Jimmy Rollins and His Place in Baseball History

Jimmy Rollins got his 2,000th career hit on Tuesday in a 2-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds. The controversial shortstop and 2007 NL MVP award winner has had an incredibly successful career that has come under scrutiny recently due to a combination of age- and injury-related concerns. As we recently discussed, Rollins still — at the age of 33 — ranks among baseball’s best shortstops, right up there with Elvis Andrus (23 years old), Ian Desmond (26), and Jose Reyes (29). With the career milestone he recently achieved, though, it helps us remember his place historically, not just among his current peers.

So, let’s make our way to Baseball Reference’s Play Index and see what kind of company Rollins is keeping.

This first table shows every player since 1901 to have compiled in their careers at least 2,000 hits, 175 home runs, and 350 stolen bases. This shows that the players had not just longevity, but power, speed, and contact abilities as well.

Player OPS+ H SB HR From To PA Pos
Barry Bonds 182 2935 514 762 1986 2007 12606 *78/D9
Joe Morgan 132 2517 689 268 1963 1984 11329 *4/7D58
Bobby Abreu 129 2434 398 286 1996 2012 9908 *9D7/8
Rickey Henderson 127 3055 1406 297 1979 2003 13346 *78D/9
Cesar Cedeno 123 2087 550 199 1970 1986 8133 *8397/5
Paul Molitor 122 3319 504 234 1978 1998 12167 D543/6879
Roberto Alomar 116 2724 474 210 1988 2004 10400 *4/D6
Barry Larkin 116 2340 379 198 1986 2004 9057 *6/4D
Craig Biggio 112 3060 414 291 1988 2007 12504 *4287/D9
Willie Davis 106 2561 398 182 1960 1979 9822 *8/97D
Johnny Damon 104 2769 408 235 1995 2012 10917 *87D9/3
Jimmy Rollins 97 2000 398 187 2000 2012 8129 *6/4D
Marquis Grissom 92 2251 429 227 1989 2005 8959 *8/79D
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/6/2012.

Shortstop is the second-most important position on the diamond after catcher, making Rollins’ achievement all the more impressive. Historically, teams have opted for defense over offense, leading to the prominence of players like Ozzie Smith and Omar Vizquel. The only other shortstop on the list is Barry Larkin, a Hall of Famer. In fact, even ignoring position, that table is chock full of Hall of Famers including Larkin, Paul Molitor, Roberto Alomar, Rickey Henderson, and Joe Morgan. Soon-to-be Hall of Famers Barry Bonds and Craig Biggio shouldn’t be forgotten, either.

The following table lists the number of unique seasons with at least 30 doubles and stolen bases, as well as at least 10 triples and home runs. Since 1901, only nine players have had multiple seasons matching that criteria, and only Juan Samuel has done it as frequently as Rollins.

Yrs From To Age
Jimmy Rollins 4 2002 2007 23-28 Ind. Seasons
Juan Samuel 4 1984 1987 23-26 Ind. Seasons
Jose Reyes 3 2006 2008 23-25 Ind. Seasons
Lou Brock 3 1964 1969 25-30 Ind. Seasons
Carl Crawford 2 2005 2010 23-28 Ind. Seasons
Johnny Damon 2 2000 2002 26-28 Ind. Seasons
Kiki Cuyler 2 1925 1930 26-31 Ind. Seasons
George Sisler 2 1920 1921 27-28 Ind. Seasons
Home Run Baker 2 1911 1912 25-26 Ind. Seasons
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/6/2012.

Among those listed on the table, Baker, Brock, Cuyler, and Sisler are Hall of Famers. Rollins is also in the company of some very productive contemporaries including Reyes, a fellow shortstop.

Rollins’ MVP season in 2007 was impressive in and of itself (even if his worthiness of the award was very debatable), becoming one of four players with a “quadruple-double” — at least 20 each of doubles, triples, home runs, and stolen bases.

Player Year 2B 3B HR SB Age Tm Lg PA OPS Pos
Curtis Granderson 2007 38 23 23 26 26 DET AL 676 .913 *8/7
Jimmy Rollins 2007 38 20 30 41 28 PHI NL 778 .875 *6
Willie Mays 1957 26 20 35 38 26 NYG NL 669 1.033 *8
Frank Schulte 1911 30 21 21 23 28 CHC NL 687 .918 *9
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/6/2012.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Rollins did this as a shortstop. And not just any shortstop, but among the best defensive shortstops in baseball for more than a decade. He is one of 12 shortstops (min. 8,000 PA and having played 90% of his games at SS) with at least 40 fielding runs over his career.

