging third baseman” who “could have played shortstop with more range than Cal Ripken.” “A no-nonsense star.” “The perfect baseball player.” Scott Rolen did not lack for praise, particularly in the pages of Sports Illustrated at the height of his career. A masterful, athletic defender with the physical dimensions of a tight end (listed at 6-foot-4, 245 pounds), Rolen played with an all-out intensity, sacrificing his body in the name of stopping balls from getting through the left side of the infield. Many viewed him as the position’s best for his time, and he more than held his own with the bat as well, routinely accompanying his 25 to 30 homers a year with strong on-base percentages.

There was much to love about Rolen’s game, but particularly in Philadelphia, the city where he began his major league career and the one with a reputation for fraternal fondness, he found no shortage of critics — even in the Phillies organization. Despite winning 1997 NL Rookie of the Year honors and emerging as a foundation-type player, Rolen was blasted publicly by manager Larry Bowa and special assistant to the general manager Dallas Green. While ownership pinched pennies and waited for a new ballpark, fans booed and vilified him. Eventually, Rolen couldn’t wait to skip town, even when offered a deal that could have been worth as much as $140 million. Traded in mid-2002 to the Cardinals, he referred to St. Louis as “baseball heaven,” which only further enraged the Philly faithful.

In St. Louis, Rolen provided the missing piece of the puzzle, helping a team that hadn’t been to the World Series since 1987 make two trips in three years (2004 and ’06), with a championship in the latter year. A private, introverted person who shunned endorsement deals, he didn’t have to shoulder the burden of being a franchise savior, but as the toll of his max-effort play caught up to him in the form of chronic shoulder and back woes, he clashed with manager Tony La Russa and again found himself looking for the exit. After a brief detour to Toronto, he landed in Cincinnati, where again he provided the missing piece, helping the Reds return to the postseason for the first time in 15 years.

Though he played in the majors for 17 seasons (1996-2012), Rolen retired at 37 and didn’t accumulate the major milestones that would bolster his Hall of Fame case. The combination of his solid offense and his defensive prowess — validated both by the eye test and the metrics — places his WAR and JAWS among the top 10 third basemen in history, but in his 2018 ballot debut, voters gave him a paltry 10.2%. While several conceded that they would have included him if space had permitted, his share only grew to 17.2% in 2019. Hopefully, he can build support quickly enough to be taken seriously by a broader swath of the electorate, but at this stage, his looks to be an uphill battle.
2020 BBWAA Candidate: Scott Rolen
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Scott Rolen 70.2 43.7 56.9
Avg. HOF 3B 68.4 43.0 55.7
H HR AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+
2,077 316 .281/.364/.490 122
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Born in Evansville, Indiana in 1975 to a pair of schoolteachers, Rolen grew up in Jasper, a town of 10,000 roughly an hour away, and excelled at both basketball and baseball. On the court, he was a 6-foot-4 point guard versatile enough to play shooting guard or forward as well. In 1993, he made the Indiana All-Star team and was the Tri-State co-player of the Year, among other honors. Heavily recruited by colleges, he was offered hoops scholarships by UCLA, Oklahoma State, Alabama, and Georgia. He played all around the diamond and even pitched in relief before moving to third base full time. During his senior year, he was voted Mr. Baseball, the top high school player in the state (he was runner-up in Mr. Basketball).

A defensive wizard, Scott Rolen presents a compelling Hall of Fame case
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Though Rolen committed to Georgia for a basketball scholarship, he reconsidered when the Phillies chose him in the second round of the 1993 draft and offered a $250,000 signing bonus. After 25 games in rookie ball, he hit .294/.363/.462 with 14 homers as a 19-year-old in the A-level South Atlantic League in 1994, a performance that placed him at number 91 on Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects list the following spring. He climbed to 27th in 1996 despite being limited to 86 games due to a broken hamate, and after a combined .324/.416/.515 showing in Double- and Triple-A, he was recalled on August 1 by the Phillies, who were in the midst of a 67-95 season. He went 1-for-4 with a double off the Cardinals’ Donovan Osborne in his debut. With incumbent third baseman Todd Zeile traded later that month, the 21-year-old Rolen hit .254/.322/.400 with four homers in 146 PA down the stretch, but his season ended on September 7, when a pitch by the Cubs’ Steve Trachsel fractured his right ulna.

