Should the Phillies Extend Rollins?

Is it possible that Jimmy Rollins is underrated? Following two consecutive sub-par years — by his standards — the contract extension that seemed to be guaranteed is anything but now. The Phillies picked up his $8.5 million option for the 2011 season, meaning that barring an extension, the organization’s long-time shortstop will be a free agent for the first time in his career in less than one year.

It isn’t quite a Derek Jeter-type situation, but both the Phillies and Rollins need each other. Rollins has been the face of the franchise as the opening day shortstop every year since 2001. There are no shortstops in the Minor League system ready to take the reins from Rollins, and the free agent market for shortstops isn’t exactly booming. With few shortstops available, that implies few openings for jobs — fewer teams will be available and willing to engage in a bidding for for the 32-year-0ld’s services. Rollins has been insistent on being a lead-off hitter with the Phillies to which manager Charlie Manuel has conceded. The shortstop is highly unlikely to receive that treatment elsewhere.

A contract extension behooves both sides, and better for that business to be completed now rather than during or after the season, when a renaissance season could increase the interest on the potential free agent.

Rollins’ last extension, a five-year, $40 million deal, was signed in June of 2005 when Rollins was 26 years old. Soon to be 32 years old, coming off of an injury-plagued 2010 season and two consecutive years of below-average offensive output, Rollins could be had for another team-friendly deal.

The question is — is he worth it?

A comment by Kevin H on Thursday’s article inspired this look at Rollins because it was very critical of the shortstop. Kevin wrote:

But why, oh why, would the Phillies want to extend Rollins? In 2010 the only regular players with lower OPS in the NL were: Bourn, Y. Molina, M. Cabrera, Schumaker, O. Cabrera, Theriot, Morgan & Escobar. In 2009 the only regular players in the NL with a lower OBP were: Clint Barmes and Benji Molina. So, for the last 2 years he has been one of the worst, non-pitcher, batters in the NL and he isn’t getting any younger or better. You can get a lot of guys who can field and be one of the worst hitters for minimum salary. If they actually work with the hitting coach and improve its a big bonus. Rollins says he doesn’t need a hitting coach despite his horrible hitting.

As mentioned above, it’s true — Rollins has been below-average offensively over the last two years. But he’s never really been anything more than an average hitter, his 2007 MVP season notwithstanding. His career .336 wOBA is within about 10 points of the league average, not all that much higher than his .316 and .317 marks the past two seasons. Overall, Rollins was debited 10.6 batting runs in 2009-10, but was credited 10.8 for playing a premium position — essentially a wash.

Where Rollins still provides tremendous value is on defense and on the bases. Since 2003, Rollins never finished a season with a negative UZR/150. With a career 5.3 mark, his grades the last three seasons have been incredible: 15.2, 5.0, and 12.3. In aggregate over the past three years among shortstops with at least 1,000 defensive innings, Rollins has the fourth-highest mark at 10.5.

Despite calf and thigh injuries that forced him to miss about half of the 2010 season, Rollins still finished as the team’s second-best base runner behind Shane Victorino. Using Equivalent Base Running Runs (EQBRR), Rollins added 2.7 runs on the bases. Although his base running has declined along with his offense — partly a function of not having those additional opportunities presented by better offense — he still provides value as the following chart displays.

Under the tutelage of Davey Lopes, Rollins became not only an aggressive base-stealer, but an extremely efficient base-stealer. He was a big part of the Phillies’ consistently MLB-best running game that eventually led to a World Series title in 2008. With limited opportunities last year, Rollins stole 31 bases in 39 attempts — an 80 percent success rate that is well above the break-even point of 70 percent.

