2013 Phillies Report Card: Jimmy Rollins

After the 2011 season, the Phillies signed shortstop Jimmy Rollins to a three-year $33 million contract with a fourth-year vesting option. It was a move met with enthusiasm. Though Rollins was old and had battled some lower-half injuries in previous years, he still ranked among the best shortstops in the game. The first year of his new deal was good: he posted a .322 weighted-on base average, continued to play sterling defense, and stole 30 bases in 35 attempts — a typical Jimmy Rollins year. Baseball Reference rated him at 2.4 Wins Above Replacement while FanGraphs was much more generous at 4.8 thanks to different methods of evaluting his defense. Either way, though, he was at worst slightly above-average.

2013 was a completely different and, sadly, worse story. The Rollins we came to know and love had disappeared. Name an aspect of his game and it tanked:

  • Power: His .177 isolated power in 2012 dropped to .097, tied for the 14th-lowest among 140 qualified hitters.
  • Base running: According to Baseball Prospectus, he dropped from +5.3 runs on the bases in 2012 to +1.7. He stole just 22 bases in 28 attempts, the fewest attempts he’s had in a full season in his career.
  • Defense: Baseball Reference had him declining from -8 in 2012 to -15 while FanGraphs had him going from +7.9 to -2.7. Either way, a steep decline.

Rollins finished at 0.2 WAR per Baseball Reference and 1.6 per FanGraphs, putting his range between replacement level and average. His bad year caused that three-year deal to turn from a bargain into a loss. When I reevaluated the deal in September, I wrote, “Going into the final guaranteed year of his contract, Rollins would need to have a 4-WAR season for the Phillies to break even.”

Rollins turns 35 in November. Since 1980, only four shortstops — Derek Jeter, Barry Larkin, Ozzie Smith, and Omar Vizquel — have put up a 4.0 WAR season or better at the age of 35 or older. The same group of players along with Cal Ripken, Jr. and Larry Bowa are the only ones since 1980 to even put up 2.0 WAR or better at age 35 or older. Based on historical data, it looks like Father Time has finally caught up with Rollins. The odds of him bouncing back from are not good.

The power is the most concerning aspect because it was what separated him from most shortstops. He is one home run shy from becoming the eighth shortstop to hit 200 or more career home runs. He is one of 18 shortstops all-time with a career ISO of at least .150 (min. 4,000 career plate appearances). Most shortstops can play the position well defensively, and a lot of them can steal bases, but it’s rare to find that skill set along with the ability to hit double-digit home runs year in and year out. If he’s not hitting for power, then he’s not offering the Phillies much over Freddy Galvis.

I gave Rollins a D- for his 2013 season. Of all the things that could have gone wrong for the Phillies this past season, Rollins cratering was not one they expected. Here’s looking at you, J.P. Crawford.

Michael Paul Eric Ryan
D C- C- C

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25 comments

  1. LTG

    October 15, 2013 09:07 AM

    Quick correction: Jimmy’s UZR for 2013 is -2.7. Still a steep decline from 2012 but not as steep. (I think you reproduced his offensive runs above/below league average.)

    When I looked up the number for a back of the napkin projection for 2014, I was shocked that it was negative. He was positive for most of the year.

    I’m also curious what some well-trained eyes think about the DRS and UZR numbers. They are much different (and often have been in his career). Which seems more plausible?

  2. cjd

    October 15, 2013 10:59 AM

    Rollins has become Galvis, but 10 mil more expensive. Galvis at least might have some upside left.

  3. jerome

    October 15, 2013 11:22 AM

    [[Ed. Note: Shortened URL]]

    FanGraphs

    The above link shows Rollins as having the 12th highest “Clutch” score on Fangraphs. I’m not sure what that’s really worth in the long run, but interesting nonetheless.

    I’ve always been of the thought that Rollins gives his all when it matters and gives little when it “doesn’t matter.” That hypothesis is confirmed with the “Clutch” stat…he’s top 12 this year, top 10 over the past 5 years, and top 3(!) over the past 10 seasons. I’m not sure how valuable that stat is – the top guy from the last 10 seasons is Willie Bloomquist of all people.

    But I agree with the article and with Bill’s analysis…I love Rollins but his time is up. My hope is that he’ll have a minor rebound (in bWAR at least) but no more than 2.0 WAR, but that’s definitely a HOPE.

  4. Mike E

    October 15, 2013 12:31 PM

    Unleash the J-trolls!

  5. bubba0101

    October 15, 2013 01:15 PM

    Im not a huge proponent of Jrol. I criticize everything I can for one reason or another. That being said, I think he cares a lot more than he seems to give off and much more than his numbers from 2013 showed. I see him bouncing back next year to have an “in trend” year consistent with what his normal decline woould have been. I think hes open to Sandberg’s style of management and he know exactly what to expect from Bowa. I think he’ll transition out of that superstar player role and into a superstar mentor role while producing more at the plate, on the bases, and in the field. Even if his power is gone he’s not as bad in the field or on the base paths as he was last year. Here’s to JRol 2014!

