If there’s one thing the Phillies aren’t short on in the organization, it’s middle infielders. From Chase Utley to Jimmy Rollins to Cesar Hernandez to Freddy Galvis to (if you grin and bear it) Kevin Frandsen, that’s a handful of players under control in 2014 that can, feasibly, play up the middle.
The only problem, of course, is that only one of those guys is a viable Major League player right now.
- Frandsen has come up with a big hit from time-to-time, but is 4-for-36 in August and leaves something to be desired on defense.
- Galvis has a .626 Major League OPS in 364 PA; a .617 career Minor League OPS
- Hernandez has missed the vast majority of the past month with a wrist injury and will get more looks in center field when he returns
And fine, so three bench guys are playing like bench guys. Their problems and presence on a roster mean relatively little when compared to the struggles of the man expected to be the starting shortstop through next season.
Jimmy Rollins’s offensive problems are not new. Really, he’s never been an exceptional offensive presence any year other than 2007, his three best OPS+es aside from that MVP campaign being 104, 102 and 101. This year, however, things have become rather concerning. Rollins entered Tuesday’s game hitting .246 (3rd-worst) with a .303 OBP (2nd-worst) and .336 SLG (by far a career worst), and went 0-for-3 with a walk. He has five home runs a year after hitting 23, 15 steals after consecutive 30-steal efforts and a 71 percent stolen base rate that’s his worst since 2003. What’s more, if you put stock in advanced fielding metrics, Rollins’s defense has also been significantly substandard in 2013.
Defensive problems – real or imagined – are harder to diagnose. Leaving those aside and focusing solely on offensive performance, where do Rollins’s most glaring flaws now lie?
One of the most glaring issues for me, personally, has to do with something atypically Jimmy. For his career, Rollins has a negligible platoon split (.756 OPS as a LHB, .744 as a RHB). Really, he’s been pretty consistent as a switch-hitter; at least, more so than Shane Victorino. This year, though, the gap is widening a bit, and batting from the right side seems to be the biggest issue. Specifically, Jimmy just hasn’t been able to square up fastballs from left-handed pitchers. Compare the difference against heaters entering Tuesday:
- As RHB: .215/.282/.292, 13.2% whiff rate, 18.2% line drive rate against 260 fastballs
- As LHB: .238/.291/.359, 7.0% whiff rate, 22.3% line drive rate against 702 fastballs
Disparate, but not insignificant samples show that those struggles are apparent. And really, only the fact that he’s been so bad as a RHB keeps the LHB performance from being cringeworthy on its own.
Not being able to catch up to or square up the heat is typically a very bad thing. If Rollins is dealing with slower bat speed associated with age, this may not improve. But if Steve Henderson or Wally Joyner or whomever finds his or herself occupying the hitting coach position next season is paid to do one thing, it would be to identify and correct what potential problems could be hindering Jimmy. Assuming that’s even possible.
On the whole, the shortstop position doesn’t feature a ton of high-powered bats. The league average shortstop OPSes .685 in 2013, and only four qualified shortstops have an OPS above .800 entering Tuesday. Among those qualified batters who play mostly SS (think Not Ben Zobrist), Rollins stacks up like so:
- .298 OBP (12th)
- .331 SLG (15th)
- .629 OPS (13th)
- .278 wOBA (14th)
Each of those numbers falls well below the 50th percentile for shortstops.
As a result of being a 10&5 player, Rollins carries a no-trade clause, one he opted not to waive under any circumstances this summer. Whether he changes his tune this winter or by next July obviously remains to be seen. The Phillies are on the hook for $11 million in 2014, plus no less than $5 million in 2015. The 2015 money works as follows, according to Cot’s:
- Vests for $11M at 500 PA in ’14 and/or 1,100 combined PA in ’13-’14, plus a non-DL status
- If the PA requirements are not met, the option turns into a club option for $8 million, or a player option for $5 million
That second bullet is complicating, because that $5 million is not a buyout, if the language in Cot’s is correct. Rollins would not be a free agent. That’s obviously a scenario to be dealt with this time next season, but the specter of Rollins potentially being dead money for more than just one more season hangs in the air in a slightly more corporeal form.
Of course, things could improve with an offseason for Rollins to rest whatever ails him. It would just be preferable for the encouraging signs to come before we’re forced to hope against hope for them to come around the bend.