Overall, since 2008, Rollins ranks fourth among all MLB shortstops in WAR at 10.3. Why? What he lacks in offense he makes up for with defense, base running, and playing a premium position. The 2012 free agent class for shortstops is underwhelming. Jose Reyes may be the best option available but it is likely that the New York Mets hand him a contract before that ever becomes an issue. The Phillies should do the same for Rollins. Although aging and injury prone, Rollins still ranks among the best shortstops in baseball. His value has nonetheless depreciated, making now a prime opportunity to secure themselves a productive shortstop for three more years while they try to groom a replacement.

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39 comments

  1. Scott G

    November 15, 2010 02:00 PM

    I’m sorry, I just don’t understand.

    You concede that Rollins is below average offensively. You state that he makes up for it by playing a premium position, and playing it well. Wouldn’t any SS get the same credit for playing SS (in terms of premium position)?

    Derek Jeter, who is pretty below average defensively, also plays the premium position, and has been an above average offensive player for most of his career.

    I trust your knowledge more than mine in this regard, but are you telling me that it would be hard to find a better offensive SS than Rollins (worse than Jeter), who plays better defense than Jeter, but worse than Rollins? This combination would place him right in line WAR-wise between the two players.

    Jeter typically accumulates a higher WAR than Rollins, which pretty much means that his offensive prowess over Rollins’ is a greater difference than his defensive shortcomings compared to Rollins (if everything is weighted equally).

    Admittedly, I thought Rollins made more than $10,000,000/year, so it’s not that outrageous if they re-sign him for less than he was making. Even if he makes the same amount, I guess I wouldn’t be too upset.

    Looking at this now, how could they ever offer a 37-year old Ibanez $31.5 mill over 3 years. That’s offensive.

  2. Phillygirl17

    November 15, 2010 02:04 PM

    Rollins needs to go back to hitting for average. However, I agree. There is not really any better defensive SS in the game.

  3. KH

    November 15, 2010 02:17 PM

    I don’t think its totally fair to judge Rollins on these last two years like he was perfectly healthy all the time. There are some mitigating factors. If they can extend him for three more years at roughly the same money of his last deal its pretty much a no brainer imo. One positive development from this past season is I believe Rollins walked more then he ever has.

  4. KH

    November 15, 2010 02:18 PM

    I meant to say he walked a higher percentage of the time then he ever has.

  5. nik

    November 15, 2010 02:22 PM

    If they can give him 2 and a vesting 3rd year option, I’d do it. I’d cautious signing him for 3/24 if he is going to produce at Wilson Valdez levels.

  6. Scott G

    November 15, 2010 03:04 PM

    KH,

    You’re right, he wasn’t perfectly healthy. His injury is definitely one that can recur. He is getting older, and it’s very reasonable to expect he will continue to get injured like he did this season. Needs to be taken into account.

  7. Bill Baer

    November 15, 2010 03:15 PM

    You concede that Rollins is below average offensively. You state that he makes up for it by playing a premium position, and playing it well. Wouldn’t any SS get the same credit for playing SS (in terms of premium position)?

    Rollins’ mediocre offensive contributions are made up with elite defense and above-average base running. Shortstops of Rollins’ caliber are few and far between — fewer can be had at relative bargain prices.

    MLB Trade Rumors has the following list of 2012 free agent shortstops:

    www.mlbtraderumors.com/2010/03/2012-mlb-free-agents.html

    Jason Bartlett (32)
    Yuniesky Betancourt (30) – $6MM club option with a $2MM buyout
    Ronny Cedeno (29)
    Rafael Furcal (34) – $12MM club/vesting option
    Alex Gonzalez (34)
    J.J. Hardy (29)
    Omar Infante (30)
    John McDonald (37)
    Augie Ojeda (37)
    Jose Reyes (29)
    Jimmy Rollins (33)
    Ramon Santiago (32)
    Marco Scutaro (36)

    None of them are both as or more productive than Rollins and as affordable. Furthermore, there aren’t many shortstops available via trade. Alexei Ramirez comes to mind but he’s one of a very small group of potentially-available productive shortstops.

