Despite Hustle Concerns, Rollins Still Among Elite

Jimmy Rollins found himself back in the headlines again yesterday when he once more did not go 100% down the first base line on what should have been a routine out. With the Phillies clinging to a 3-2 lead over the New York Mets in the bottom of the sixth inning in the series finale, Rollins hit one of his patented infield pop-ups. Four Mets — pitcher Jonathon Niese, first baseman Ike Davis, second baseman Daniel Murphy, and third baseman David Wright — converged towards the pitchers mound. It seemed as if Niese assumed one of his infielders would grab it, so he did not take charge. Instead, everyone backed off and Niese made a last-second attempt to snag the sinking pop-up, but to no avail. The ball dropped and Rollins was safe at first base. However, had he been busting it down the line, he may have ended up at second, though there was certainly no guarantee.

After the inning ended, manager Charlie Manuel took Rollins out of the game for pinch-hitter Laynce Nix. Michael Martinez eventually went out to Rollins’ spot at shortstop. Immediately, the hot issue we thought had deflated was blowing up again. Rollins refused to speak to the media after the game, and immediately the Internet and talk radio was abuzz with criticism of the shortstop. Having addressed the issue and its sociological impact previously, I don’t wish to broach that subject at this time. I would, however, like to remind Phillies fans that Rollins hasn’t had anything close to a bad 2012 as many seem to think when they criticize the franchise shortstop.

Rollins’ triple-slash line, at .243/.303/.407 does not seem impressive, and for a lead-off hitter, the on-base percentage could use some improvement. And his propensity to hit infield pop-ups isn’t charming, either as he leads the league with 42, nine ahead of Zack Cozart and J.J. Hardy in second place. Shortstop, though, is an offensively-light position, so his .710 OPS is actually slightly above the league average .697. In terms of wOBA, his .313 mark hovers above the .301 league average. The power has been the main contributor as his .164 isolated power is the highest it has been since 2009, not coincidentally his last full, healthy season.

While the leg injuries he suffered in previous seasons have affected his agility and mobility, he is still among the best defensive shortstops in baseball. Between 2010-12, which includes two injury-plagued seasons, Rollins compiled a 6.9 UZR/150 over 3,000 defensive innings, meaning that he made about seven plays more than the average shortstop over 150 defensive games. And it’s worth remembering that shortstop is one of the most defensively-demanding positions on the diamond this side of the catcher.

The other big part of Rollins’ game, understated lately, has been his base running. He is 24-for-29 stealing bases this year (83 percent) and even went 47-for-56 (84 percent) in 2010-11 combined. He has been a net positive in all five areas Baseball Prospectus considers when cobbling together their Base Running Runs statistic: base stealing, advancement on ground balls, advancement on fly balls, advancement on hits, and advancement on outs. He has the team lead in BRR, even ahead of noted speed demon Juan Pierre.

Putting it all together, Rollins has contributed 3.3 wins above replacement according to FanGraphs. Only Carlos Ruiz has contributed more (5.1) and the now-departed Shane Victorino sits in third place at 2.1. Among Major League shortstops, only Elvis Andrus (4.1), Ian Desmond (3.9), and Jose Reyes (3.4) have compiled more WAR this season. It’s scary to think about how much worse the Phillies would be had they instead let Rollins move elsewhere as a free agent last year and ushered in the Freddy Galvis era. The team now primed for a push above .500 might have had more in common with the Cubs and Rockies than the Mets and Diamondbacks.

Rollins’ perceived lack of hustle will be a persistent topic of conversation in the coming days, but make no mistake that few players give as much effort on a daily basis than Rollins, whose uniform is frequently dirty from diving for ground balls in the hole, or sliding to avoid a tag on a stolen base attempt. And in denigrating his so-called lack of hustle, many will attempt to write off Rollins’ season as a failure, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. At the ripe age of 33, Rollins still ranks among baseball’s elite shortstops and is a major reason to retain your interest in the Phillies as they play out the rest of their now-meaningless regular season schedule.

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29 comments

  1. JM

    August 31, 2012 08:08 AM

    so he’s having a decent season. The lack of hustle plays a meaningful part in the locker room, where impressionable minds are learning the “right” way to play. You don’t see Howard or Utley trotting, though at this point it might be better if they both did. But that is my point. They get paid to play the right way and they do. Jimmy is supposed to be the Grand Old Veteran in the clubhouse, the only player left from those really bad Phillies teams, and he needs to continue to prove he is still the voice, if not the face, of the franchise…

  2. JM

    August 31, 2012 08:11 AM

    now, if he had dropped down to do 20 push-ups for popping out to the infield again, then no hustle would have been required. At least it would show he cared about that flaw in his game…

  3. Eric

    August 31, 2012 08:19 AM

    There was some discussion in the off-season about the merits signing Aramis Ramirez for slightly less money and letting Jimmy go. I was wondering how their seasons compare so far, and if the Phillies’ woes at 3b and offensively would have made Ramirez a more valuable peice to the Phillies.