The injury carried a silver lining, in that Rolen’s 130 at-bats left him barely eligible to be considered a rookie for 1997. He got his money’s worth out of the designation, climbing to 13th on the BA list and hitting .283/.377/.469 with 21 homers, 16 steals, and 4.5 WAR. He was unanimously voted NL Rookie of the Year, beating out the likes of Vladimir Guerrero and Andruw Jones. The Phillies, however, went just 68-94 under first-year manager Terry Francona, their fourth straight losing season since their 1993 NL pennant.

After signing a four-year, $10 million extension in the spring of 1998, Rolen broke out, bashing 31 homers, driving in 110 runs, and stealing 14 bases while hitting .290/.391/.532 for a 139 OPS+. Stellar defense (+12 runs according to Total Zone) earned him the first of his eight Gold Gloves; his 6.7 WAR ranked eighth in the NL. The Phillies climbed to 75 wins, and then 77 in 1999, before falling back to 65 in 2000. While Rolen hit a combined .284/.369/.539 for a 124 OPS+ and 9.1 WAR in those last two years, he missed 84 games due to a lower back strain (which ended his 1999 season on August 25) and a left ankle sprain. The team’s regression cost Francona his job.

Avoiding the disabled list for the first time in three years, Rolen put together another typical Scott Rolen season (.284/.375/.511, 25 HR, 107 RBI, 5.5 WAR) in 2001, but under the hood, things were far from normal. The Phillies tried to hash out another extension during spring training, but talks broke off due to Rolen’s concerns about the team’s payroll, which had ranked 20th in 2000; despite their large market, the Phillies received significant help from revenue sharing. Under Bowa, the team improved to 86-76, but the new manager did his part to alienate Rolen. In June, Bowa called him out after a series loss to the Red Sox, saying, “If the number four guy [Rolen, the cleanup hitter] makes contact in either Boston loss, we sweep the series. He’s killing us.” Rolen was incensed. In August, Green said during a radio interview, “Scotty is satisfied with being a so-so player. He’s not a great player. In his mind, he probably thinks he’s doing OK, but the fans in Philadelphia know otherwise. I think he can be greater, but his personality won’t let him.”

“I don’t feel as welcome in this organization as I have in the past,” said Rolen in response. In November, he rejected a seven-year, $90 million extension, with options and incentives that would have elevated the total package to 10 years and $140 million. In December, Orioles owner Peter Angelos scuttled a tentative nine-player deal to the Phillies upon learning the potential cost of an extension.

When Rolen came to spring training, he elaborated on his discontent even while saying that he might have been “an idiot” for passing up such a lucrative deal. “I’m tired of promises that come up empty . . . There’s a lack of commitment [from ownership]. I’m not sure their number one goal is to put a winner on the field. This is the [fourth-largest] market, but I don’t feel they act like it.” A livid Bowa was caught on camera profanely telling general manager Ed Wade that Rolen should be traded; the footage never aired, but was leaked and became sports talk radio fodder. Still a Phil, Rolen was elected to start the All-Star Game even as he was being booed and portrayed as a clubhouse cancer, though a conciliatory Bowa called him “the best third baseman in the NL,” adding, “He’s earned that free-agency right. That’s the process, and he has earned it.”

Finally, on July 29, the Phillies traded Rolen, a Triple-A reliever, and cash to the Cardinals for third baseman Placido Polanco, starter Bud Smith, and reliever Mike Timlin. “I felt as if I’d died and gone to heaven,” Rolen — who grew up attending games in both St. Louis and Cincinnati — told ESPN’s Peter Gammons. His numbers improved after the trade (from a 123 OPS+ with 17 homers in 100 games to a 139 OPS+ with 14 homers in 55 games), and he finished with 6.5 WAR. Before doing that, he signed an eight-year, $90 million extension for 2003-10.

Rolen’s post-trade performance helped the Cardinals win 97 games and run away with the NL Central. In his postseason debut, his two-run homer off the Diamondbacks’ Randy Johnson in the Division Series opener proved decisive. Unfortunately, in a collision with pinch-runner Alex Cintron in Game 2, he suffered sprains in four regions of his shoulder and collarbone “including a severe hyperextension of the three ligaments supporting his clavicle.” The injury ended his season; the Cardinals advanced to the NLCS but lost to the Giants.