  8. Moose

    November 15, 2010 04:02 PM

    Of that list, the only one I’d be interested in would be Hardy. But he’s approaching bust territory, no more reclamation candidate

  9. Scott G

    November 15, 2010 04:36 PM

    My whole point is, does it really matter if the defense isn’t elite? Nobody on this site would argue that Jeter is better than a below average defensive SS, but his WAR is still higher. I like Rollins, and I guess I don’t care if the Phils re-sign him as long as it’s priced right. However, who cares if the WAR is coming from offense or defense? A run created = a run saved.

  10. hk

    November 15, 2010 04:37 PM

    They should extend Rollins if the money and years are right – I would be on board with 3 years for $24M. However, judging from past extensions and free agent signings, I don’t have a lot of confidence that RAJ will get either the money or years right – I am expecting 4 years and $40M.

  11. Bill Baer

    November 15, 2010 04:57 PM

    Scott,

    Yeah, my whole point is that Rollins is undervalued because of his mediocre offense. That makes him a lot easier to sign to an economically-friendly deal than most if not all other available shortstops.

  12. JRVJ

    November 15, 2010 04:59 PM

    If there is one thing I’ve learned from watching the Yankees operate is that since they know that they won’t get outbid on their own FAs, they wait it out just in case the player falls off a cliff or turns into Nick Johnson.

    While the Phillies are not the Yankees financially, I see no reason why the Phils shouldn’t be able to resign Rollins if he has a sensational, healty 2011 (and if nothing else, they should certainly offer Rollins arbitration).

    Realistically, which big payroll team out there is going to go hard after Rollins?

    Not the Yankees (who will almost certainly resign Jeter), probably not the Red Sox (the Phillies would surely offer Rollins arbitration, and I doubt the SABERMETRICALLY inclined Red Sox would forego a 1st rounder for ROllins), not the Cubs (who have a young, cheap Starlin Castro on the team), not the Mets (Reyes), probably not the Tigers (mainly because I think they’ll be decreasing payroll by then, not increasing it), not the ChiSox (A. Ramirez) and probably not the Angels.

    Everybody else is under $100MM in payroll, and I really don’t the the Mariners (with their sucky record), Giants, Twins, Dodgers, Cardinals or Astros (all over $90MM) going hard for Rollins.

  13. Moose

    November 15, 2010 05:05 PM

    Bill,

    Way off topic here, but I just read Marlins want to move Uggla ASAP and no A-prospects are required. What would it take for the Phillies to land him, and would it be a good idea to throw him in LF? Is that an upgrade over Ibanez?

  14. Scott G

    November 15, 2010 05:20 PM

    Couldn’t Uggla play 2B here? I mean it’s not like Utley is good defensively or anything. Wait…

  15. Governator

    November 15, 2010 05:58 PM

    Good insight here. Rollins continues to have value as long as his defense and his speed remain above average.

    The question I have for Bill is how long those attributes can continue to hold their value?

    His offense isn’t getting any better, clearly. His value is predicated on being an elite defensive shortstop and being fast (somewhat intertwined actually). How long can we expect that to hold up? Is a three-year extension to age 35 logical with a team option for a fourth year?

  16. falcon2

    November 16, 2010 05:59 AM

    i like jimmy but he is falling apart, i think it is time to part company, now is the time to trade him while we can get something of value, if we wait he will just go on the list of has beans, not good, now is the time to make the move.

  17. 2streeter

    November 16, 2010 09:18 AM

    I agree with the gist of the article – Rollins is in decline but is still a valuable SS in a market with few better options.

    I also agree with those who are concerned about his health, but keeping guys like Valdez and Bruntlett around to cover for him has worked thus far.

    Perhaps most of all, I believe he brings that certain something to the team which can not be quantified. As a fan, I strongly associate the start of the team’s recent successes with his arrival, and for that, I believe that the team and the fans owe him some slack.

    I say two years with an option for three.

