The Fall of J-Roll

During the off-season, the Phillies kept franchise shortstop Jimmy Rollins in the mix by signing him to a three-year, $33 million contract that takes him through his age-35 season. It was a bit of a risky contract, considering everything else the Phillies have done in the meantime: counting Rollins, the Phillies owe more than $100 million to six players in 2013. With a payroll that is expected to be below the luxury tax threshold ($178 million in 2013), guaranteeing a large sum of money to an aging player is not exactly how they draw it up. Still, Rollins plays a premium position, has always hit at about the league average (career .334 wOBA), runs the bases well, and plays great defense.

The gamble for the Phillies centers around Rollins’ health and his bat. From 2004-08, Rollins’ wOBA ranged between .341 and .378. In 2009, it plummeted to .316. Battling injuries in 2010, it was .317. He had a bit of a rebound last year, moving up to .329, but as he has aged, he has been considerably weaker at the plate. Still, those offensive performances are palatable as long as he does everything else well and stays healthy. 2012 has been a different story as his wOBA had a precipitous fall to .280 entering yesterday afternoon’s game (he went 0-for-4).

Everything that could go wrong for Rollins has gone wrong. His walk rate is down to seven percent, the second-lowest rate since 2007. His strikeout rate is up above 15 percent, the highest it’s been since 2003. His isolated power is down to .076, easily a career-worst (next-lowest: .124 in 2003). And his BABIP isn’t all that bad — at .280, it is only a hair below his career average .288.

The image to the right shows where Rollins’ hits have landed in 2012. Very few of Rollins’ hits have caused the outfielders to move backward instead of forward, and when he has, he has severely pulled the ball as a left-handed hitter.  His infield pop-up rate is twice his career average (21 percent; 11 percent) while his HR/FB has been cut by nearly two thirds (three percent; eight percent). He has been equally as bad with fastballs as off-speed stuff: .265 wOBA against the former, and .269 against the latter.

As the chart may indicate via deductive reasoning, Rollins has been nearly worthless as a right-handed hitter. Left-handed pitching has held him to a .072 wOBA in 25 PA. That is certainly not a sample size that yields any confidence at all. Still, Rollins has manged to put 21 balls in play against southpaws, but only one of them has been a line drive. He’s swinging at more pitches out of the strike zone as well: in 2011, against lefties, he swung at 74 percent of pitches in the strike zone. That rate has dropped to 67 percent in 2012.

It has been mentioned on Phillies TV broadcasts frequently that Rollins is pressing, trying to do too much to reverse his and his team’s fortunes. Perhaps that is the case, and if it is true, it is theoretically a reversible path. Otherwise, however, these are the trends thought up in nightmares. There are zero positive trends to speak of for Rollins this year. As a result, Rollins needs to be even better in other areas to justify his regular spot in the lineup.

One unfortunate side effect of Rollins’ offensive malaise is that he is on the bases less frequently. As Baseball Prospectus shows, Rollins has been the team’s second-most valuable base runner behind Mike Fontenot. Even if Rollins was getting on base at his normal rate while still withstanding the power outage, the value he would add on the bases could help make up for it. He is 78-for-95 (82 percent) stealing bases since 2009 and 10-for-11 (91 percent) this year. Add in his still above-average defense and we’re still talking about a 3-win player. But as he has been on base three to four percent less often than he has in previous years, his base running skills aren’t being used to their fullest potential. As a result, if Rollins keeps plodding along this path, we will be lucky if he reaches two wins and it is about as poor a start to a three-year contract as the Phillies could have expected going into 2012.

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21 comments

  1. Noah

    June 04, 2012 08:43 AM

    He’s cleary the starting shortstop for this year. For how much longer is he the lead off hitter? Would be nice to get those extra at-bats to player that get on base a bit more.

  2. jung a ton pap le bon

    June 04, 2012 09:32 AM

    Jroll’s contract is far worse than Papelbon’s, at least for papelbon’s contract you can try to justify a premium by claiming he’s the best player at his position. rollins had 1 great year, a couple of good ones and 2 bad ones going into this year.

  3. Dante

    June 04, 2012 09:33 AM

    To Noah’s point, when Ruiz is in the lineup, why not hit J-Roll 7th, with Galvis 8th? He needs to focus on a better approach at the plate, and less on needing to be a “tablesetter”.

  4. Bill Baer

    June 04, 2012 09:50 AM

    Rollins’ contract is actually decent. He provides a ton of value outside of offense, and as long as he doesn’t miss a lot of time with injuries, he should be able to validate his contract when his three years are up.

    Even with the terrible offense, Rollins is in the middle of the pack so far in fWAR. bit.ly/JOXXZM

  5. MGL

    June 04, 2012 10:01 AM

    Right, his contract is perfectly commensurate with his declining performance. He is being paid as a 2 win player, and even with his bad offense this year he is “on pace” for better than a 2 win season. So what is the problem?