Luckily, the injury didn’t carry over to 2003. Rolen played 154 games, his highest total since 1998, made his second All-Star team and hit .286/.382/.528 with 28 homers, 13 steals, and a 138 OPS+. While the advanced metrics gave mixed reviews on his defense (-4 Defensive Runs Saved but +7.7 Ultimate Zone Rating), he won his fourth Gold Glove. The Cardinals missed the playoffs, but rebounded to win 105 games and the NL pennant in 2004. Rolen’s career-best 9.2 WAR surpassed hot-hitting teammates Albert Pujols and Jim Edmonds, and ranked third in the NL behind Barry Bonds and Adrián Beltré, with across-the-board career offensive highs (.314/.409/.598, 34 HR, 124 RBI, 158 OPS+) accompanied by +30 DRS. He won another Gold Glove but finished fourth in the NL MVP voting, sandwiched between the aforementioned teammates as Bonds won.

In a July 12, 2004 article in Sports Illustrated, Tom Verducci described Rolen’s appeal:

When he’s not flipping middle infielders like flapjacks, Rolen, 29, is playing the best third base of his generation, piling up more RBIs than Mike Schmidt did at the same age and carrying himself with such humility that even his teammates have to strain to hear him when he does speak. “Rolen’s the perfect baseball player,” Milwaukee Brewers manager Ned Yost says. “It’s his tenacity, his preparation, the way he plays. He tries to do everything fundamentally sound. And he puts the team first — there’s no fanfare with him.”

In an uneven October, Rolen went hitless in both the Division Series against the Dodgers and the World Series sweep by the Red Sox, but bashed three homers and went 9-for-29 in the NLCS against the Astros, with a pair of homers in their come-from-behind Game 2 victory and a two-run blast off Roger Clemens that put the Cardinals ahead to stay in Game 7.

While the Cardinals won 100 games and reached the NLCS in 2005, Rolen was limited to 56 games due to surgery to repair a torn left labrum, suffered in a collision with the Dodgers’ Hee-Seop Choi on May 10; after missing 34 games, he returned and attempted to play, but five weeks of hitting .207 without a homer made clear that he needed to go under the knife. Back to form in 2006 (22 homers, 126 OPS+, 5.8 WAR, the last sixth in the league), he made his fifth All-Star team and won his seventh Gold Glove.

The Cardinals weren’t nearly the powerhouse of 2004-05, barely winning the division with an 83-78 record, but they went on a roll in October. Rolen, however, was hampered by left shoulder fatigue and was benched twice by La Russa, who felt he wasn’t being forthright in conveying his condition — first for Game 4 of the Division Series against the Padres, then for Game 2 of the NLCS against the Mets. To that point, he was just 1-for-14, but upon returning, he carried a 10-game hitting streak through the remainder of the postseason. Though famously robbed of a homer by Endy Chavez in Game 7 of the NLCS, he homered off the Tigers’ Justin Verlander in the World Series opener, and went 8-for-19 overall.

The Cardinals won in five games, but the relationship between Rolen and La Russa was strained and would continue to worsen in 2007, Rolen’s final year in St. Louis. The 32-year-old third baseman hit a meager .265/.331/.398 with eight homers in 112 games, and while outstanding defense (+12 DRS) bolstered his value, continued left shoulder woes ended his season in late August; he underwent a bursectomy and the removal of scar tissue. After the season, Rolen told general manager John Mozeliak that he wanted out. “There’s absolutely no intention to accommodate Scott,” said an unsympathetic La Russa at that year’s winter meetings. “If he doesn’t like it, he can quit.”

Five weeks later, Mozeliak traded Rolen to the Blue Jays straight up for Troy Glaus; later, the GM hinted that spite may have played a role in the north-of-the-border destination, and conceded that the move weakened the team, calling Rolen “the only player I regret trading.” Rolen, for his part, was rather cryptic when asked later about his frosty relationship with La Russa, saying, “We’re different people with different morals… That’s as politically correct as I can say it, I guess.”

The trade may have alleviated that conflict, but before debuting for the Jays, Rolen broke a knuckle on his right middle finger and lost the fingernail completely due to a mishap during a fielding drill. He missed the season’s first 23 games, and later missed another 13 due to power-sapping left shoulder soreness. He finished at .262/.349/.431 with 11 homers in 115 games, though again, stellar defense (+9 DRS) bolstered his value (3.4 WAR).

Despite his sizzling showing in the first four months of 2009 (.320/.370/.476), Rolen and the Blue Jays were bound for nowhere. Desiring to be closer to home, he asked for a trade. On July 31, he was sent to the Reds — whose general manager, Walt Jocketty, had traded for Rolen as the Cardinals’ GM in 2002 — for Edwin Encarnación, Josh Roenicke, and Zach Stewart. Jocketty desired Rolen’s leadership as much as his ability, saying, “He will bring a lot to this ballclub that’s been lacking.”

