Is J-Roll Losing A Step?

Jimmy Rollins has often been a target for criticism throughout his Phillies career. Early in his career, he was a bit schizophrenic, resulting in fans referring to him as “Good Jimmy” when he was mechanically sound and “Bad Jimmy” when he was completely off-kilter. More recently, fans grew agitated when he would swing at the first pitch, calling him “First Pitch Jimmy” derisively. One area that has never been a reason for concern is his base running.

From 2001-10, Rollins has stolen 340 bases in 410 attempts, good for a success rate at 83 percent. Only six other players have stolen 300 bases dating back to 2001; none of them have a better success rate.

Player SB CS SB% From To Age Team
Juan Pierre 520 167 76% 2001 2010 23-32 COL-FLA-CHC-LAD-CHW
Carl Crawford 409 90 82% 2002 2010 20-28 TBD-TBR
Ichiro Suzuki 383 88 81% 2001 2010 27-36 SEA
Jimmy Rollins 340 70 83% 2001 2010 22-31 PHI
Jose Reyes 331 85 80% 2003 2010 20-27 NYM
Chone Figgins 322 111 74% 2002 2010 24-32 ANA-LAA-SEA
Scott Podsednik 301 102 75% 2001 2010 25-34 SEA-MIL-CHW-COL
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/19/2011.

While many have rightfully given credit to Davey Lopes for the Phillies’ overall base running excellence as of late, Rollins has always been aggressive and efficient. From 2001-06, before the Lopes era, Rollins stole 30 or more bases in five of six seasons with an aggregate stolen base success rate at 80 percent. However, from 2007-10, Rollins stole 30-plus bases in three of four seasons (the other season was injury-shortened) with a success rate at 88 percent.

Lopes left the Phillies for the smoggier atmosphere of Los Angeles before the 2011 season, but Rollins didn’t seem to be affected. From the start of the season to July 24, Rollins had stolen 21 bases in 23 attempts (91 percent). Not only did Rollins not need Lopes, he had also put to rest any questions pertaining to lingering injuries — calf and thigh injuries ruined his 2010 season. Since July 24, however, Rollins has only stolen seven bases in 12 attempts (58 percent). Most of the time he has been caught recently, such as one on August 17 against the Arizona Diamondbacks, he was out by a mile.

While, at least in the .gif above, credit should be given to catcher Henry Blanco on a great throw, Rollins never gets thrown out that badly. That, along with his overall recent woes on the base paths as of late, makes me wonder if J-Roll is losing a step. He is, after all, 32 years old, his prime drifting out of sight in the rear view mirror.

At the same time, Rollins still looks fine at the plate (.743 OPS since July 25) and has been playing nothing short of stellar defense at shortstop. If he was injured, particularly experiencing a re-aggravation of the calf or thigh injuries from last year, then we would see him slip in other areas, but that has not been the case. It’s certainly not the absence of Lopes, as Rollins was just as good without him in the first three and a half months.

Everyone is aware of J-Roll’s contract situation: he is eligible for free agency after the season, ostensibly his last chance for a lucrative multi-year contract. Negotiations between Rollins and the Phillies have been few and far between. If the Phillies were wary of his durability, Rollins has passed every test with flying colors. However, if it is true that Rollins has simply “lost a step”, it is a legitimate reason for concern — players don’t recapture those lost steps, after all. J-Roll has the final six weeks of the regular season and the post-season to assuage our concerns; otherwise, a wrench will be thrown into the free agent market for shortstops.