Jimmy Rollins: X-Factor

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This spring, several key players have run afoul of Basebaal, God of Baseball. The Phillies now more than ever need to rely on their old standbys. Who knows when Chase Utley will have the opportunity to grace the Citizens Bank Park infield again? Will Brad Lidge‘s fastball ever come back? What if Basebaal selects another Phillies ace to take a line drive to the cranium? (After all, he has already chosen Brett Myers and Roy Oswalt.)

In thinking about who the Phillies’ X-factor really is, I had to think about what an X-factor really is. After Googling, I learned that it is a British television singing competition, one I’m assuming is similar to American Idol. That doesn’t really help me. Instead, I’m going to make up my own definition.

An X-factor is a player whose contributions are both very important and highly variable or unknown.

To me, there is only one Phillies player who satisfies that definition: Jimmy Rollins.

On one hand, you have his highly productive eleven-year career, including his winning the 2007 MVP award and authoring one of four 20/20/20/20 seasons in baseball history. He has consistently been an elite fielder and a great base runner. While his contributions at the plate have garnered him the most praise, they illustrate but one part of his abilities.

On the other hand, you have his last two seasons, terribly marred by injury and an impotent bat.  In the past two seasons, he has missed 21 days without landing on the disabled list, and missed another 68 days with two DL-stints due to last year’s right calf strains. At the plate, Rollins could only muster a .316 and .317 wOBA in 2009 and ’10, respectively. In the previous five seasons, Rollins’ lowest wOBA was .341 in ’05.

In terms of WAR (via FanGraphs), Rollins went from a 6.3 WAR player in ’07 to a 2.3 WAR player last year.

During the off-season, the Phillies said goodbye to Jayson Werth, a 5 WAR player. And, of course, Utley has been sidelined. From 2005-09, Utley produced about 7.5 WAR on average. The Phillies are ill-prepared to replace either of them, let alone both of them.

In right field, Ben Francisco is expected to get at least half of the playing time. He can very generously be considered a 1.5 WAR player and his potential platoon mate Ross Gload is generously 0.5 WAR. At second base, the Phillies have a glut of potential contributors but none of them project as anything better than replacement-level — PECOTA projects exactly none of Luis Castillo, Wilson Valdez, Josh Barfield, Michael Martinez, and Pete Orr posting an OPS above .650.

If the Phillies aren’t going to get tremendous production out of right field and second base like they’re used to, then players at other positions are going to have to contribute. Rollins has the highest ceiling for contributions because he is more than just a bat. Unlike Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino, Placido Polanco, Ryan Howard, and Carlos Ruiz, Rollins can not only hit, but play Gold Glove-caliber defense and wipe 40 bags with a success rate exceeding 80 percent.

PECOTA projects a .316 OBP and a .417 SLG for Rollins. The average shortstop in the National League last year posted a .325 OBP and a .388 SLG. If Rollins can match or exceed his PECOTA projection while staying on the field for a vast majority of the season, the defense and base running should follow. With no finger-crossing, hoping for a fluke season, Rollins by himself can help the Phillies reclaim a portion of the 12-plus wins they lost in Werth and Utley.

Rollins is the Phillies’ biggest X-factor. According to my hastily-created definition, I don’t even think there is a close competitor. People always claim that “as Rollins goes, so go the Phillies” which was probably not accurate in previous years. This year, however, it will absolutely be the case. The Phillies’ run at a fifth-consecutive playoff berth hinges on Rollins regressing up to his mean.

Be sure to check out ESPN for season previews as the regular season approaches.

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19 comments

  1. Kyle

    March 28, 2011 07:22 AM

    Couldn’t agree more. Especially with all the injuries so far. If Jimmy can light it up this year, it takes the weight of the pressure off of “lesser” capable players like Francisco and Castillo/Valdez.

  2. threezerofour

    March 28, 2011 08:27 AM

    Great article Bill, well done. I was sorry to see you lose to Phillies Nation in The Phield.

  3. derekcarstairs

    March 28, 2011 08:54 AM

    I don’t expect him to return to his MVP form, but, if in his contract year, Rollins can revert to his pre-injury form of 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2008, that could be good for 2 – 2.5 more wins in 2011.