    Based on this article, it looks like you are still in Rollins camp. I do agree that he’ll be unfairly criticized for yesterday. He ran hard enough to make it to first, which is all you expect on a dropped pop-up, and then he tried to make up for it by stealing second and being a little too eager on the next ground ball. But I do think his offensive short-comings have earned him a place in the bottom of the lineup.

  4. mratfink

    August 31, 2012 08:36 AM

    @JM instead of 20 meaningless and stupid pushups i would like to see a player do something meaningful in a baseball game like, i don’t know, stealing the base he should have gotten to.

    Oh wait Rollins did do that?

  5. Richard

    August 31, 2012 08:57 AM

    “You don’t see Howard or Utley trotting”

    yes, you fucking do

    no one, repeat, no one runs full speed on plays where they know they’re out. no one.

  6. Richard

    August 31, 2012 09:01 AM

    People also complain too much about Rollins batting leadoff. So they’ve learned about OBP. Good for them. Yippee. A little bit of knowledge, as they say, is a stupid thing.

  7. AntsInIN

    August 31, 2012 09:11 AM

    JM – “impressionable minds”? These are grown men playing in an elite sport. These are not kids learning how to put on a jock strap for the first time. Rollins’ behavior was unfortunate, but saying that it will spread to the rookies because they are weak-minded or “impressionable” does them incredible disservice.

  8. AGH

    August 31, 2012 09:12 AM

    I like Rollins as a player and (most times) as a personality. I don’t think he’s overpaid. At the same time, I can understand why fans get frustrated with him.

    If you’re going to call out the fans for being “front-runners” (though the sell-out streak that continued well into this disaster of a season suggests otherwise) and chide them for having the gall not to cheer while the home team is busy being shutout for 16 consecutive innings during last year’s NLDS, then (in my opinion, at least) you had better be willing to go all out on every play. Otherwise, you are going to hear about it.

  9. Gaël

    August 31, 2012 09:19 AM

    Don’t hustle on meaningless plays while still being one of the best shortstops in the league: get ripped to shreds by fans and the local media.

    Put up a 76 OPS+ over the course of two seasons and, through sheer luck, be the winning pitcher in a 19-inning game: become a folk hero.

  10. Rowl

    August 31, 2012 10:45 AM

    Seems like he would have coasted into 2nd since the SS was in no position to make a play at the bag. However, had he seen Rollins heading to 2nd he may have been in better position so who knows.

    Richard, do you think Utley would have ended up at 2nd base on the play or at the very least forced a rushed throw that might have ended up in CF? This is my problem with J-Roll, you cannot quantify the pressure a player like Utley or Bryce Harper puts on infielders when they are busting it down the line. It would also seem like a trait you’d expect from any leadoff hitter let alone one who struggles to keep his OBP over .300. It seems like it’s not worth it to Jimmy for that .5% – 1% chance that he’ll get on base because of a bad throw. Reasonable people can disagree whether or not this makes him less worthy of his contract but the implication that all of us who expect more from Jimmy are racists is unfounded.

  11. Jon

    August 31, 2012 11:11 AM

    [beat_dead_horse.gif]

  12. Bliz

    August 31, 2012 11:12 AM

    Rowl – you MADE Jimmy not hustle on that play. You racist!

  13. Scott G

    August 31, 2012 11:16 AM

    JM,

    Rollins missed significant time in 2010 and 2011, but you’re going to ignore that when using the Utley/Howard trotting comparison? That’s a joke.

    Richard,

    While I ENTIRELY agree with your premise, Utley kind of DOES bust it to first on routine groundballs. He often comes within a step of beating out balls to 2B.

  14. Richard

    August 31, 2012 11:18 AM

    “Richard, do you think Utley would have ended up at 2nd base on the play or at the very least forced a rushed throw that might have ended up in CF?”

    No, I do not. This is because Utley does not bust it out of the box on pop-ups, nor should he. Nor, in the event of a drop on a normal pop up would it make much sense to be expecting to round first and make it to second. At best, you make it to first, which Rollins did.

  15. Mike

    August 31, 2012 11:38 AM

    I like Jimmy Rollins. With his speed, he should have been on second base on his pop up. I still like Jimmy Rollins.

    The problem is that Rollins’s WAR number decreased the instant he popped up the ball, and the play was over as far as the people who follow WAR numbers were concerned. But, the more pedestrian Phillies fans, like me, who wanted the Phillies to win the game wanted Rollins to be standing on second base, and he should have been but he wasn’t. How do you measure that? It isn’t captured by the BRR.

  16. Erik

    August 31, 2012 12:24 PM

    By that same inane logic, his “WAR number” increases if he makes it to second, completely negating your point.

  17. AntsInIN

    August 31, 2012 01:11 PM

    Actually Erik, as much as I agree with your sentiment, it doesn’t, since he’d still get an 0-fer at bat because he got on via an error.

    But Mike, trying to make this a SABR “nerds” vs. “pedestrians” debate is just ridiculous.

  18. JR

    August 31, 2012 01:40 PM

    Question – baseball-reference.com and espn both list Rollins as having a 1.6 WAR. Yet, the article says FanGraphs has Rollins at 3.3. What is the reason for the large difference?

