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.

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39 comments

  1. Dan D

    August 19, 2011 08:09 AM

    Given, like you say, that his performance in other areas has not dropped off, I think a “small sample size” caveat should apply here. I believe the Phillies should do what they can to lock him up, ideally in a three-year deal. He’s still got many positive things going for him these days at a position that is difficult at best to fill with a capable player.

    The Phillies are pretty clearly not going to have the resources to go after Reyes, what with Howard’s extension kicking in, Lee’s salary taking a jump, and Hamels and Pence due to make a combined trillion dollars in arbitration. Oh, and Madson needs resigning too. Thank goodness Ibanez and Lidge are coming off the books.

  2. Dave

    August 19, 2011 08:13 AM

    His 91% steal rate was significantly above his career mark. His 58% rate is just a regression back to the mean. Using your numbers above, he’s 28 for 35 on the season. That’s good for 80%, just a tick below his career norm and EXACTLY equal to his pre-Dave Lopes numbers.

    Baserunning, like hitting, defense, and pitching goes through good streaks, bad streaks, and fluctuations in small samples.I doubt he’s suddenly lost a step in the last month after running so well for the first 4 months of the season.

  3. Bill Baer

    August 19, 2011 08:19 AM

    Regression to the mean doesn’t mean an equal-and-opposite performance; it simply means that future measurements should be more similar to the average.

    For instance, if the average person rolls a 6 on a die once every six rolls, and I roll two 6’s in six rolls, it doesn’t mean I’m destined to roll zero 6’s in my next six rolls.

    To put that in baseball terms, a player with a career .300 average that hits .350 in the first half isn’t expected to hit .250 in the second half; he is expected to hit .300.

  4. Jim Z.

    August 19, 2011 08:25 AM

    I wouldn’t even bother giving him more than a cursory 3-year offer. He clearly wants a monster deal and I don’t blame him for it – it’s the last big baseball deal he will get. But as the GM of the Phillies you have to ask yourself: does this team still even need J-Roll? Heading into this season, did this team truly need Jayson Werth or were there other ways to solve the RF situation (a trade)? Weren’t the Phillies better, in the long run, without overpaying for Werth?

    Similarly, rather than overpay for a declining shortstop such as J-Roll, the Phillies will be better in the long run to sort the position out either through trade, free agency, or by bringing a prospect up from the minor league. They need to spend money on higher-priority tasks in the offseason such as retaining Cole Hamels.

  5. Mike B.

    August 19, 2011 08:27 AM

    This definitely needs a giant “small sample size” flag.

    I think what Dave might have been getting at is that the seasonabl average of a player’s performance isn’t one continuous line. a guy who averages a .300 BA doesn’t simply hit in 3 out of every 10 ABs. In any grouping of 10 ABs, sometimes he might go 7-10; sometimes he might go 0-10; sometimes he might go 3-10. But sampled over the entire season, the average works out to .300.

    Same concept here with Rollins.

  6. Richard

    August 19, 2011 08:58 AM

    It’s worth noting that Rollins is playing with the effects of that deep knee bruise he suffered after fouling a ball off it earlier this season. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s not quite as quick every time out there.

  7. Dan D

    August 19, 2011 08:58 AM

    That .gif does look pretty embarrassing though.

  8. Scott G

    August 19, 2011 09:35 AM

    The pitcher was a lefty. It’s generally harder to steal second base against them, and maybe J-Roll didn’t get a good jump. Combine that with the fact that a fastball was thrown in an ideal location to transition, and the throw to second was in the perfect spot, I’m not surprised that he got thrown out like that.

  9. Robby Bonfire

    August 19, 2011 10:00 AM

    Interesting, the difference re long-term contracts to aging N.L. and aging A.L. players. After this year the Yankees can “hide” Jeter at D.H. for the remaining two years of his contract – or at least they had better, for their own sake.

    Whereas the Phillies better ask themselves if they want Rollins as their regular SS when he is 35? Seems like there would be a lot of “give back” there, for whatever they are getting.

  10. SJHaack

    August 19, 2011 10:08 AM

    I think he’s fine, this has a little small sample size mixed with a touch of arbitrary endpoint-itis. If he had been 19/23 in the first chunk and 9/12 in the second chunk, we probably wouldn’t even notice. He was 16/17 through the end of June.

