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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.