Player Rfield PA From To Tm
Ozzie Smith 239 10778 1978 1996 SDP-STL
Luis Aparicio 147 11230 1956 1973 CHW-BAL-BOS
Omar Vizquel 130 11988 1989 2012 SEA-CLE-SFG-TEX-CHW-TOR
Pee Wee Reese 117 9470 1940 1958 BRO-LAD
Roger Peckinpaugh 100 8387 1910 1927 CLE-TOT-NYY-WSH-CHW
Dave Bancroft 93 8248 1915 1930 PHI-TOT-BSN-BRO-NYG
Alan Trammell 75 9376 1977 1996 DET
Bert Campaneris 61 9625 1964 1983 KCA-OAK-TEX-TOT-CAL-NYY
Royce Clayton 55 8164 1991 2007 SFG-STL-TOT-TEX-CHW-MIL-COL-ARI
Jimmy Rollins 48 8129 2000 2012 PHI
Dick Groat 48 8179 1952 1967 PIT-STL-PHI-TOT
Luke Appling 41 10254 1930 1950 CHW
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/6/2012.

Because defensive stats are more unreliable than offensive stats, I checked FanGraphs and it agrees that Rollins has been among the best defensively dating back to 2001. UZR puts Rollins at 52.8, second-best in baseball behind J.J. Hardy at 64.1. On a basis of 150 defensive games, Rollins (5.2) ranks sixth behind Hardy (10.9), Andrus (7.2), Alexei Ramirez (6.9), Alex Gonzalez (5.8), and Troy Tulowitzki (5.3).

Rollins will need several more very productive seasons before he can be legitimately considered for the Hall of Fame (and even then, he would still be on the outside), but make no mistake: he has had an incredibly productive career and ranks among the best Phillies of all-time.

Player WAR From To Age PA
Mike Schmidt 103.0 1972 1989 22-39 10062
Richie Ashburn 54.6 1948 1959 21-32 8223
Chase Utley 51.8 2003 2012 24-33 5025
Sherry Magee 45.7 1904 1914 19-29 6314
Bobby Abreu 45.3 1998 2006 24-32 5885
Jimmy Rollins 38.7 2000 2012 21-33 8129
Johnny Callison 37.2 1960 1969 21-30 5930
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/6/2012.

Is Kyle Kendrick…Good?

Kyle Kendrick has long been my whipping boy, a figure I lash out at and burn in effigy with tongue aflame at every misstep, my reluctance to praise him a difficult thing to overcome. And yet, here we are at the onset of September and I can no longer stifle the plaudits Kendrick is due.

We’ll start in July. Kendrick entered the month with a 5.35 ERA on the heels of allowing five ER in seven innings to the Pirates in a 5-4 loss, his record tumbling to 2-8 and his OPS allowed standing at .857. It wasn’t looking pretty, and it didn’t help that the team was only at the beginning of a 1-11 stretch that, at its conclusion, would push the Phils into last place by five games, 15 behind the first-place Nationals. A perfect storm, and Kendrick was my eye wall.

But things have changed since the calendar flipped to July, and Kendrick is a new man. At least, he’s putting on a good show.

IP ERA K/9 BB/9 HR/9 Opp. OPS
Through June 30 74.0 5.35 6.32 3.53 1.22 .857
Since July 1 51.2 2.09 6.66 2.10 0.88 .585

Samples are a bit disparate and a little too small to be anything but “intriguing,” but I think that’s just what they are: intriguing. The slight uptick in K rate is too small to be of note, but the walks have taken a 40-percent drop and the balls have been staying in the yard a fair bit more, as well.

The obvious question then becomes: why? What’s driving the longest sustained run of success in Kyle Kendrick’s six-year – yes, we’re up to six now – Major League career? The expected first turn would be to BABIP where, likely to no surprise, there’s an enormous difference when separating Kendrick’s season into the two time periods above.

Through June 30, Kendrick allowed a .332 BABIP. Since? .230. A full one hundred-point drop and spare change will make anyone look better. But is there more to it? After all, BABIP doesn’t account for home runs, and there’s been a drop there, too, as we see in the table above.

We’ll start by taking a closer look at Kendrick against left-handed batters, his arch-nemeses. For his career, lefties have tuned KK up to a .297/.367/.495 line, essentially a less powerful version of 2012 Robinson Cano. Since that magical July transition, though, catch this: lefties have hit just .183/.232/.301, with two homers in 99 plate appearances. That’s more like Jordan Zimmermann at the plate. Yep, the pitcher.

A big reason why could be a total overhaul in pitch selection.

Change% Cutter% 2-Seamer% Whiff% Strike% Chase%
Through June 30 20.3 32.4 35.4 17.3 59.4 29.3
Since July 1 36.1 11.9 51.1 24.9 65.1 37.4

In terms of total pitches, we’re comparing 667 total pitches (top) with 364 (bottom), so again, disparity is worth considering, but there are major changes here. Kendrick has eschewed the cutter is favor of change-ups and sinkers, which is natural given that the movement of those pitches from a right-handed pitcher will pull them away from a left-handed batter.

And, wouldn’t you know it, it’s working like a charm. Kendrick is placing more of those pitches in the zone and catching corners (45.5 percent with sinkers and change-ups as opposed to 36.7 percent pre-July), walking fewer batters and permitting just a .471 OPS with that combined arsenal. Kendrick has not been and will not ever be a flamethrower; he needs movement and secondary stuff to limit damage and compensate for the extra three-plus MPH his fastball does not have.

