Is Jimmy Rollins Back?

Hey Crashburn fans! My name’s Adam Dembowitz (@adamd243) and I’m very happy to be joining the team here. I was born in Philadelphia and raised in Cherry Hill, and I grew up listening to Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn get through bad baseball on late summer afternoons. I still hate Joe Carter. I was at Game 4 of the 2008 World Series, so, you’re welcome. And with that, let’s get to it.

He’s a former MVP. He’s one of the best shortstops in baseball (yes, still), and we expect a lot from him. But last year, he wasn’t himself. Now 147 plate appearances into the 2014 season, is Jimmy Rollins back?

In 34 games this season Rollins has a slash line of .276/.370/.441, which is similar to but slightly better than his career average of .269/.328/.426, with an especially superior on base percentage (OBP). We’re getting to the point of the season where the “small sample size” caveat doesn’t hold as much weight. After all, the season is about 20% completed. Jimmy’s produced 1.4 wins above replacement (WAR) this season, which is pretty good considering he produced 1.6 for the entire 2013 season. He’s on pace for 19 homers, 100 runs, 81 RBI, and 24 steals. Those would be his best numbers since 2012 and compare favorably to his 2009 season, but with less speed and a much, much better slash line.

Alright, so we’ve established that so far, Jimmy’s been pretty solid. In fact, no NL shortstop has produced more WAR, except “T-1000” Troy Tulowitzki. But is J-Roll’s early season success sustainable? Let’s take a look at some of the numbers and find out.

Year PA BB% K% LD% GB% FB% IFFB% HR/FB% ISO BABIP wOBA wRC+ WAR
2009 725 6.1% 9.7% 19.2% 39.7% 41.1% 13.7% 8.5% .173 .251 .312 85 2.7
2010 394 10.2% 8.1% 16.8% 45.8% 37.4% 10.0% 6.7% .131 .246 .309 88 2.2
2011 631 9.2% 9.4% 20.2% 38.8% 41.0% 10.1% 7.7% .131 .275 .325 103 3.5
2012 699 8.9% 13.7% 19.0% 39.4% 41.6% 19.0% 10.4% .177 .262 .322 100 4.7
2013 666 8.9% 14.0% 23.6% 37.9% 38.5% 13.8% 3.1% .097 .288 .295 84 1.6
2014 147 12.9% 16.3% 21.4% 38.8% 39.8% 14.6% 9.8% .165 .313 .359 127 1.4
Career 9049 7.8% 11.8% 21.1% 41.2% 37.6% 11.6% 7.7% .157 .287 .327 97 46.9

Rollins is walking 12.9% of the time, which hardly seems sustainable considering his career average is 7.8% and his single-season high is 10.2%. He’s striking out 16.3% of the time, which is also well above his career average (11.8%, believe it or not) and matches his single-season high of 16.4% from the Jim Thome and David Bell days of 2003. His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is .313, but his career average is .287 and he hasn’t had a BABIP at or above .300 since 2007. Rollins also has a .359 weighted on base average (wOBA), also higher than his career average (.327) and higher than any season since 2007. You might remember some hardware that came his way after that season. Jimmy lovers and haters know that he’s prone to the good ol’ pop fly. This season, his infield fly ball rate(IFFB%) is 14.6%, much higher than his 11.6% career mark and second only to his 19.0% in 2012. All of that seems to indicate a regression is forthcoming. But what if it isn’t? Let’s have some fun.

Look at the lower right hand corner of the strike zone this year compared to the 2009-2014 picture (from a lefthanded hitter’s perspective, since that’s where Jimmy gets most of his at bats). He’s attacking that corner more this year, but laying off the stuff in the dirt. He’s also laying off the stuff in on his hands, and attacking balls up in the strike zone.

If we look at pitch types, Rollins is seeing more fastballs this year than he has since 2009, and fewer changeups than ever. That’s most certainly impacted by batting in the second spot in front of The Man. After all, if you’re a pitcher, you pretty much have to go after Jimmy if the next guy is a future Hall of Famer who’s seventh in WAR among all position players this year (and Jimmy is no slouch at 27th overall).

So what can we take from all this? Given everything we just discussed, it seems like Rollins is being both more selective, and more aggressive. He’s striking out more, but he’s walking more and hitting more line drives, which is driving a higher BABIP. So rejoice, Phillies fans! It looks like we have our Jimmy back.

