Mike DiMauro: Scott Rolen in the Hall? Then I want Graig Nettles, too

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Jan. 25—Full disclosure: Any hint of healthy critical thinking should raise suspicions about baseball's analytical revolution. Sure, analytics often contradict old-school notions that inspire healthy debate. But they also purposely create narratives espousing contrarian opposition to traditional ideas — ideas that became traditional for good reason.

This is why I've always viewed them skeptically. They're a tool in determining a player's worth, not the gospel. We don't need to add FIP, BABIP and WAR to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

This just in: I'm losing. And so is everyone else who fails to follow the game with mathematical propensities. We're somewhere between dimwits and dinosaurs.

Ah, but today, we're going to the dark side. You want Scott Rolen in the Hall of Fame for reasons other than the eye test? Fine. I want Graig Nettles, too.

Rolen, who received 10.2 percent of the Hall of Fame voting in 2018, has morphed into Brooks Robinson, receiving 76.3 percent of the vote earlier this week from the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

"Rolen is a clear beneficiary of the electorate getting increasingly younger and more comfortable using modern statistics to evaluate players," old friend Peter Abraham (formerly of the Norwich Bulletin) wrote in Wednesday's Boston Globe.

"Rolen had 70.1 bWAR during his career, which stretched from 1996-2012. Only four players had more during that time: Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols and Chipper Jones. Rolen's traditional statistics — .281 batting average, 316 home runs, 1,287 RBI — were strong. But bWAR also encompasses defense and baserunning."

We'll stop here briefly and do the unthinkable — and explain the applicable analytical terms to apply context to what feels extraordinarily esoteric to many of us.

"bWAR" is the Baseball Reference's calculation of the WAR stat, which measures a player's value across all facets. It deciphers how many more wins he's worth than a replacement-level player at his same position (e.g., a Minor League replacement or a readily available fill-in free agent).

I've often found the idea of the random replacement player too arbitrary to carry the significance WAR has been attributed. But then, it's become one of the Baseball Beatitudes, thus making it here to stay.

My argument for Nettles: He is among the best defensive third baseman in baseball history — the analytics say so — which, when combined with 2,295 hits, 390 homers and 1,314 RBI, make him every bit the candidate as Rolen. The numbers show Nettles was a significantly better defender with more homers and RBI than Rolen.

An analytical study of Nettles' career, published in Feb. 2022, compared him to the era's gold standard, Mike Schmidt, who many consider to be the best third baseman in history.

"Schmidt had 127 Total Zone Runs (the predecessor to Defensive Runs Saved), in his 18-year career," the study in calltothepen.com reported. "Nettles had 140 TZ in 22 seasons, or an average of 6.36 per season. He was even better in the 1970s when he had 159 TZ, or an average of 16 per season. By either way of looking at it, he was a better defender than Schmidt."

Baseball Reference lists Nettles 121st all time with a WAR of 68, tied with Robinson Cano and Ryne Sandberg. Rolen is 103rd at 70.1. It's virtually the same. Except Nettles is an afterthought.

Why? If we're going to genuflect at the altar of analytics, we should consider them in their totality. And any third baseman whose defense compares favorably to Schmidt's, who hit more homers and had more RBI than Rolen and was a cornerstone on two championship teams belongs in the Hall of Fame. The numbers say so. Seems to me the analytics crowd, big on lording its intellectual transcendence over the rest of us cattle, is practicing selective application here.

Full disclosure: Do I truly believe Nettles belongs? No, I don't. But if the rules are changing and as Abraham says, "the electorate is getting increasingly younger and more comfortable using modern statistics to evaluate players," then let's be fair. You elect Scott Rolen, you elect Graig Nettles.

Many fans and media alike are growing disgusted with what they're calling "The Hall of the Very Good" now. I feel their anguish. But as Billy Joel reminds us: We didn't start the fire. If these are the rules the youngins want, then let's apply them fairly.

And not that it matters, but in Game 7, I want Graig Nettles as my third baseman. Not Scott Rolen. So there.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro