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The Fall of J-Roll

Posted By Bill Baer On June 4, 2012 @ 7:00 am In MLB,Philadelphia Phillies,Sabermetrics | 21 Comments

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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