Rollins Was Better Than You Thought

I’ve been spending some time at Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, trying to figure out if it’s reasonable to expect Jimmy Rollins to rebound from a disappointing 2009 season. PECOTA is particularly bullish on Rollins, projecting him to put up an .808 OPS. The other projection systems have him in the .765-.780 OPS range, which is about his career average.

In perusing his stats, something has jumped out at me, an inescapable conclusion: 2008, not ’07 or ’09, was the outlier season for J-Roll. In fact, it seems to me that his ’07 and ’09 performances were eerily similar, just with different end results. Rollins’ OPS in those seasons were .875, .786, and .719. It appears at first glance that his ’07 was otherworldly, his ’08 was relatively normal, and his ’09 was part decline, part bad luck.

Let’s start with the walk and strikeout rates:

BB% K% BB/K
2007 6.3 11.9 0.58
2008 9.3 9.9 1.05
2009 6.1 10.4 0.63
Career 7.2 12.9 0.61

His BB/K in ’08 is at 1.05, the only time in his career he finished higher than 0.78. His ’07 and ’09 rates are very similar.

Batted ball rates…

LD% GB% FB% IFFB% HR/FB%
2007 19.9 35.9 44.2 7.5 10.7
2008 24.0 45.4 30.6 11.8 7.2
2009 19.2 39.7 41.1 13.7 8.5
Career 21.5 41.8 36.7 10.6 7.9

His LD/GB/FB rates are similar again in ’07 and ’09, but he has nearly doubled his infield fly ball rate (IFFB%) from ’07 which signifies that Rollins is making worse and weaker contact, potentially a sign of decline.

Plate discipline…

O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone%
2007 23.7% 60.8% 42.9% 68.5% 93.6% 86.9% 51.6%
2008 20.3% 58.6% 39.7% 78.0% 95.1% 90.8% 50.6%
2009 22.9% 64.8% 43.8% 72.4% 94.4% 88.7% 50.1%
Career 19.9% 64.0% 43.1% 66.1% 92.7% 86.9% 52.5%

*Note: The prefix O- means outside the strike zone; Z- means inside the strike zone.

Once again, ’07 and ’09 look like each other. As his K/BB rates showed above and as his Swing% shows here, Rollins had improved his strike zone judgment. Somehow, he lost it last year.

Finally, to cap it off, defense.

DP Range Error UZR/150
2007 1.1 0.7 4.8 6.3
2008 0.4 8.2 4.3 15.0
2009 -0.4 -1.4 4.5 2.9

Surely the 15.0 UZR/150 from ’08 sticks out at you, but look at the individual components: double plays, range, and errors. Double plays and errors don’t differ much. However, Rollins’ range wasn’t much in ’07, expanded considerably in ’08, and then shrunk down again in ’09. It is possible that this is a data error on the part of Baseball Info Solutions (from which FanGraphs derives UZR), but more likely that Rollins simply had a fluky year.

So we now see the similarities, but there’s still that glaring discrepancy to sort out. In ’07, Rollins had an .875 OPS; last year, he had a .719 OPS. If those seasons were so similar, why the 156-point difference in OPS?

I have frequently pointed to BABIP when talking about pitchers such as Cole Hamels and J.A. Happ, explaining why their results aren’t in line with their performances. Pitchers only have a tiny bit of control over BABIP and there’s almost no year-to-year persistence, meaning that when we see a very high or very low BABIP, there’s no reason to expect it to stay that high or low going forward.

For hitters, it’s different — they do control their BABIP. David Wright’s BABIP, for example, is .345. Pedro Feliz’s, on the other hand, is .269. Rollins is about in the middle of the two at .293. However, last year, his BABIP was at a staggeringly low .251. While his ever increasing IFFB% is a factor, it doesn’t totally explain why his BABIP was so low. The projections agree that it was a bit too low, as all five systems project his 2010 BABIP at .274-.285. That seems reasonable.