  6. pedro3131

    October 15, 2013 01:39 PM

    Given that all the players on the ‘list of ss 35 and above’ list played in the past 20 years, is it about time we reevaluate the “likelihood” of an older player to have a bounceback year? Clearly something is going on in sports medicine that is causing players to stay healthy and be productive far later into their careers, so shouldn’t we judge him against his contemporaries rather then all of baseball history?

  7. LTG

    October 15, 2013 02:36 PM

    I wanted to post this earlier, but I couldn’t grab a minute.

    The question about Rollins bouncing back is a tough one to answer. Fangraphs has already posted Steamer projections, which pin Rollins as a 2.3 fWAR player for 2014. That would be nice, and these projection-formulae are in the aggregate the best forecasters we have. But in Rollins case there are worries. The projection expects Rollins to have a lower K% than in the last two years and a return to his power-output of 2011. (No one should expect a return to 2012. That was an outlier of the past-prime Rollins. And it disguised his offensive decline in other areas that year.) Those two factors are very important and also not likely to be true, if Rollins struggles this year are related to aging legs.

    Is there evidence that Rollins has lost a step? Yes. Indeed, it is abundant. Rollins had his lowest SPD score, his lowest wSB score since 2003, his lowest UZR score since his initial call-up, well-below average infield hits, and no bunt hits. The picture painted is of a player who developed incredible natural gifts into all-star skills through intelligent play and practice losing his skills as the natural gifts diminish.

    The hope I see for Rollins, at least on offense, is an adjustment to his swing. If he can cut back on his strikeouts by increasing contact, then he might be able to replace some of his diminished power with on-base skill. He’s still fast, even if not as fast as he was. So, he should be able to turn balls in play into bases better than most MLBers. We’d have to quantify this hope to see how much he would gain from it, if anything. But it strikes me as a better hope than that his power will return or that he’ll be an above-average defender again.

  8. JM

    October 15, 2013 03:04 PM

    It is simple, his wife is sapping the power from his legs. Ever since he started using her yoga routines to keep “healthier” and stay on the field, his power has been in sharp decline. were he to go back to strengthening his lower half rather than streching it, he might bounce back…a little

  9. Andrew Cleveland Alexander

    October 15, 2013 03:30 PM

    When I read, “It is simple, his wife is sapping the power from his legs,” I had high hopes for your comment, but sadly it turned out to merely be odd as opposed to hysterically cuckoo. I’m going to give it a C+.

  10. bubba0101

    October 15, 2013 03:36 PM

    If he becomes more disciplined at the plate and looks for walks to get to 1b then he can be imporved on offense. Just by changing his approach, like Sandberg had him do in the last two months of the season, he can be back to above average, in my mind. No statistical backing though, just opinion and feel.

  11. JM

    October 15, 2013 04:05 PM

    ACA,
    It was meant to be silly. quite a few people are suggesting different approaches and changes in style. I don’t see it happenning. Jimmy is what he is, the Phillies starting SS. Good, Bad, and in between. Great players do adjust. From my comment, he changed his offseason workout to avoid the leg problems he suffered. This allowed him to stay on the field. Whether that or plain old-fashioned age is responsible for his diminished power is unprovable since he was already getting old when he changed his routine. That his wife is a fitness instructor is a silly coincidence.

  12. LTG

    October 15, 2013 05:07 PM

    bubba,

    Rollins has already increased his BB% in his post-prime years. I doubt there is any room for growth there, especially since it will have become common knowledge that Rollins is not a power threat. If he’s going to increase his on-base skill, it will be through increased contact and maintaining his career average BABIP. He might even see a few more BBs if an increase in contact leads to an increase in foul balls and deep counts.

  13. Pat

    October 16, 2013 01:58 AM

    Rollins is still probably the best option going into next season. It’s not like we’re signing afree agent and the next best option is Galvis. The middle of the road solution with Rollins next year is to move him down in the order, hope he bounces back to respective offensive numbers and a 3 WAR season, and absolutely don’t allow him to get to 600 PAs if he continues to decline. Best SS in team history. Let him have 400 PAs in the first 100 games to prove himself. If he’s got nothing left, move on and wish him the best.

  14. bubba0101

    October 16, 2013 07:11 AM

    Thanks for pointing that out LTG. We need JRol to be more selective with the pitches he swings at then. He takes a lot of bad cuts. He swings at a lot of pitches in “take” counts too. Sandberg put a stop to that. Im kind of excited to see Jimmy be more selective and make better contact exaclty like LTG said.

  15. Andrew Cleveland Alexander

    October 16, 2013 10:50 AM

    JM, sorry for the snark, you never can tell what crazy theories people will come up with (in all seriousness) about Jimmy Rollins.

    Pat, Rollins had 666 plate appearances last year. (As an aside, has anyone suggested demonic possession as a theory for his regression yet?) The option vests at 1,110 PAs over two years. Barring serious injury, I don’t see any way he doesn’t get 444 PAs regardless of where he hits in the lineup. And any team trading for him would presumably want to play him, meaning the $11 million in 2015 would become their problem.

    I see four possible scenarios in which Jimmy Rollins is not the starting Phillies SS in 2015:
    1)he gets injured
    2)he has a bounceback season, enticing some team to take him on along with the $11 million option
    3)he has a lousy season, and the Phillies send him somewhere else with a bunch of cash
    4)the Phillies play him for 100 games, as you suggest, and deliberately bench him to keep him from reaching 444 PAs.

    #1 is inherently unpredictable. #2 is unlikely. #3 doesn’t seem like a move the Phillies make, given the replacement options, unless Galvis blossoms as a hitter in limited PAs, which seems even more unlikely than #2. #4 seems like a talk radio fantasy: besides the likely reaction from Rollins, the players union closely watches situation like this. They even backed up K-Rod versus the Mets when he had a contract option based on games finished, and the Mets were trying to weasel out of it because he’d been arrested for beating up a dude at the ballpark.

    So, for all these reasons, I think that if Rollins doesn’t get injured–a bit if for a player his age–he’ll be the starting again in 2015. And, to be fair, since this team probably isn’t going to contend for a couple of years, what’s the harm in seeing the best SS in team history go out in pinstripes?

  16. Bob

    October 16, 2013 12:21 PM

    Compared to the available ss options on the market, I’m glad to have Rollins. But there is no way he should be batting in the top half of the order. He’s fine for a 6 or 7 hole hitter. Why Ryno continues to bat him in the top half of the order is beyond me. And the Phils’ can’t afford to miss on JP Crawford. If he’s the ss of the future, he needs to be up in two years when Rollins’ contract expires, which doesn’t look viable. I’m not looking forward to a year or two of Galvis in the eight hole.

  17. Mark66

    October 16, 2013 12:24 PM

    Unless there is something that we as fans are unaware of, it seems Rollins playing days are over. His contract is definitely way over what he is worth to the Phils. Let the youth take over.

  18. Steve

    October 16, 2013 01:10 PM

    @pedro – have you ever heard of “the steroid era?” Since the roids were placed in limited use, the number of players having good years past 33 has declined immensely. Your argument of advances in medicine, training and knowledge was what was espoused as the reason for the homerun increase by mediocre players (anyone remember Baltimores’ Brady Anderson) in the early 90′s until, of course, we all took our heads out of the sand and realized steroids were the magic pill not hard work, training and increased knowledge.

  19. pedro3131

    October 16, 2013 01:17 PM

    Steve, I think at this point there’s data out there suggesting players stay productive longer, and unless you assume every single player (specifically in this case, Jeter, Vizquel, Larkin, Ozzie, and Ripken) is on steroids, I don’t think that’s the culprit.

  20. bubba0101

    October 16, 2013 01:36 PM

    Hey Bob,

    How can you ask why Ryno of all people continue to hit JRol in the top of the order. The guy controlled the lineup for the for like 1/100th of the time that Charlie did. The question is why Charlie continued to put him in the top of the order. By definition, Ryno hasnt continued to do anything. Hes only been in charge for 2 months. Everything he does is establishing the baseline for his first year.

  21. LTG

    October 16, 2013 01:59 PM

    Sadly, and as BB indicated in the article, Galvis might not need to blossom as a hitter to be better than Rollins right now. Rollins wRC+ in 2012 was 84, Galvis 81. If we can trust the number on Galvis and Galvis is an above-average fielder at SS, he’s at least as productive as Rollins.

  22. Andrew Cleveland Alexander

    October 16, 2013 02:28 PM

    Right LTG, and I agree that it would be great if some team in need of a shortstop said, great, we will take him and the $22 million he is likely going to be owed between now and 2015 off your hands, provided that $22 million was wisely invested elsewhere (not a given, at least when it comes to the “wisely” part). But in all likelihood, the contract is unmovable. Rollins doesn’t strike me as the type of guy who would take well to being moved into a bench roll, especially for a player of comparable ability, and doubly especially when he’s got a vesting option on the line. So what to do? Trade him and eat some/all of the contract? Release him? (I’m not sure what happens to the option year in that case, whether it remains a responsibility of the Phillies’ as the guaranteed money does.)

    Either way, I don’t foresee any indication from the front office that either eventuality is even remotely likely to happen. It seems like the best bet would be to go with Rollins next year and hope for a bounce-back season that increases his eventual trade value. Or else hope for an injury, which is something I would never do.

  23. LTG

    October 16, 2013 03:44 PM

    Oh, yeah, I agree with all that. I don’t expect the Phillies not to start Rollins so long as he is healthy and on the team. And I don’t mean to suggest the Phillies should sit Rollins. Among other reasons, I have more confidence that Rollins can make an adjustment than that Galvis is really a 81 wRC+ hitter.

  24. hk

    October 17, 2013 06:18 AM

    ACA,

    The problem with the trade option is that Rollins has 10-and-5 protection and has stated a desire to stay in Philly. The Phils are most likely stuck with him. As such, what bothers me most about Jimmy’s situation is that the Phils let him accumulate 666 PA’s this season. Once they knew they were out of contention (August 1?), they should have used Galvis more often at SS to learn if Freddy can be an everyday SS and to rest the older Rollins (the public reasons) all the while reducing the likelihood of Rollins’s option vesting (the real reason).

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