  18. Richard

    November 16, 2010 09:41 AM

    Frankly, I look for Rollins to have an excellent offensive season next year, and I look for him to stay healthy–it’s a matter of conditioning, something he can affect, and I expect him to work at it, out of pride if nothing else. Of course, he remains valuable even if he doesn’t bounceback offensively, as Bill says here. Definitely extend.

  19. mwbbfan

    November 16, 2010 03:55 PM

    Valdez was often spectacular defensively with an absolute gun. He is fine in the 8 hole–move Rollins now while he still has perceived value and try to pry Drew away from the Diamondbacks.
    The Red Sox may like Rollins leadership skills–maybe even the Orioles would buy in to that.

  20. Mike

    November 16, 2010 04:46 PM

    Exactly why does everyone overlook Valdez. The guy is just as good as Rollins at short and while he may never have a big offensive year like Rollins did ONCE the guy isn’t unwilling to lay down a bunt or do what the team needs over his selfish ego’s desires. Move Rollins why somebody is dumb enough to take the bait.

  21. Bill Baer

    November 16, 2010 04:55 PM

    Rollins is miles and miles ahead of Valdez on all counts.

    Rollins’ wOBA the last two seasons were .316 and .317, the lowest marks since 2004. Valdez’s wOBA in 2010, a career year for him, was .294. Rollins put up a 12.3 UZR/150 in 744 innings. Valdez was at 4.6 in 458 innings (small sample size caveat). Rollins had 2.7 EQBRR; Valdez had 1.7.

  22. Dan

    November 16, 2010 05:01 PM

    Is Rollins really miles and miles ahead of Valdez defensively?

  23. harry reinhart

    November 16, 2010 05:32 PM

    rollins is done he”s not or never will be a lead off hitter a good leadoff will never swing at the first pitch. first pitch popup jimmey is over rated.trade him now put valdez at short bat him 8th he’ll hit 250 and take the 8mil saved and sign werth or lee and go to the ws next year.he’s got a big head he’s only going to worse.

  24. Bill Baer

    November 16, 2010 06:01 PM

    The Phillies already picked up Jimmy Rollins’ option for 2011. Failure to extend Rollins had absolutely no impact on the team’s chances to sign Jayson Werth or Cliff Lee.

    Also, as proven above, Wilson Valdez is a replacement-level player while Rollins is certainly above-average.

  25. Richard

    November 16, 2010 08:58 PM

    “good leadoff will never swing at the first pitch”

    wrong.

    people need to spend some time looking at Rollins’ numbers by count; he is enormously successful swinging at the first pitch–could he lay off some of them and work the count more, sure, and I think you’ll find he’s been doing that lately too… would it kill people to have the slightest idea what they’re on about before commenting?

  26. Phillyfan

    November 17, 2010 12:18 AM

    I agree Dan and Harry. Valdez did a good job as a sub. He’s D is as good as Rollins and is AVG is about the same. All I here is Rollins is a plus in the dugout. OK, I’ll agree with that, but he hasn’t done anything on the field in the last 2 years. He says he’s going to improve his off season work out regime. OK, this is your last chance Jimmy. Better show up ready to go come spring training.

  27. jet3t0

    November 17, 2010 09:32 AM

    Too old,Valdez is fine,Bowa could not hit

  28. jet3t0

    November 17, 2010 09:40 AM

    He is also a rally killer,leaving too many guys on base,Rollins is on the downside of a nice career.Frankly he has been absent the last 2 seasons,that proves he is expendable.Amaro must man-up & tell J-Roll the deal.He must tell J-Roll his off season crap has to stop,stay in shape 12 mo,he should be traded for draft picks,Rollins is a waste of time & money

  29. sean

    November 17, 2010 12:02 PM

    little bit of selection bias jet3t0 to say, what you’re saying with the rally killing. plus the fact that here is his numbers THIS YEAR for runners on he’s .304/.386/.500 in 112 AB. with them in scoring position he’s .329/.405/.557 in 70 AB, so i’m not getting where you’re coming from.

    to those saying jimmy should stop first pitch swinging, he was a .333 hitter on the first pitch swinging. granted sample size is small if i just used this year, so i’ll use the last 3 years in which he’s a .325 hitter on the first pitch swing. so in short stop using your selection bias and look up what actually happened instead of what you “thought” happened

  30. Goldenmonkey

    November 17, 2010 01:54 PM

    jet3t0 makes a good point… Rollins should be traded for draft picks.