It may sound weird, but going forward, expect Rollins to perform like he did in ’07 but with results somewhere in between ’07 and ’09.

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11 comments

  1. John

    March 22, 2010 09:17 PM

    Great post Bill — I’ve always felt that Jimmy’s numbers belied his actual value. For example, J-Rolls hits plus walks for ’10 was 212 in 155 games, which equals about 1.37 per game played. With 100 runs scored in 155 games that means Jimmy scored a run in about 65% of the games he played in. Granted these numbers aren’t the greatest, but, they also come from J-Rolls less than stellar ’09 campaign. Because of the fact that Rollins gets so many AB’s over the course of a season, his overall averages don’t really indicate just how many times he does reach base and how critical that is to the success of the team.

  2. John

    March 22, 2010 09:18 PM

    hits plus walks for ’09 — sorry

  3. John

    March 22, 2010 09:49 PM

    Did I just invent WHIP for hitters?

  4. Dukes

    March 22, 2010 11:09 PM

    Bill, I appreciate the work you put into this and usually I am all about the numbers and sats – I believe they usually tell most of the story. However, did you watch Rollins last year? How many times did he fly out weekly to left field? How many ground balls to second base did he hit? BABIP doesn’t say anything about how hard or on how much of a line drive a person hits a ball. Jimmy Rollins didn’t hit line drives last year and that is on him, not “luck.” And John, I am so tired of people talking about how many runs Jimmy Rollins scored. Eric Bruntlett could have scored close to 100 runs leading off for this team. As the leadoff guy, I’m more concerned about his OBP but nobody seems to care about that with him. The scary thing is that Rollins himself seems to care the least. I love Jimmy – greatest Philly shortstop ever – but I can’t wait until the day we have an on base guy at the top of the lineup. Gillies can’t get here soon enough.

  5. Dukes

    March 22, 2010 11:09 PM

    oops, that was supposed to be “weakly”

  6. Bill Baer

    March 23, 2010 05:12 AM

    Dukes, I did include batted ball (LD/GB/FB) splits. And I did include his weak pop-ups (IFFB).

    Rollins hit less than 1% fewer line drives in ’09 than he did in his MVP ’07 season. He hit nearly 4% more ground balls (which has a higher probability of being a hit).

  7. FlagrantFan

    March 24, 2010 06:30 AM

    Sure, the BABIP means that he wasn’t as “bad” as his numbers indicated. But if you build a .293 BABIP into his numbers for last year, taking into account his IFFB rate, you add 20 hits to his tally. That still just brings his numbers up to .279/.314/.737. That’s still unacceptable for a leadoff batter. All that being said, I’m not sure why Rollins gets a pass on the season he just had.

  8. schmenkman

    March 24, 2010 06:54 AM

    FlagrantFan, unless I did something wrong, when I add 20 singles to Rollins’ ’09, I get .280/.324/.776.

  9. FlagrantFan

    March 24, 2010 06:59 AM

    Yeah, Schmenkman, I added the numbers to his balls in play instead of overall numbers. My bad. So you are correct. The point is still a valid one though because those aren’t great numbers for a lead off guy.

  10. schmenkman

    March 24, 2010 07:14 AM

    FlagrantFan, True enough. He’s always been an average to below average lead off hitter, and when he has a year like last year (whether it’s due to luck or whatever), it’s horrendous. It does give me hope though to consider that after winning the division, Rollins, Hamels, and Lidge are expected to have better years, and we will have a full year of Halladay. The concern of course is whose turn is it to have an off year or lose time to injury? Happ is expected to fall off, but Howard? Utley? Halladay? Ibanez? Hopefully none, but chances it won’t be all smooth sailing.

  11. FlagrantFan

    March 24, 2010 07:38 AM

    Spoken like a true fan, Schmenkman. I wish you the best in your fandom this year. That’s why we love baseball because you never know…

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