Sunday, July 19, 2009

Ghost of Rolen Past

Scott Rolen went two for three on Saturday, scoring two runs, and was a big reason why the Blue Jays put an end to the Red Sox winning streak. Scott Rolen is now batting .322. Yes, that's .322. And no, that's not for just a few games here and there. That's over 79 games and over 300 plate appearances.

At the age of 34, Scott Rolen is looking a lot like the Rolen that was a member of every National League All Star team from 2002 to 2006. And it's a story that few outside of some of the Fan's friends in Toronto are even aware of. The Blue Jays installed Rolen into the cleanup spot after the struggles of Vernon Wells and others to fill that role. The move has worked out beautifully even if the Blue Jays have not fared well as a team over the last month of the season.

Rolen has been around for a long time. He was drafted right out of high school by the Phillies in the second round of the 1993 draft. He debuted in 37 games in 1996 and followed that season with a Rookie of the Year campaign in 1997. That season began a run of eight straight seasons with an OPS+ of 119 or higher.

The big mystery is why Rolen didn't make the All Star team until 2002. He hit 31 homers and drove in 110 in 1998. He hit 25 more homers and drove in 107 in 2001. But he either lacked recognition until he was traded to the Cardinals in 2002 or something.

Rolen had his two best seasons for the Cardinals in 2003 and 2004 with 2004 being the only year that Rolen recorded an OPS over 1.000. He continued that fine play throughout the 2004 World Series run that eventually led to the famous Red Sox series win. Rolen came in fourth in MVP voting that year.

Then the big feud with Tony LaRussa started in 2006, a year that saw the Cardinals win it all despite a mediocre season. There is no sense rehashing that event when it has been so well documented. If you somehow missed the feud, it is pretty well documented in this article. The end result was a poor year in 2007 for Rolen, who was not on speaking terms with his manager. LaRussa made classless remarks that the linked article details. Rolen asked to be traded and he was to the Blue Jays for Troy Glaus.

After 2008, the deal looked like a steal for the Cardinals. Rolen struggled with his health and at the ball parks while Glaus had a successful campaign. After two down years, Rolen was pretty much forgotten.

But Cito Gaston didn't forget about Rolen and apparently healthy, Rolen is paying Gaston dividends. With Scuturo and Hill ahead of Rolen, the third baseman should have plenty of runs to drive in the remainder of the year.

Driving in runs is what Rolen has always been good at doing. He is three RBI away from 1100 for his career. He has also hit 750 extra base hits. And even after two down seasons, Rolen's career line is .284/.370/.500. Those numbers indicate that his problems of the last couple of years had to be health related because he's been just too good and too consistent a player to have it otherwise. And of course, the Fan hasn't even touched on Rolen's eight time Gold Glove wins. His defense is still top notch and Toronto has the current pleasure of watching one of the best third basemen of his generation.


eyebleaf said...

It truly is a pleasure to watch Rolen.

Greatest Blue Jay of All Time!

Josh Borenstein said...

Rolen has always played the game right way. Best third baseman of his generation, IMO. Yes, even better than Chipper Jones. Because of his defense.