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January 19, 2024

What they're saying: Will Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins make Hall of Fame?

And the reasons why they should.

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Jimmy-Rollins-Chase-Utley-Phillies-World-Series-2022-Game-4-MLB.jpg Kyle Ross/USA TODAY Sports

Pictured: A couple of 🐐s.

We're in the dead zone of the baseball calendar where everyone's just kind of waiting – waiting to see if the Phillies will make any more moves before the spring and, somewhat in the background, waiting to see if two franchise icons have done enough to earn the call to Cooperstown. 

Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, the infield duo that was the beating heart of those golden-era Phillies teams from 2007-2011, are on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. Votes have been submitted, some writers have disclosed their decisions along with lengthy explanations as to why and why not for given candidates, and on Tuesday, the next wave of inductees will be announced. 

This is a "What they're saying" post, but we're going to switch up the format a little bit for this one, laying out the Hall of Fame cases for Utley and then Rollins across a handful of writers (both with and without a vote) then quickly sum up our own thoughts after – or...just mine...yeah...

There's a note on Bryce Harper to touch on as well, but we'll get to that at the end. 


The case for Utley

Jayson Stark has had a front-row seat to Rollins' and Utley's careers, and put in a vote for both. For Utley, in particular, he wrote:

Utley was the fireball that propelled one of baseball’s most dominant teams in his era — the 2007-11 Phillies, who won a World Series, won their division five years in a row and averaged eight more wins per season than any other team in their league. Then, from 2015-18, the Dodgers kept him around for another three-plus seasons because he was such a powerful force (mostly off the field) in their quest to propel their franchise to another stratosphere.

That was Chase Utley. He felt like a Hall of Famer when you watched him. And his peak was the stuff Hall of Famers were made of.

So when his name finally showed up on the ballot, he didn’t merely pass the Bill James test. He passed mine. [The Athletic]

Ken Rosenthal is for Utley and Rollins for the Hall as well. His argument for the second baseman:

A number of voters likely will see Utley as unworthy, too, starting with his career total of 1,885 hits. No player in the post-1960 expansion era has been elected by the writers with fewer than 2,000. But scouts, executives, teammates and opponents viewed Utley as almost a model player. He was not just an elite hitter, defender and baserunner. He was also savvy, instinctive and yes, cold-blooded, someone who would do almost anything to win.

That combination of attributes is why I voted for Utley, who is making his first appearance on the ballot. [The Athletic]

For Jay Jaffe, Utley was underrated during his playing days by the sport for as much as he's loved in Philadelphia, and it's time for the game to pay him the recognition now that he deserves:

Given his relatively short career and lack of milestones, Utley may not be viewed as an automatic choice. But his standing by JAWS, his prominent role in the Phillies’ success, and the high regard in which he’s held within the game make him an easy pick to these eyes. Indeed, as that aforementioned retirement announcement piece suggests, I’ve been awaiting the point at which I could include him on my ballot, and I gather that I’m hardly the only voter who feels that way. At this point, we have the tools to see how underrated he was in his career. It’s time to reward him with the recognition he deserves. [FanGraphs]
Scott Lauber acknowledges that the typical Hall of Fame stats aren't there for Utley, but that when he was playing, there was no one else better at his position:

Never mind that he finished with fewer than 2,000 hits. Or that a delayed call-up at the beginning of his career and knee injuries later slashed his peak to nine seasons, maybe less. He was the best second baseman in the NL for nearly a decade and had the second-most WAR from 2005 to 2013. There were iconic postseason moments in 2008 and 2009. And ask anyone about his role in building winning cultures with the Phillies and Dodgers. [The Inquirer]

Leo Morgenstern looked at the numbers and Utley the player, too, but argued for Utley the person also and everything he's done and has continued to do for baseball:

Earning a Hall of Fame vote is about more than just statistics. According to the BBWAA website, “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”

Utley easily meets the criteria in terms of record and contributions to his teams, and I’ve already laid out the case for his playing ability. Yet what about integrity, sportsmanship, and character?

Ask a fan of the Phillies or the Dodgers are they’ll tell you Utley was the model teammate and leader. He formed strong connections with his fellow players, led by example on the field, and put in the time to build relationships with the fans in the cities in which he played. Even now, years after hanging up his hat for the last time, he is working as Major League Baseball’s ambassador to Europe, intending to grow the game across the Atlantic. [Just Baseball]

My take: I don't have a vote, but at the same time, I've never had to stop to think twice about this either. Utley's a Hall of Famer to me. I always thought that while he was playing, and I still believe that now. 

At his peak, there was no better second baseman in baseball, and it always felt like he could and would do just about anything when he was truly on. 

In terms of pure numbers, he wasn't the best player of those golden-era Phils, but the World Series, the division titles, and all those October nights with the white rally towels waving up against the backdrop of the South Philly skies, none of it happens without No. 26 stepping into the box to the beat of "Kashmir."

The case for Rollins

Stark couldn't have voted for Utley without voting for Rollins. The two go hand in hand in Phillies history, but that's not to say that Rollins didn't have a worthy career on his own, because he absolutely more than did:

Nevertheless, I feel compelled to remind people that, as I’ve written many times before, no other shortstop who ever lived had Jimmy Rollins’ career. No one. Because he …

Won an MVP and four Gold Gloves. … Had more than 2,400 hits and topped 200 homers, 400 steals and 800 extra-base hits. … Got the most hits in the history of his franchise (the Phillies). … Had the longest hitting streak by a shortstop (38 games) since 1894 … And maybe most underappreciated of all, he was always out there — averaging 149 games played a year over 13 seasons (2001-13) at shortstop.

Then there’s all the winning those Phillies teams of his did. He was The Energizer on those teams. And he was a vital force for positivity: “When I start feeling nervous,” one of his coaches once told me, “all I have to do is look at Jimmy and I think we’re gonna win.” [The Athletic]

Rosenthal admitted to needing some convincing from Stark's previous arguments about Rollins' Hall of Fame worthiness, but once he got it, he was on board with the idea:

Watching Rollins at short, he sure looked elite. He was surehanded and trustworthy, supremely confident, always in the right place, making the right decisions. His advanced metrics, however, did not reflect his feel for the game. So, his WAR suffered.

That’s more of an issue for Rollins in Hall of Fame voting than it was say, in the 2007 MVP voting — Rollins won the award despite producing only the seventh-highest fWAR in the NL (David Wright was first at 8.4, while Rollins was at 6.5). Times change. Metrics improve. Our thinking evolves.

Still, I don’t particularly trust defensive ratings. As a result, I do not entirely trust WAR, which is a composite estimate of a player’s offensive, defensive and baserunning value. Too many voters, in my mind, are overly reliant on WAR. Which is how Bobby Abreu is a darling of the more analytically inclined, even though he never finished higher than 12th in an MVP vote. [The Athletic]

Marcus Hayes voted for Rollins and Utley, boiling it down to the fact that Utley was good – good enough for the Hall of Fame – and Rollins was even better.

[Utley] never was the Phillies’ best player. That always was Jimmy Rollins, who provided good power for a shortstop, a much more demanding position than Utley’s, not to mention elite speed, and Rollins was the second-best defensive shortstop of his generation (Omar Vizquel). Utley never was better than an average second baseman. [The Inquirer]
Todd Zolecki simply points out that Rollins has the accolades, the ring, and the career production that holds up well against other Hall of Fame shortstops:

Rollins appeared on 12.9 percent of ballots in his second year of eligibility, up from 9.4 percent in 2022. He is one of five shortstops in AL/NL history with at least 2,000 hits and 200 home runs, joining Hall of Famers Cal Ripken Jr., Derek Jeter and Robin Yount, as well as six-time All-Star Miguel Tejada. Rollins had 2,455 career hits. He won the NL MVP Award in 2007. He won four Gold Glove Awards and one Silver Slugger. Rollins made three NL All-Star teams and earned MVP votes in five seasons. He helped the Phillies win a World Series, two NL pennants and five consecutive NL East titles. Rollins compares well to other Hall of Fame shortstops. His career bWAR is 24th all-time among shortstops, better than four current Hall of Famers, including Phil Rizzuto. []
On MLB Network, Harold Reynolds and Steve Phillips were both presented with Rollins' resume and both see a place for him in the Hall.

My take: Just like Utley, I've never had to think about this one either. Rollins is a Hall of Famer, too. He should be.

From the moment he came up in 2000 and for the 14 years that followed, including that long-awaited leap into the postseason in 2007 – and basically from the point I started watching baseball, personally – Jimmy Rollins was the Philadelphia Phillies.

For the longest time, he was their leading star, and at his position, he was doing things in a way that no other shortstop had done before. Speed, power, contact, instincts, clutch factor, he had it all, and that 2007 MVP run to the club's first playoff appearance in 14 years is such a perfect encapsulation of that.

Also, Rollins' career numbers are more than comparable to peers already in the Hall anyway – guys that, for what it's worth, never had to deal with the analytics arguments. I'm just saying. 🤷‍♂️

Elite 1B Bryce Harper

OK, that aforementioned note about Harper — a sure future Hall of Famer in his own right. 

The Phillies' superstar slugger has only been playing first base for a few months, but already, MLB Network considers him one of the baseball's very best at the position, ranking him No. 2 behind only the Dodgers' Freddie Freeman in the network's Top 10 first baseman right now list. 

Here's the full list:

Not bad, and much to Harper's credit, he adapted quickly and looked pretty good at it in the field after a short while. Reps and natural athleticism did wonders there, so much so that it's his job full-time from here on

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