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The Reincarnation of Jimmy Rollins

Posted By Bill Baer On September 19, 2012 @ 7:00 am In MLB,Philadelphia Phillies,Sabermetrics | 9 Comments

Jimmy Rollins died for his own sins on August 30 when he was pulled in the seventh inning of the series finale against the New York Mets. Rollins failed, for the second time that month, to hustle down the line on what he considered to be a routine out. The second time Rollins failed to hustle, he popped up in front of home plate, but Mets catcher Josh Thole couldn’t hold on and Rollins was able to reach first base safely. If he had been hustling under the assumption that a dropped pop-up was a possibility, he could have been on second base. After the inning, Charlie Manuel removed Rollins from the game, punishing the franchise shortstop for his repeat offense.

Rollins had a .710 OPS after that game. In the 17 games since, his OPS has risen 36 points thanks to 23 hits in 80 plate appearances, including six home runs and six stolen bases. That is the easy correlation, to trace Rollins’ hot streak back to the point at which he became Philadelphia’s pariah. The truth is, though, that Rollins’ rebirth occurred much earlier in the season.

The shortstop carried a sub-.600 OPS through most of May, hitting his effective low point on May 26 when his 201 trips to the plate yielded a .561 OPS. TV and radio talking heads declared the three-year $33 million contract, finalized in ink back in December, a failure. Freddy Galvis, 11 years Rollins’ junior, had captured the collective attention of the city with clutch hitting and flashy defense. Fans dreamed up scenarios where the Phillies could move Rollins to a West coast team like the Oakland Athletics or San Francisco Giants. Despite his falling stock, Rollins finished up the month strong, and from there, there was no turning back.

Since the end of May, Rollins has posted an .820 OPS with 19 home runs and 20 stolen bases. Despite his age and recent injury troubles, he has looked more like the 2007 NL MVP award winner than the washed-up, overpaid shortstop that had found his way into the lineup every day in the first two months of the 2012 season. Rollins’ .351 wOBA since June 1 is the fourth-best among all Major League shortstops, trailing only Ian Desmond (.395), Erick Aybar (.369), and Jose Reyes (.352). Rollins has the most home runs of the bunch as his 19 exceeds Desmond’s 15. His 25 doubles is tied for the most, and his five triples are the fourth-most.

Rollins’ transformation has occurred on both sides of the plate. Through the end of May, Rollins hit for a .186 wOBA as a right-handed hitter and a .294 wOBA as a lefty. Since June 1, Rollins has a .318 wOBA as a right-hander and .365 as a lefty. The following heat maps illustrate the difference much better than words:

ISO stands for isolated power, a statistic that subtracts batting average from slugging percentage to get a better measure of a hitter’s power. As you can easily see, Rollins is hitting for a lot more power lately and it has some relationship with better plate discipline against left-handed pitching.

Through May, Rollins had struck out in 22 percent of his plate appearances against lefties and drew walks in only two percent. Since June 1, those percentages have respectively shrunk and ballooned to 10 percent each. You can see Rollins’ shift to swing at pitches closer to the middle of the plate as well:

More specifically, you can see the difference in pitches Rollins has swung and missed at:

Most of Rollins’ whiffs recently have been over the plate as opposed to up and away.

Another interesting development has been the return of his power, which has almost exclusively come from the left side. 18 of Rollins’ 21 homers have been against right-handed pitching, including 16 since June 1. Ten of those 16 home runs have come on fastballs, and pitchers have been hitting the middle of the plate with more frequency lately.

As an additional piece of trivia, Rollins has averaged 21 additional feet on his fly balls since June 1, going from 248 feet to 269. You can see the difference in his hit charts (last use of illustrations!):

This is a lot to digest, so to sum it up briefly, Rollins has had better plate discipline and shown a lot more power since the start of June, particularly as a left-handed batter. It’s unknown exactly why this change occurred towards the end of May, whether it was simply random or a conscious change in approach, but the Phillies are very happy that Rollins caught fire. When he’s hitting like a top-five shortstop, his not running out a routine pop-up looks insignificant by comparison.

Looking across baseball and getting a sense of the dearth of quality shortstops will give you a better perspective on Rollins’ 2012 season. Along with the much-improved offense, he has continued to add value with above-average defense and smart, aggressive base running. The three-year, $33 million contract looked to be, at one point, a gigantic mistake but now appears to be arguably the best thing the Phillies did in the off-season. The tenured shortstop who turns 34 years old in November still has plenty left in the tank and plenty left to give the Phillies in the next two years.


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