The Mvb

Rollins is most valuable, BUT he'll never win the overall prize

Posted: August 07, 2007

MILWAUKEE - Jimmy Rollins won't win an MVP award. Ever. He knows this.

The lack of appreciation by the cognoscenti of scoring runs, Rollins' chief goal, always will doom him to minor consideration, at best.

However, inspired by teammate Ryan Howard's spectacular run to the award last season, Rollins figures that this year could be his year . . . to finish, say, sixth.

"I'd take it," Rollins said. "Anywhere in the top 10."

Quietly, Rollins not only is having his best season but one of the best all-around seasons in baseball history. Only George Brett has combined at least 200 hits, 20 homers, 20 doubles and 20 triples, a feat completed in 1979, when Brett finished third in the MVP voting.

Rollins probably won't come anywhere close to third, and will be lucky to squeak into the top 10, though he could add to Brett's comparable compilation more than 100 runs, 100 RBI and 30 stolen bases.

Furthermore, Rollins again has shown himself to be one of baseball's best shortstops, and most durable; he has started every game this season.

He's hitting .291. He is on pace to collect 208 hits, 29 homers, 39 doubles, 20 triples, 135 runs, 96 RBI and 30 steals.

Nevertheless, the National League MVP award probably won't be his this season, or, given his situation current and future, in any season. Here's why:

* He plays in the same infield as Howard and Chase Utley - one, potentially the most powerful hitter of his era, the other perhaps one of the top five offensive second basemen in history.

"They're in the middle of the lineup," Rollins acknowledged. "They're going to hit 30-plus home runs, and have RBIs at 180 or 220 or whatever."

The fact that Rollins will be scoring on many of those guys' runs batted in won't carry the same weight, Rollins said.

* He's no Derek Jeter.

In 13 seasons, Jeter has set the current standard for shortstops.

Jeter has never hit 25 homers, as Rollins did last year; he's never stolen more than 34 bases, as Rollins has done in three of his six seasons; he has driven in 100 runs once in 13 seasons; he's never had 10 triples, which Rollins now has done five times.

Jeter has, however, reached several offensive marks to which Rollins aspires and, well, he's Jeter.

Jeter is the charismatic, unquestioned leader of the Yankees, the most significant sports franchise in the country - a designation earned largely by playing well in the postseason. Rollins has yet to sniff the postseason.

"Derek Jeter - he's built the reputation. He's been consistent," Rollins said. The playoffs - "That has a lot to do with it. If we produce in the postseason, that's what I'd have to do. He's done it. And he's Jeter. You don't have to go any further than that."

* He plays close to Reyes and Ramirez.

Working in the same division as Mets star Jose Reyes and fresh face Hanley Ramirez in Florida, whose skill set most closely resembles Rollins', will serve to keep Rollins marginalized not only among his own position but also among those who play his position in his division.

Rollins insists that Ramirez won't matter until the Marlins matter again, despite Ramirez' current NL Rookie of the Year reign and his spectacular current season. But the shadow cast by Reyes - a steals machine and defensive wizard playing in the Big Apple - is more considerable.

"Hanley, in Florida, is just Hanley in Florida. I can throw him out of the books," Rollins said. "Jose in New York - he's the man. He's in New York."

* Unimpressive average and on-base percentage.

Rollins is a career .276 hitter with a .290 high-water mark, with a career on-base percentage of .330 (he has never exceeded .348 in a single season). Partly, that's because he struck out more than 100 times in each of his first three seasons; partly, that's because he never has walked more than 57 times.

"On-base percentage is more appreciated than runs scored," Rollins said. "It is [ridiculous]."

Rollins needed just seven more hits in 2005 to raise his average from .290 to .300 - a little more than one more hit a month. But Rollins is reluctant to, say, drop bunts for infield hits, mainly because he figures with his power he shouldn't settle for getting only one base per plate appearance.

"Extra-base hits are more important to me. It's a mental thing for me more than physical, to keep my swing grooved from both sides of the plate," Rollins said. "I do have enough power to drive the ball in the gap, and I have enough speed so if I can get them to turn their back a little, I can take the extra base - rather than have to steal a base, do that extra work, to take that chance."

Rollins looks behind him in the regular lineup and he sees a combined 400 strikeouts per season in Utley, Howard and Pat Burrell. Sacrificing extra-base swings for more singles, especially bunt singles, or walks might actually mean fewer runs scored.

"If you're on base more, are you going to score more runs? In a perfect world, yes," Rollins said. "But in reality, it doesn't always work that way."

Rollins' insistence on rolling into second or third might be his biggest obstacle in reaching his goals.

"This year I wanted .300, 20 [homers], 100 runs and if I could get 100 RBI - that would be the ultimate goal," he said. "If I don't hit .300 I would be a little disappointed, since I'm so close right now. But I'd be more disappointed if I don't score 120 runs. If I don't get 200 hits. It's all about productivity. Hitting .300 doesn't put a run on the board all the time."

It might get more MVP votes, and it might change his profile.

Rollins never has collected 200 hits, as Jeter has done five times. He's never hit .300 - Jeter's worst season was .291 - and he has a career on-base percentage almost 60 points below Jeter's.

Rollins' defense has never been a problem. His all-time fielding percentage of .981 ranks fourth all-time among shortstops, though he never has won a Gold Glove. The leader is 11-time winner Omar Vizquel, now a Giant but a player Phillies manager Charlie Manuel had in Cleveland.

"Jimmy's as good a shortstop as anyone I've ever seen," Manuel said. "Omar had great first-step range and instincts, but Jimmy's got a better arm."

It isn't Rollins' arm that could make him an MVP vote-getter this season; it's his bat. If he continues to produce, the triples might come even if the votes don't. Rollins figures familiarity could make that tough for him.

"I would love to get the 20 triples," he said, which would be eight more than his previous high. "But you play a team outside of our division, and that rightfield line is open [hitting lefthanded]. In our division, right-center is taken away and they're going to hug the line and give me the leftfield line. They'll pitch me in and play me over. The same thing the other side."

The triples might be tough to get. So, too, might 100 RBI, even though lately he has seen time in the No. 3 hole in place of Utley, who is injured.

Neither will be as tough as collecting enough MVP votes to matter. But he seems at peace with that. *

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