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Jimmy Rollins and the Vanishing Power

Posted By Bill Baer On July 10, 2013 @ 7:05 am In MLB,Philadelphia Phillies,Sabermetrics | 55 Comments

Don’t look now, but shortstop Jimmy Rollins is sporting a lower OPS than Ben Revere. Yes, Rollins is now behind Revere, who ended April with an OPS just barely above .450 and May below .600. At the age of 33 in the first year of his three-year, $33 million contract extension last season, Rollins hit 23 home runs and stole 30 bases, joining this group of players to hit at least 20 homers and swipe at least 30 bags at the age of 33 or older:

Player Year HR SB Age Tm
Jimmy Rollins 2012 23 30 33 PHI
Roberto Alomar 2001 20 30 33 CLE
Brady Anderson 1999 24 36 35 BAL
Rickey Henderson 1993 21 53 34 TOT
Bobby Bonds 1979 25 34 33 CLE
Davey Lopes 1979 28 44 34 LAD
Joe Morgan 1977 22 49 33 CIN
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/9/2013.

This year is a different story. Rollins has hit just four home runs in 378 trips to the plate and only 23 of his 91 hits have gone for extra bases. His power is at an all-time low — his .094 isolated power beats his previous career low, .124 in 2003. In the following chart, you can see the trend since 2010 by handedness. While he has not hit well as a right-handed hitter, his power has disappeared from the left side.

Here are some heat maps showing the changes from 2012 to 2013:

Pitchers aren’t afraid to challenge Rollins anymore. Compared to last year, Rollins has seen seven percent more fastballs in the strike zone, 48 to 55 percent. Additionally, those fastballs have been in the upper-third of the strike zone seven percent more often, 38 percent to 31 percent. Eight percent more fastballs are being located on the inner-third of the plate, 20 percent to 12 percent. Typically, right-handed pitchers tend to stay away from those locations against left-handed hitters, particularly those that are pull happy and with the power potential that Rollins has had. Rollins’ wOBA on fastballs dropped from .358 last year to .295 this year; his isolated power from .203 to .102.

On softer stuff, the changes are more subtle, but pitchers have thrown it in the middle of the plate significantly more often, 26 to 32 percent. Pitchers were throwing them in the lower-third in the strike zone, but that rate changed from 57 to 49 percent. His wOBA on soft stuff dropped from .348 last year to .303 this year; his isolated power from .223 to .093.

If it was just slow bat speed, we would see more relative success on the soft stuff, but he has just about declined equally on both fastballs and everything else. If it was a mechanical issue, his average would have dropped along with his power. As it stands, Rollins’ power is just simply… gone. Everywhere you look, it’s gone.

Rollins hasn’t homered since May 31. The only National League shortstops to have hit for less power than him are Pete Kozma, Adeiny Hechavarria, and Starlin Castro. He posted a .177 ISO last year as a 33-year-old. Since 1901, only five shortstops have posted a .175 ISO or better at the age of 34 or older. It’s below .100 now. For him to repeat what he did last year would have been historically rare and significant, but equally as significant is the sudden change in trajectory his offense has taken.

One other interesting item to point out is that he has stolen only nine bases in 15 attempts through 90 games this season. Over his 13 full seasons, he has had a stolen base success rate at 70 percent or higher in 11 seasons. The two outliers: 62.5 percent in 2003, and 60 percent this year. According to Baseball Prospectus, Rollins was the Phillies’ best base runner last year, adding 5.3 runs with his legs, besting Chase Utley‘s 2.9 runs in second place. This year, he has been the team’s second-worst base runner, costing the Phillies 2.4 runs with his legs, just ahead of Delmon Young‘s negative 2.6 runs. Anecdotally, and putting some faith in UZR’s ability to judge fielding ability in a single season, Rollins has had his worst defensive season in almost a decade.

Taken in isolation, you could chalk either of the two symptoms — the loss of power, the poor base running — to a fluke, something fixable. Taken together, unfortunately, I think you have to conclude that Rollins has hit the proverbial wall. He is officially old now. This is not to say he can’t still be a valuable player. After all, FanGraphs still values him at 1.3 WAR through 55.5 percent of the season. But he’s likely done being the 4-5 WAR shortstop that inexorably finished every season among the top-five best shortstops in baseball.


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