  11. mratfink

    August 19, 2011 11:09 AM

    Robby, the phils can “hide” jimmy at third after next year. after all polanco is already breaking down and they have a kid in the minors who might be ready for full time shortstop duty in another year. Moving to third is the same move a ton of great ss’s have made over the years

  12. curtwill

    August 19, 2011 11:10 AM

    @ScottG

    That was my thinking too(and maybe J-Roll didn’t get a good jump.) along with the other stuff. That’s the difference between great stolen base threats and the decent ones. All and all, like others said, it’s a small sample size. He will be fine. He’ll have 35 pushing 40 when it is all said and done, that’s strong SB #s for today’s baseball.

  13. windbag

    August 19, 2011 11:12 AM

    Perhaps the fact that the pitcher was left-handed and therefore required a slightly later jump was the prevailing factor. Do you have stats that isolate steal percentage against right vs. left handed pitchers over that same period?

  14. SABR

    August 19, 2011 11:22 AM

    To continue the small sample size caveat, he was also called out on a steal of third last week where he was clearly safe. If that call is correct, all of the sudden he is 66% – still a bit below the norm but within expectation.

  15. Scott G

    August 19, 2011 11:45 AM

    Yea, that play SABR mentioned was atrocious. Sometimes I wonder what the umps are watching.

  16. Robby Bonfire

    August 19, 2011 12:32 PM

    About 90% of the time, when the call on the bases can go either way, it goes “Out.” This is what I call the “Dinner’s Getting Cold Syndrome.” Meaning, the umpires just want to get the hell out of here and go have a beer and a pizza. We saw the impact that 19th inning fiasco “Dinner’s Getting Cold” call against Pittsburgh had – it psychologically shattered the decent season they were having. Runner was out at home plate by three feet, but it didn’t matter to Beer Belly, who had better things to think about than upholding the integrity of the sport that provides his livelihood.

  17. Robby Bonfire

    August 19, 2011 12:38 PM

    mratfink: Yes, I am all for that. Rollins doesn’t quite provide the power you need at the 3B position, however, if you are implying that he would represent a huge upgrade there, we agree on that. In fact, if we had a viable new SS option right now I would be in favor it transpiring, today.

    Another 3B candidate to consider might be Utley. He hits above the requirements for the position and if he can adapt to the defensive demands there that would reduce his injury vulnerability.

  18. Bill Baer

    August 19, 2011 12:45 PM

    The Phillies tried Utley at 3B when they had Polanco at 2B many years ago. That project was quickly abandoned when Utley lacked the requisite arm strength for the position.

  19. Scott G

    August 19, 2011 12:47 PM

    Robby,

    This might be wrong as it’s purely anecdotal, but 3B dives much more often than 2B, so I would see his injury probability increasing not decreasing?

  20. SABR

    August 19, 2011 12:59 PM

    So the whole Pirates thing happened because of the psychological effects of the blown call, and not because a team with a -40 run differential and starting pitchers with FIPs 1+ runs over their ERAs regressing? Gotcha.

  21. jauer

    August 19, 2011 01:38 PM

    Man, that call at third base was incredibly awful.

  22. Robby Bonfire

    August 19, 2011 01:55 PM

    SABR – Why do you need to upmanship anyone? Bit of inadequecy there, on your part, it appears.

    And while your point is well taken, I prefer to focus on the mental, as well as the physical aspects of the game, if that meets with your approval? Nobody suggested these Pirates are the new 1927 Yankees.

  23. Robby Bonfire

    August 19, 2011 01:56 PM

    And by the way “SABR” is a rather presumptuous and self-congratulatory moniker.

  24. Robby Bonfire

    August 19, 2011 02:00 PM

    Thanks, Bill, for mentioning the Utley failed tryout at 3B. Wasn’t aware of it, so I have long been wondering if the club would address that need with Chase?

  25. hk

    August 19, 2011 02:13 PM

    Not only did Henry Blanco make a great throw on the play shown, he’s made a long career of being not much more than a defensive catcher. In his career, Blanco’s thrown out 43% (258 of 601) runners attempting to steal, placing him 3rd among active catchers. I don’t believe Jimmy is slowing in a noticeable way.

  26. Scott G

    August 19, 2011 02:27 PM

    Robby,

    I think what SABR (fairly certain he’s a part of either baseball prospectus or fangraphs or some other sabermetric group, so his name is fitting) is hinting at is that you really don’t know what’s going on psychologically with a player let alone an entire team. I think it’s parallel to people saying Madson doesn’t have the mentality to be a closer. I never bought that crap for one second. No one can prove it, and they are jumping to conclusions based on biased information. Did he all of a sudden get brave?

  27. Robby Bonfire

    August 19, 2011 03:23 PM

    Scott G:

    We cannot know if Pittsburgh would have lost 11 of its next 12 games, as happened, had the call been correct and the game continued, but I am certainly allowing for a correlation, there. How strong or weak a correlation is another good question we cannot answer with any degree of conviction.