  19. hk

    August 31, 2012 01:52 PM

    JR,

    ESPN uses B-R’s WAR, so that is why those two are the same. The differences between B-R’s WAR and Fangraphs’s WAR is due to the differences in how each site values defense.

  20. BobSmith77

    August 31, 2012 02:07 PM

    ‘Elite’ to me means that some is at 85-90th percentile among his peers. JRoll simply isn’t at that rank among SS anymore. He has also slipped too defensively.

    He’s a decent player who is worth his contract.

  21. Sulla

    August 31, 2012 02:17 PM

    This site offers lots of facts and data, except that, too often, its a case of not seeing the forest for the trees. Getting caught up in so much trivial statistics is sometimes not a good thing…or as Mark Twain was fond of saying: ‘there are lies, damnable lies, and statistics.

    The issue involving JRoll is one such case. The issue really isn’t how good Jimmy is, the issue was, and remains, is he worth being paid as an elite SS? To me his offensive numbers indicate a slightly above average SS, while his defense is still excellent. Lots of guys around like that – and for a lot less money.

    After Rubin overspent on so many players, when it came time to re-sign Jimmy there were too many offensive holes on the club. I always maintained they needed more power and that putting Freddie G at SS (his natural position) and signing an Aramis Ramirez for just a little more was the way to go.

    Aramis’s numbers this year: .283 .343 .501. On a weak hitting Phillies team Aramis would have been gold. Freddie at SS would have given us the same outstanding defense, and weak hitting,at the league minimum.

    And if Rube could have laid off on the high salary to Papelbon we might have been able to sign a couple of solid BP options…and some of those iffy losses translated to the W column might have put the Phils in the playoff hunt.

    But then this is the Phillies and Rubin IS the GM…

  22. JR

    August 31, 2012 02:20 PM

    HK

    Thanks for the explanation.

    Wow, big difference. ESPN has Jimmy as 14th out of 17 with enough qualifying at bats and it looks like Fangraph has him 4th. So which is better – I guess the one that supports your case for/against Jimmy.

  23. Francisco

    August 31, 2012 04:12 PM

    I don’t buy the racism argument. I’ve seen Mayberry NOT bust it down the line plenty of times. Once in Toronto, he was slow out of the box and Escobar bobbled the ball. Mayberry then punched it to the max and Escobar got him out by a hair. Had he run 100% He would have beaten the throw. Charlie didn’t say a peep then.

    Really, this is a Charlie-Jimmy thing and his perception that Jimmy has to be held to a much higher standard than the rest of the team. Definitely not racism.

  24. pedro3131

    August 31, 2012 04:54 PM

    So he doesn’t bust it down the line 1 out of the 42 times he’s popped the ball up this year, and you guys are ready to cast him out? For a guy who’s had hamstring issues in recent years, it’s a bit silly to expect him to bust it down the line on a pop up.

    Something that Rowl kind of brought up, is how do we know if noticing Jimmy busting down the lines, the Mets didn’t remember they were on a baseball diamond and make that play? Thus negating Jimmy’s running and keeping the injury potential during an otherwise meaningless game.

  25. Gandhi

    August 31, 2012 06:05 PM

    Oh, he’s hustling. Everyone else is just racist.

  26. Mike

    August 31, 2012 07:07 PM

    Erik,

    Interesting – I’m not sure how my “inane” logic led you down the path to think that a two-base error (i.e., luck) would increase Rollins’s WAR (and thanks for the “WAR number” dig). My statement was that his WAR decreased at the instant he popped up the ball because it doesn’t matter if the ball was caught or not – a popup that drops in the infield will not be ruled a hit.

    AntsInIN,

    I’m not trying to make this a SABR “nerds” vs. “pedestrians” debate. This goes back to the idea of “playing the right way.” Try to follow along a little harder. You see, this is a perfect example. The SABR crowd thinks that if something can’t be measured then it is meaningless to even talk about it (e.g., “playing the right way”). Here’s an example of a play that if Rollins, with his speed, were “playing the right way” on that play would have been standing on second base without even a hint of a throw, but hustling on that play would not have factored into his WAR. I’m not saying that Rollins doesn’t play the game the right way, but he definitely did not on that play. I understand that the Phillies aren’t going to make the playoffs and that Rollins had hamstring injuries in the past, but why play if you are just going through the motions?

  27. Scott G

    September 01, 2012 10:44 AM

    Because Rollins “just going through the motions” is still one of the best options around the league. Also, who knows, maybe of he busted it on one of the first 41 infield popups, he wouldn’t even be around right now for us to have this discussion. Slightly injury-prone players who are advancing in age are wise to pick their battles, and infield flies should not be one of them.

  28. RR

    September 02, 2012 03:23 PM

    Incidentally, Rollins was never on a really bad Phillies team, except possibly as a September call-up in 2000. With JR as the starting shortstop, the Phillies have had only one losing season (2002: 80-81)during 2001-2011. It’s not a coincidence.

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