    If Blanton can return to his pre-2010 career norm, that could be good for 3 more wins.

    In 2010, Utley and Valdez combined for a WAR of 5.9. So, bounce-backs by Rollins and Blanton would cover the loss of Utley even with little more than replacement-level play at 2B in 2011.

    The gains represented by the addition of Lee, a full year of Oswalt plus the contributions of whoever plays RF in 2011 easily exceed the loss of Werth (Moyer and Kendrick did not really contribute to the Phils’ winning in 2010.).

    In sum, even with a substantially weakened offense, the 2011 Phillies, with its excellent starting rotation and with Rollins in a contract year, could be better than the 2010 version. The Braves may also be better, but not enough to catch the Phils yet.

  4. Fat Ted

    March 28, 2011 09:04 AM

    If Rollins can be like the Rollins of old, I am much less worried about this season. Everything does seem to fall in place when he is doing his thing well. The whole lineup must feel better when the leadoff hitter is doing well.

  5. Nik

    March 28, 2011 09:04 AM

    I think Benny Fresh is going to surprise some people this year

  6. hunterfan

    March 28, 2011 10:20 AM

    Has it been set yet that Rollins will bat lead-off?

  7. Scott G

    March 28, 2011 10:59 AM

    I think Rollins will have to have a freak overachieving year similar to Ibanez’s 2009 in order to offset the loss of Utley (if he misses substantial time) and Werth.

  8. MplsPhilsFan

    March 28, 2011 11:44 AM

    Scott, I do not think there will be any way to offset the offensive loss of Werth and Utley, should he miss significant time. Most of the projections I have seen for him (Marcel, PECOTA, ZIPS, Bill James) have him returning to more of his career norms of around a .330 OBP and a SLG of slightly above .400. Even with declining offensive numbers over the past 2 years, those seem like reasonable projections, based on an increasing walk rate. The defensive numbers worry me also, as they have declined as well, but there is a high variability on those numbers on a year to year basis. I do not think a WAR in the range of 2.5-3 is an unreasonable expectation for Jimmy

    Unless Utley is out the entire year, a remote possibility based on the data we have available right now, this team should still be the odds on favorite to win the division and play in the World Series

  9. awh

    March 28, 2011 05:04 PM

    Question for the board:

    Of all the projection gurus [Pecota, James, Marcel, etc.] who had the best track record for accuracy?

  10. If

    March 28, 2011 06:49 PM

    If, if, if, if, if, if, if, if, if, if, if, if, if, if

  11. Jon

    March 29, 2011 12:30 PM

    I wholeheartedly agree. Rollins is the spark for the offense, regardless of his stats

  12. MplsPhilsFan

    March 29, 2011 02:04 PM

    awh, from what I ahve seen, all the projections have their flaws. Marcel tends to provide a very pessimistic approach, James is more optimistic, overly so in my opinion on rookies and very young players. PECOTA is pretty neutral, but from what I have seen has more of a last year bais. Honestly, when looking at these data points, I usually cluster them together and take the median figure

  13. Scott G

    March 29, 2011 03:48 PM

    I thought you were calling our attention to the Rollins X-Factor on ESPN where they cite you. I was saying congrats on being cited, probably bumped your readership. I don’t know…

  14. Bob Steinhagen

    March 29, 2011 05:17 PM

    Great stuff, but couldn’t the drop off in WAR from the loss of Werth and Utley also be picked up from the addition of Lee and a full season of Oswalt?

    Also, Dom Brown will be available around May 1st – if the RF platoon is struggling, he’ll be up. I think Bill is right on that Rollins is the key, but this should very well still be a playoff team if Rollins falls short for the third straight year.

    Last year they won 97 games with significant injuries to Rollins, Utley, Polanco, and Howard. Yes, we lost Werth and Utley is already destined to miss material time. But we added Cliff Lee and will get a full season from Roy Oswalt and the bulk of a season from D. Brown.

  15. Josh B

    March 29, 2011 11:04 PM

    Rollins had his highest walk rate last season. If he stays healthy his OBP could be higher then we expect.

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