  31. sean

    November 18, 2010 10:19 AM

    not to mention that valdez hits into double plays at an astounding rate. third worse in the league last year in proably the fewest attempts. 24%

  32. Rles

    November 19, 2010 12:41 PM

    He can hit .200 and move down to the 8 hole. What he provides in regards to making every routine play and almost every great play is not something you kick to the curb.

  33. Dave

    November 19, 2010 12:46 PM

    Jimmy will have a good year in 2011 because there’s money involved. Personally, I think Rollins is way overrated with THE worst hitting approach and attitude on the team. But our manager is as much in the wrong as J-Blow.

  34. joe table

    November 19, 2010 02:01 PM

    I could not agree more with this article. People are way, way too myopic when it comes to Rollins IMO. SS are so rare in the MLB

    Also I would add that his batted ball splits do suggest something perhaps unsustainable was going on which has resulted in his low BABIP. The BB and K stats from 2010 were still look very solid (10.2% BB, 9.1% Ks). The ISO power was a bit down last year, but not much in 2009, and like you said, I think people’s perceptions are perhaps too colored from 2007, which was very atypical

    He’s always been a lowish BABIP guy in his career. Career BABIP splits

    GB: .219
    FB: .096
    LD: .725

    Career distribution: 21% LD, 42% GB, 37% FB

    2009 BABIP splits

    GB: .213 (normal)
    FB: .094 (normal)
    LD: .635. With a “normal” amount of the 117 PAs in which he hit liners resulting in hits, his BA on the season goes from .250 to a far more respectable .265. And the OBP is then well over .340

    On the negative, he did hit fewer LD than normal (17%), which explains why his BA would still be sub .270 even with “normal” LD outcomes

    I fully expect a 4+ WAR season from him in 2010, and would like to see him extended

  35. joe table

    November 19, 2010 02:08 PM

    Continuing last post for 2010 BABIP splits

    LD: .710 (bit below normal)
    FB: .124 (bit above normal)
    GB: .137 (way below normal)

    Distribution in 2010 (edit: mixed up LD distribution above): 17% LD, 45% GB, 37% FB. So he hit more GBs (not necessarily good), but had unusually BABIP on them

    Banged up legs could plausibly explain some of the bad BABIP on the GBs, but its also probably just a lot of unfortunate distribution. Again, give him a “normal” range of outcomes in terms of finding holes on those GBs, and his BA becomes 274 and OBP 347

  36. Owen

    November 19, 2010 04:52 PM

    Bill,

    I totally agree on this one. Signing Jimmy now will not only give the Phillies a top 5 NL shortstop… but its going to come at a discount. A cheap Jimmy Rollins means good things for the PHillies future contract talks with players like Oswalt and Madson in the next two offseasons.

    Signing Rollins leaves me worried a bit with the injuries, however. I would only feel comfortable is the PHillies had a true mlb shortstop as a backup…. and Valdez qualifies as just that in my eyes.

  37. Keystone

    November 20, 2010 12:50 PM

    Freddy Galvis, a SS in the Phillies minor leagues, is rated as one of the top defensive SS prospects in the minors. I can’t find the article, but I remember reading that a few scouts said he may be stronger defensively than Rollins. The downside with him is that offensively he is horrible.
    In a full year at AA Reading this past season he hit only .233 with a .586 OPS. He had 15 stolen bases but if his defense transferred to the major league level than his WAR may be slightly comparable to Rollins’ (and way cheaper).

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