    One thing we can say, the Pirates, on the heels of getting jobbed by the worst call of the year, and the worst call since the perfect game ruination by Jim Joyce a year ago, did not, subsequently, go on a winning streak. So that we can say the terrible call affected their morale, their focus, and the level of their play over the next several days, OR it did not. It certainly didn’t lauch them on a winning streak.

    As regards Madson, if I am the manager, (and we all are, in our own mind), I look at two options: 1. Using a Madson – Bastardo closer tandem rather than continue to waste Bastardo as a set-up man when he appears ready for big-time responsibility; or,

    2. If Madson is not your typical “bull dog” closer type, why not put him back in the starting rotation? That fills in the number five rotation slot and confers upon Bastardo the closer role he has, frankly, earned until he pitches his way back to middle relief obscurity.

  28. Scott G

    August 19, 2011 04:01 PM

    Madson has been on of the best relievers in the league over the last 3-4 years. I don’t know why we can’t leave him where he is? We already have 5 starters, and come playoff time, you don’t use 5 starters.

  29. Mark

    August 19, 2011 04:27 PM

    I would chalk it up to variance. Pretty small sample size – 12 attempts. Let’s see what happens for the rest of the season.

  30. Dan D

    August 19, 2011 04:33 PM

    LOLWUT

    Bastardo-Madson in the 8th-9th inning seems to be working fabulously. Why mess with that?

    And who says Madson isn’t a bulldog type?

  31. Robby Bonfire

    August 19, 2011 04:58 PM

    Scott G:

    I agree with you as regards the efficacy of the present set-up, given that the team has a daylight lead over the rest of the field. Were we having this discussion in the month of May, when Atlanta was still a threat to win the division, you would want an upgrade in the #5 rotation slot, given Blanton’s ineffectiveness, for years now, and given Oswalt’s long stint on the D.L. (and we still don’t know if he is completely back in top form, and given Kendrick’s journeyman ceiling, although he is marginally improved, overall, this season.

    So that, when Oswalt went down, I would have been quite enthused and positive had Madson been pressed back into the starting rotation.

    Bastardo setting up Madson, however, needs to take a back seat to Bastardo and Madson being used as a Lefty-Righty closing tandem. Bastardo is too good to be a filler between the starter and the closer. Yes, the current system is working, but I think it can be improved upon with Bastardo being given more critical innings to work. And Lidge being given some of Bastardo’s workload is ludicrous, lefty-righty considerations notwithstanding.

  32. Phillie697

    August 19, 2011 07:59 PM

    I would sign Jimmy just based on his defense alone. I mean, of course don’t give him $15 million or even $10 million a season, but if he is willing to sign for $7 or $8 million? His defense alone would pay for that contract. As Utley has proven, defense isn’t always just about range.

  33. jauer

    August 19, 2011 10:25 PM

    id give rollins 12/yr without hesitation

  34. Justin

    August 20, 2011 09:01 AM

    I wouldn’t say his basestealing woes are the fault of the small sample size. I actually think what the article is trying to point out is pointless, since he has stolen 28 out of 35 bases this year, which I would hardly call bad basestealing. Sure, he’s been caught a few more times than usual, but it’s not like this is a shocker, he is the oldest he has ever been, hell maybe it’s just a coincidence. Curtis Granderson, who stole 26 out of 27 in 2007 and had been known as a low-volume, high-success basestealer, is on pace to break his career high in steals AND has already shattered his previous high in CS. He had been caught 19 times before this season combined, and has already been caught 10 times in 2011. He’s not exactly old either. I wouldn’t hesitate to sign Rollins for 2-4 years – he might struggle initially, but so did Jeter, and Jeter has been scorching since he came of the DL and reinvented his approach. Rollins will have to come to terms with declining power, but he’s talented enough to make adjustments to his swing and maintain a solid average while playing above average D.

  35. Justin

    August 20, 2011 09:05 AM

    I even forgot to add that if Rollins played out a 3-year contract, he’d be younger than Jeter when Jeter signed his outrageous deal (and this is coming from a Yankee fan).

  36. Rich

    August 20, 2011 09:09 AM

    It almost seemed like they pitched out on Jimmy, they had him out by a mile.

    Is he as fast as he used to be? Of course not.

    Will he be a Phillie next year? If he wants to be, which I think of course he will! He isn’t done just yet in the MLB. The Nationals might offer him a $100M dollar deal though… like they did Werth, who knows?

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