Nolan Arenado is On a HOF Track, And No One is Paying Attention

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistJuly 5, 2017

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JUNE 28:  Nolan Arenado #28 of the Colorado Rockies reacts after striking out against the San Francisco Giants in the top of the seventh inning at AT&T Park on June 28, 2017 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

For the first time in his career, Nolan Arenado will start the All-Star Game.

The glass-half-full take is that the Colorado Rockies third baseman is getting his due. On the glass-half-empty side, we have to ask: what the heck took so long?

Arenado has been one of the game's best players, never mind third basemen, for a few years. At age 26, he's on a Hall of Fame track (more on that in a moment).

Yet, his newly minted All-Star start aside, he's maintained an undeserved low profile despite the stats and elite skill set.

Arenado broke out in 2015, clubbing 42 home runs and leading both leagues with 130 RBI and 354 total bases. Last season, for an encore, he hit 41 home runs and again paced baseball with 133 RBI.

There's a Coors Field bump to be reckoned with. Since 2014, Arenado owns a .977 OPS at home compared to an .804 mark on the road.

He's a top-shelf hitter, though, regardless of location. And he picks it wherever he plays.

During the same 2014-to-today window, Arenado has been the best defensive third baseman in the National League, according to FanGraphs.

He also passes the eyeball test with flying colors. Here's a retina-melting defensive gem from the past week, via MLB.com's Cut4:

Cut4 @Cut4

Nolan invents ways to outdo himself. https://t.co/BYdMhFO6ai

So, Arenado is an unmitigated stud on both sides of the ball. All reasonable baseball minds agree on that. What about the Hall of Fame track referenced a few paragraphs ago?

SB Nation's Eric Garcia McKinley spelled it out in January, using Baseball Reference's WAR calculation:

"Arenado just completed his age-25 season. The magic number here is 18. That means that 50 percent of the position players who had accumulated at least 18 rWAR through age 25 have made it into the Hall of Fame—56 out of 112. Arenado is slightly past this mark. He has 20.1 rWAR through his first four seasons and through age 25."

A 50/50 shot isn't a guarantee, and WAR is an imperfect measure of a player's value. "On pace," is a sticky concept in sports; baseball history is littered with players who boasted a dominant stretch but didn't last long enough to build a HOF case.

Still, you get the idea. Arenado's combination of bat and glove work set him on a path that could plausibly end in Cooperstown. How come he doesn't get more love?

Why, for example, doesn't he crack MLB.com's list of the top 20 jerseys sold?

Why has he never finished higher than fifth in MVP voting despite head-turning offensive output and consistent highlight-reel work at the hot corner?

Why did it feel like a minor coup, rather than a foregone conclusion, that he overtook the Chicago Cubs' Kris Bryant for the All-Star starting nod?

The most obvious answer is the uniform Arenado wears.

Despite high-level play in the field and at the plate, Arenado has never finished better than fifth in MVP voting.
Despite high-level play in the field and at the plate, Arenado has never finished better than fifth in MVP voting.Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Yes, the Rockies have been a nice story this season and enter play Wednesday with a 49-37 record, good for the second Senior Circuit wild-card slot.

They're also the third-place team in the NL West, have never won a division title let alone a World Series and rarely register on the national radar.

The Cubs, meanwhile, are fresh off a drought-busting championship. Bryant, not coincidentally, topped that list of jerseys sold.

"I feel like he doesn't get enough attention because of where we play," Colorado outfielder Carlos Gonzalez said of Arenado in July 2016, per USA Today's Ted Berg. "Not a lot of people watch the Rockies everyday, but this guy is special." 

Arenado echoed that sentiment after winning the third base vote.

Per Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post, he said: "I'm so glad [the fans] appreciate my game, because they don't get to see me play that much."

Arenado's all-around game might play much bigger in New York or L.A.
Arenado's all-around game might play much bigger in New York or L.A.David Zalubowski/Associated Press

All-Star weekend in South Beach could be a coming-out party for Arenado. He's hitting .301 with 15 home runs and 63 RBI and leads the game with 27 doubles. He should be in the NL MVP conversation if he keeps it up.

He won't be a free agent until 2020, assuming the Rockies don't lock him up before then. A move to a bigger market such as New York or Los Angeles isn't coming soon.

Even at Mile High altitude, however, he deserves to rise to the top.


All statistics current as of Tuesday and courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs.


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