(While today, the move appears imbalanced because Encarnación, a defensively challenged 26-year-old third baseman at the time, blossomed into an All-Star slugger, that wouldn’t happen for another three years; in fact, the Jays lost him to the A’s on waivers in November 2010, then re-signed him after he was non-tendered.)

Rolen suffered a beaning-related concussion in his second game as a Red. After sitting for two days, he homered in his first plate appearance back, but post-concussion syndrome soon sent him to the disabled list. “I’m just in La-La Land out there,” he said. “I have headaches I can’t shake.” Despite the injury, Rolen finished with a 116 OPS+, 17 DRS and 5.2 WAR, his highest total since 2006. In December, a contract restructuring converted his $11 million salary into a three-year, $24 million extension.

The deal paid off in 2010. Despite suffering lower back spasms, at age 35 he made his sixth All-Star team, won his eighth and final Gold Glove, hit a Rolenesque .285/.358/.497 with 20 homers, a 126 OPS+ and 4.1 WAR, and drew praise for his clubhouse leadership. The Reds, who hadn’t finished above .500 since 2000 and hadn’t made the playoffs since 1995, went 91-71 and won the NL Central. No-hit by the Phillies’ Roy Halladay in the Division Series opener, they were quickly dispatched; Rolen went just 1-for-11 while striking out eight times.

Rolen spent two more seasons in Cincinnati, but protruding discs in his lower back and problems with both shoulders — culminating in offseason surgery to remove bone spurs and fragments from the perennially troublesome left one — limited him to a total of 157 games, 13 homers, an 86 OPS+ and 2.2 WAR. The Reds did win the NL Central again in 2012, but squandered a two-games-to-none lead in the Division Series against the Giants, who beat them in five games and went on to win the World Series. Though he collected two hits in Game 5, Rolen struck out with two men on base in the bottom of the ninth against Sergio Romo, ending the Reds’ season. Afterwards, he conceded that he was mulling retirement, but hadn’t made up his mind. Teammates again lavished him with praise, with Ryan Ludwick saying, “A Hall of Famer, in my opinion, no doubt about it. I played with him in St. Louis, too, and he’s a gamer, a guy that goes about his business the way you want to teach a 3-, 4-, 5-year-old kid. He’s a grown man and he plays the game every out, every pitch at max intensity.”

Rolen remained on the fence about retirement. Both the Dodgers and Reds showed interest that winter, but he never did play again, putting the wraps on his stellar career.

At first glance, Rolen’s case for Cooperstown, while respectable, isn’t overwhelming. Despite his eight Gold Gloves and seven All-Star appearances, his Hall of Fame Monitor score of 99 is a whisker below “a good possibility,” and his postseason line (.220/.302/.376 with five homers in 159 PA) offers little help outside of his stellar 2004 NLCS and ’06 World Series performances, not that those weren’t important. Regular season-wise, his totals of 316 homers and 2,077 hits don’t scream instant enshrinement, though at least he’s on the right side of “The Rule of 2,000.” Neither BBWAA nor committee voters have elected a post-1960 expansion era players with fewer than 2,000 hits, with Willie Stargell’s’s 2,232 the lowest mark among non-catchers. Ron Santo, who collected 2,167 of his 2,254 hits after 1960 (his rookie season), is in the same neighborhood and a reasonable comparable for Rolen, as a player who was in the majors in his early 20s but was done by his mid-30s. Both had keen batting eyes, augmenting their power with good on-base percentages, though Rolen was by far the more valuable defender. Santo wasn’t elected until 2011, a year after his death at age 70. Gulp.

As for his offense, Rolen was a model of consistency who rarely put up extreme numbers or made a splash on the leaderboards. He never ranked among the league’s top 10 in hits, homers, or batting average; he did so just once in walks, OBP, and SLG, and in OPS+ twice. Nonetheless, his numbers stand out relative to his position. His .490 SLG is fifth among players who spent most of their careers at the hot corner, but that’s in part a reflection of playing in a high-scoring era; contemporaries Aramis Ramirez and Matt Williams are fourth and sixth, and nobody’s stumping for their election. Adjusting for the environments in which Rolen played, his 122 OPS+ ranks ninth on a list topped by six Hall of Famers (Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, Chipper Jones, George Brett, Wade Boggs, and Santo), though none of the other players in the top 15 are enshrined. Via batting runs, the offensive component of WAR, Rolen’s 16th at 234, behind a mix of Hall of Famers, perennial All-Stars, and 19th century obscurities. Among his contemporaries, only Jones (who’s first at 558), David Wright ((284) and Beltré (257) outrank him; the latter doing so only with the benefit of 3,612 additional plate appearances.

It’s Rolen’s combination of strong offense and elite defense that’s his true selling point. He’s considered by many to be the best defensive third baseman of his era, and has both the hardware and the advanced metrics to bolster that claim. His eight Gold Gloves are more than any third baseman besides Brooks Robinson and Schmidt, and he’s third at the position in fielding runs, 175 above average via a combination of Total Zone (1996-2002) and Defensive Runs Saved (2003-12), with only Robinson (293) and Beltré (238) ahead. Rolen had 11 seasons where he was at least 10 runs above average in the field, including three of at least 20 above average.

Rolen cracked the league’s top 10 in WAR a modest four times, but had six seasons of at least 5.0 WAR, tied for 10th at the position, and 11 of at least 4.0 WAR, tied for third with Boggs, behind only Schmidt and Mathews. That’s particularly impressive considering his career length. Take away his cup-of-coffee 1996 season, his injury-wracked 2005, and the two at the tail end of his career; in 11 of the other 13 seasons, he was worth at least 4.0 WAR, which is to say worthy of All-Star consideration. Only in 2007 and ’08 did he play more than 92 games and finish with less than 4.0 WAR.

Thanks to that consistency, Rolen ranks 10th at the position with 70.2 career WAR, behind eight Hall of Famers plus Beltré, all of whom played at least 200 more games. He’s 1.8 WAR above the career standard at the position. His 43.7 peak WAR is a more modest 14th, but still 0.7 above the standard, and ahead of six enshrinees including Paul Molitor (who spent more time at DH). Rolen’s 56.9 JAWS ranks 10th, 1.2 points above the standard. Particularly at a position so drastically underrepresented in the Hall — there are 15 third basemen, but 26 right fielders, and 19 to 22 at every other position besides catcher — that’s a player who belongs in Cooperstown.

As his voting shares have shown, getting there won’t be easy for Rolen, though it’s worth noting that he’s dealt with some very crowded ballots, which, after the clearance of holdovers Edgar Martinez and Mike Mussina should be less of a factor this year and beyond. The trend is worth illustrating:

Where nine candidates besides Rolen met the JAWS standards at their positions when he debuted in 2018, and 12 besides Rolen had a JAWS of at least 50, those counts are respectively down to six and 10 this year.

One of my biggest fears heading into any election cycle is a strong candidate suffering the indignity of falling off the ballot with less than 5% of the vote, cast into oblivion like Bobby Grich, Lou Whitaker, Kenny Lofton, Ted Simmons, and others. Players who derive a significant chunk of their value from on-base percentage and defense, but lack big triple crown stats, often suffer such a fate. Rolen fits that description to tee, though thankfully he has survived two election cycles. His 10.2% debut was lower than the lowest post-1966 candidate ever to be elected by the writers (Duke Snider, 17.0% in 1970), but there’s room for some optimism. Last year’s seven-point gain was foreshadowed by 15 voters reporting (via Ryan Thibodaux’s indispensable Ballot Tracker) that they would have included Rolen on their 2018 ballots if given the space. A dozen people said the same thing for 2019, the highest of any candidate in the cycle:

Now, whether that glass is half empty or half full is in the eye of the beholder; those 12 responses came from among 232 ballots revealed prior to the election (5.2%), but taken as a percentage of the 47 voters those who actually supplied such answers, it’s 25.5%. What’s more, only 8.8% of the voters who did not publish their ballots either prior to or after the election included Rolen; that sector of the electorate contains a much higher percentage of voters who are currently inactive and thus vulnerable to being culled when their period of inactivity reaches 10 years. In other words, some opposition to him may dwindle, albeit slowly.

No longer in danger of falling off the ballot, Rolen might be in for an Alan Trammell-like run, where his tenure is more about amassing enough support from the writers to gain traction from a small committee to be named later. Trammell debuted with 15.7% in 2002 but didn’t break 30% until his 11th year, peaked at 40.9% in his 15th year of eligibility and was elected by the Modern Baseball Era Committee in 2018. Larry Walker, who as recently as 2016 was languishing below Rolen’s 17.2%, could follow that route as well, though after rallying to 54.6% last year, he has an outside shot of getting to 75% in this, his final go-around. As the traffic thins out, we’ll learn a whole lot more about Rolen’s ultimate fate. He deserves better than the support he has received thus far, but it ain’t over.