Phillies' Rollins, by the numbers

Posted: October 10, 2013

THE QUESTION has never been, "Can Jimmy Rollins return to MVP form?"

His remarkable 2007 season, when he slugged 30 home runs and 20 triples and stole 41 bases while hitting .296/.344/.531, is the classic outlier. In the seven seasons he played leading up to that season, Rollins posted a .274/.329/.425 batting line (.754 OPS) while averaging 15 home runs per 162 games. In the five seasons after 2007, he combined to hit .258/.323/.416 (.738 OPS) while averaging 19 home runs per 162 games.

In other words, Jimmy Rollins never deserved to be held up to the standard that many Phillies fans have believed him to be capable of in the wake of his MVP award. Say what you will about the proclivity toward popups and the occasional jog toward first base, Rollins has spent the better part of his career as an above-average offensive shortstop worth the 4 years and $38 million the Phillies gave him prior to the 2012 season.

Then came 2013.

The thing that always made Rollins' mediocre on-base percentages and batting averages tenable was his ability to drive the ball. But in 2013, that ability disappeared. Like, totally.

From 2010-12, these were the results of Rollins' plate appearances:

HR: 2.7 percent of PAs

XBH: 7.4 percent

SO: 10.9 percent

BB: 9.3 percent

In 2013, this is what those percentages looked like:

HR: 0.9 percent

XBH: 6.6 percent

SO: 14.0 percent

BB: 8.9 percent

Those are all significant regressions. The reasons they occurred are difficult to pinpoint. Rollins saw an average of 3.78 pitches per plate appearance in 2013, slightly better than his career average and pretty much dead in line with the major league average. Of his 666 plate appearances, 16 percent featured 2-0 counts (MLB average: 15 percent), 9 percent featured 3-1 counts (MLB average: 9 percent), and 20 percent featured Rollins swinging at the first pitch (MLB average: 28 percent).

All of these numbers suggest that the error in Rollins' ways was what he was trying to do with the pitches that he ended up swinging at.

Ryne Sandberg certainly seemed to suggest that, going on record to say that he wanted to see his shortstop focus more on reaching base and hitting line drives rather than driving balls to the deepest part of Citizens Bank Park. That's always been a criticism of Rollins, but the key difference is that, in 2013, he was unable to do the latter.

Whether it was because of an actual decline in his physical abilities or because of a change in his swing, Rollins hit just six home runs and posted a slugging percentage that was four points lower than Ben Revere's.

All of this leads to one of the bigger questions facing the Phillies as we look toward 2014.

Can Rollins reinvent himself?

The last 2 months of the season offered some encouraging signs. At the prodding of Sandberg, Rollins drew 23 walks against 23 strikeouts after the managerial change. His walk rate nearly doubled. He still didn't hit for power, but he made up for it by posting a .353 on-base percentage. The result was a .714 OPS that, believe it or not, would be worth the $9.5 million annual average value of Rollins' contract if he was able to produce it over an entire season.

Yes, it's time to talk about value and position scarcity.

The average OPS for a National League shortstop was .681 this season. Which means Rollins (.667 OPS) was essentially a league-average offensive shortstop even during the worst season of his career. The .688 OPS that the Phillies got out of the shortstop position ranked eighth of 15 National League teams. If the Phillies had decided against signing Rollins, they likely would have started Freddy Galvis at the position. In 422 plate appearances since that decision, Galvis has a .230/.269/.375 batting line (a .644 OPS).

You certainly can argue that the Phillies would have been better off letting Rollins walk and using the money they would have paid him to sign somebody like third baseman Aramis Ramirez while paying Galvis the league minimum. But the drop-off between Rollins and the next best option was and is very real, and must be factored into any equation that assigns blame for the offensive putridness the Phillies have produced over the past couple of seasons. Also, keep in mind that Rollins' 2012 season was pretty much a carbon copy of the one that the Red Sox paid $9.5 million for Stephen Drew to produce this season, and far better than the one the A's paid $7.5 million to Drew for in 2012.

In fact, let's compare Drew and Rollins:

Drew in 2012-13: 828 PA, .241/.324/.406, 20 HR, 7 SB, 99 OPS+, $17 million

Rollins in 2012-13: 1,365 PA, .251/.317/.389, 29 HR, 52 SB, 92 OPS+, $22 million

The Rollins contract was not a drastic overpay with regard to the market rate for shortstops. Another year like last year and you probably will have to consider it a mistake because of the cost/benefit of going with Galvis. But if Rollins can go an entire season reaching base at a .353 clip, that is a dramatic difference from what Glavis has proven capable of thus far.


On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy

Blog: ph.ly/HighCheese

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