The GB/FB ratio has actually been flipped in this instance – Kendrick has allowed more fly balls than ground balls on sinkers/change-ups since the start of July, as opposed to the inverse before – but the HR/FB percentage has dipped from 6.5 percent to 3.6, and the well-hit average of those pitches has also fallen from .290 to .250, a more comfortable level.

In truth, just like with all pitchers who lean on deception and defense to help them get by, there is some smoke-and-mirroring going on here. I don’t believe Kendrick has unlocked a breakthrough that will make him a bargain at $4.5 million next season, but I do think this change in approach will yield better results moving forward, even if they won’t always be quite this good. He’s adapting (or trying to), if absolutely nothing else.

Cliff Lee Turning the Corner?

On Saturday, Cliff Lee tossed seven dominant innings of shut-out baseball against the Atlanta Braves, continuing a torrid two weeks for the lefty. In four starts, Lee struck out 31 and walked two with a 1.91 ERA in 28.1 innings. It was also his third consecutive start without allowing a home run. Considering how up and down his season had been, Lee’s recent hot streak looks Kaufaxian by comparison. Why the sudden success?

In doing the research to answer that question, I was sure I’d find something as the root cause. I had a couple hypotheses in my head:

  • Lee was placing his cutter better. 12 of the 19 home runs he had allowed prior to August 16 were on fastballs or cutters.
  • Lee was inducing more ground balls. More ground balls means fewer home runs.

No matter how I divvied up the stats, no matter which heat maps I looked at, I just could not find a meaningful difference between the inconsistent Lee of April through August 11 and the amazing Lee since August 16. Sure, Lee’s 15.5-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio is pretty good, but it’s not significant in 28.1 innings, and Lee’s K/BB ratio was already an MLB-best 6.2-to-one anyway. And, of course, we’re only two years separated from 2010, when Lee led baseball with a 10.3-to-one ratio. Lee, in general, is good at missing bats and being stingy with the free passes.

As it pertains to the above hypotheses, none of them explain Lee’s success. If anything, Lee is arguably placing his cutter more poorly recently, hitting the middle of the strike zone more often.

Hitters, predominantly right-handed by a ratio of three or four to one depending on your sample, are swinging at them at the same rate.

The pitches themselves are very similar, using pitch data from Brooks Baseball. I compared his worst month (June) to his best month (August).

Pitch Count Frequency H. Mvt V. Mvt Mph H. Rel V. Rel Spin RPM
Cut (June) 423 0.15 -4.89 -23.00 86.52 1.6 6.50 208 1099
Cut (August) 514 0.18 -4.46 -22.49 86.78 1.6 6.56 205 1111

H.Mvt = horizontal movement; V.Mvt = Vertical movement; H.Rel = horizontal release point; V.Rel = vertical release point; RPM = rotations per minute.

Overall, there hasn’t been a big shift in Lee’s pitch usage. He is using his curve five percent more often and his cutter five percent less often, but between the small sample size and pitch classification errors, it is not that meaningful. (The database I’m using has 0.2 percent sliders for Lee through the 11th, and 2 percent since the 16th. Lee doesn’t throw sliders; rather, they were likely incorrectly-labeled cutters.)

In terms of balls put in play, Lee has induced eight percent fewer ground balls and eight percent more fly balls while keeping his line drive rate steady at 17 percent. With fewer home runs allowed, we would have expected more ground balls, but it has been the exact opposite — 45 percent fly balls, 38 percent ground balls. However, Lee’s BABIP on ground balls went from .261 through the 11th to .172 since the 16th. Similarly, fly balls have gone from .198 to .161. So some combination of better luck and better defense has contributed to Lee’s recent resurgence.

When I looked at Lee’s performance back in June and July, I concluded much of the same — not much has changed. He was always due to regress back to his mean, his 3.11 SIERA. After going winless through his first 13 starts, he has won four of his last 11 and lowered his ERA by more than 60 points, from 4.13 to 3.52. What we’ve seen lately is not a new and improved Lee, but the same pitcher through the lens of more time and a larger sample size.

Erik Kratz is Superman (.gifs)

Erik Kratz has been a very pleasant surprise for the Phillies since he took over for Carlos Ruiz in late July. He entered the night with a .921 OPS with 14 of his 24 hits having gone for extra bases. He’s done a good job behind the plate as well, having thrown out at least three attempted base stealers from his knees. His great performance continued last night when he not only survived an earth-shattering hit from Chipper Jones at home plate in the fourth inning, but played the role of hero, hitting a lead-off, game-tying solo home run against one of the best relievers in baseball in Craig Kimbrel.

Also during the game, Phillippe Aumont made Dan Uggla look silly and John Mayberry hit a go-ahead three-run home run that pushed Phillies broadcaster Tom McCarthy into puberty. After the jump, click the link below to reveal some .gifs and a video.

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