  6. Greg

    June 04, 2012 11:05 AM

    I hated the signing of Rollins in the offseason. As comparison, Reyes at same price (actually $1MM less) would have been an offensive upgrade, an actual leadoff hitter which the Phillies haven’t had in last 90 years, and 6 years younger (and the phils need youth like we need air).

    Some intangibles issues with Reyes, which I think are a bit overstated and he is obviously not having a great year, but shows a mistake in what is becoming a Phillies team with less margin for error on signings. I love the Phillies approach to players, but sometimes wish they had a bit more of the Eagles philosophy (getting rid of players at peak or near peak).

  7. ColonelTom

    June 04, 2012 11:12 AM

    “As comparison, Reyes at same price (actually $1MM less) would have been an offensive upgrade”

    Well, sure. Of course, you couldn’t get Reyes for $10M/year, given that the Marlins are paying him nearly $18M per year on a heavily backloaded 6-year contract.

  8. ColonelTom

    June 04, 2012 11:41 AM

    J-Roll’s numbers against LHP were awful last year too – .240/.280/.329 vs. LHP compared to .280/.361/.427 vs. RHP. He’d been a better hitter vs. LHP throughout his career until last season, when he suddenly turned into a pumpkin against southpaws. That seems very odd – if it’s a question of slower reaction time, you wouldn’t figure that it would affect him on one side of the plate drastically more than the other.

  9. Jon

    June 04, 2012 12:15 PM

    For argument’s sake, does Rollins have any trade value? Galvis looks like the real deal defensively. Figure a team like SF might be interested. I’m just throwing it out there for a fun discussion.

  10. Bill Baer

    June 04, 2012 12:31 PM

    No, unless the Phillies both eat a significant remainder of his contract and take very little back in terms of prospects. So it’d be a lose-lose for the Phillies.

  11. Frank Reynolds

    June 04, 2012 01:21 PM

    It’s another contract they are stuck with. For me I also have an issue with his leadership. In the past I have always felt that he was the leader of this team. This year I am extremely dissappointed with him. It seems that him and victorino don’t have the drive and desire to win.

  12. Pat

    June 04, 2012 01:56 PM

    Are you saying he does have it or that it doesn’t exist?

  13. chongtastic

    June 04, 2012 01:59 PM

    Considering the 2011 SS free agency class and the unknown of Galvis’ bat, I still think Rollins was the best fit for the Phillies. There just wasn’t much out there to consider.

  14. Brian

    June 04, 2012 02:13 PM

    It’s the Baden Axe bat. Should of kept the old bats.

  15. Frank Reynolds

    June 04, 2012 02:48 PM

    I am saying that they no longer have it. Sorry I know that my statement goes against sabermetrics. Sometimes I feel like they have gotten so used to winning that forgot it takes work. With the amount of injuries I expected Rollins, Victorino, and Pence to step up. I don’t think they have. Maybe Rollins and Pence are pressing but Shane I don’t see it. I also think a real lack of baseball IQ has been exposed but maybe that is Charlie’s influence. I really feel like Freddy Glavis is a smarter baseball player than Shane and Hunter combined. Juan Pierre puts in more work than Jimmy and it shows.

  16. Bill Baer

    June 04, 2012 02:53 PM

    It’s not that it goes against Sabermetrics; it’s just that it’s a capricious claim. Or just really good trolling.

  17. Frank Reynolds

    June 04, 2012 03:17 PM

    Bill it was a little of both. I know it also seems that might to be anything to back up my claim. However, a couple of weeks ago Charlie told the media there was a lack of leadership in the clubhouse. My first thoughts when I heard that was why is Rollins on this team if he is not the leader.

  18. Bill Baer

    June 04, 2012 03:24 PM

    There have been World Series-winning teams without leadership and .350 teams with a lot of leadership. We only point it out to fit our narrative: bad teams have no leadership; good teams do have leadership.

  19. MGL

    June 04, 2012 07:43 PM

    Why wouldn’t he have trade value when he is being paid less than he is likely worth? Even though he has very little equity, teams all the time are able to trade players who are worth greater than 2 WAR and receive prospects (albeit low level ones). The only time you should have to pay most of a player’s salary in a trade is when there is significant negative equity in that player’s contract. There isn’t in this case. Any team that is a contender and has a near replacement level SS should want to trade for Rollins and give up a decent prospect or two.

  20. Sam from Bay area

    June 04, 2012 09:58 PM

    I’m a Philly Fan live in the bay area, I was talkig to couple of buddies who are Giants fans about how much their team needs Rollins, I really think Rollins can make the Giants abwtter team, they have very good pitching, very good hitting with Pagon, Possy, Milky, and Sandoval but they do not have a shortstop, Rollins can hit 6th or 7th and and still be productive. It would be a great trade for both teams. I disagree with the fact that he is making too much therefor his value is less, he is making what average short stops are makimg these days and i still think he can be a good player but NOT with the Phillies and specially not as a lead off hitter.

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