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16 comments

  1. George Callanan

    May 13, 2014 06:23 AM

    Good luck Adam. The Phillies have not faired well when Jimmy has not started. There is no one currently in the Phillies organization who can take his place. He does not hit the HR’s like he did at one time. If Revere could get on base more often then J Rolls RBI’s should increase. If these two start cranking it up they can win more. Most fans seem to be cool on Revere. However when the Phillies played their best last year he was getting on base. Once Revere got hurt the Phillies party was over. Get ready for the Revere haters to come out . If one and two get it going maybe we can get to five games over .500. 16 of the next 19 games are at home. They need to take advantage of home field if they don’t the season is probably over.

    • Adam Dembowitz

      May 13, 2014 12:29 PM

      Thanks George. Revere’s struggles are well chronicled on this site. Jimmy already has it going though. I can’t imagine what he would do to get it going more, except turn back time to 2007. As for a future Rollins replacement, when the time comes, JP Crawford will get a long look. And yes, absolutely they need to take care of business at home.

  2. Beez Nutz

    May 13, 2014 11:13 AM

    So i know everyone hated this the last few years … but um when exactly do they put Rollins back at leadoff? They cannot keep rolling ben revere and his sub 300 OBP out there at the top of the order.

    And maybe even move D. Brown to the 2 hole (even if it causes lefty lefty with him and chase). It really should get him to start seeing more fastballs and maybe get on track.

    • Adam Dembowitz

      May 13, 2014 12:42 PM

      Dom has been atrocious this year. I can’t imagine putting an out machine in front of Chase and Howard.

  3. Francisco (FC)

    May 13, 2014 11:22 AM

    If we look at pitch types, Rollins is seeing more fastballs this year than he has since 2009, and fewer changeups than ever. That’s most certainly impacted by batting in the second spot in front of The Man.

    Wait, wait, wait. Are you arguing line up protection here? I though that was illegal in this blog.

    • Adam Dembowitz

      May 13, 2014 12:43 PM

      Well, it may or may not be a mythical power, but can you think of another reason why pitchers would suddenly be pumping in more fastballs to Rollins? What has changed besides his spot in the lineup?

      • Beez Nutz

        May 13, 2014 05:25 PM

        Kinda why I’m saying they should move brown in that spot. They have no chance if he never gets going.

        I can understand not wanting him there, but if its between him and Revere, I’ll take my shot trying to get Brown hitting. All this assuming Rollins moves to the 1 spot.

      • Francisco (FC)

        May 13, 2014 11:35 PM

        He was the Walking Dead last season. Pitchers assumed he was done for. They’ll readjust and we’ll be having this conversation again around mid June – early July.

  4. Major Malfunction

    May 13, 2014 01:04 PM

    That .370 OBP does seem unsustainable just based on historical data, but I have to say, he looks like he knows what he’s doing in each at bat. The other day, he had 3 BB in one game. Given his historically marginal OBP over the years, has he even done that before?

    This is the focused Rollins I remember watching. I hope he keeps it up for the season.

  5. Mark66

    May 13, 2014 01:40 PM

    I just don’t see that much help from JR in the 2 hole. He’s too old, guessing too much. Needs to be dropped down in the line up. Ruiz needs to hit in the 2 slot more often.

    • Adam Dembowitz

      May 13, 2014 02:01 PM

      Rollins has a .370 OBP. You want that further down in the lineup? Chooch should hit higher up, for sure, but not at Jimmy’s expense. We’ve seen Sandberg experiment with Chooch in the 2-4 slots already. These things have a tendency to work themselves out as the season progresses. If Brown continues to be this bad, Ruiz won’t be hitting behind him on a nightly basis.

    • Dan R

      May 13, 2014 03:19 PM

      How can you possibly say that Rollins .276/.370/.441 line is not that much help? Chooch has slightly better OBP, but slightly less power with his .279/.390/.423 line. Adam is exactly right, Chooch should hit higher, but definitely not at the expense of Rollins.

  6. Bob

    May 13, 2014 10:31 PM

    As you note, his BABIP is way high and same with walk rate. Historically, both lead me to think these rates are unsustainable. Looks like a candidate for regression as the season progresses.

    • Adam Dembowitz

      May 14, 2014 01:05 PM

      His BABIP and walk rate are elevated, but that does not mean a regression is coming. As I pointed out, sometimes those things are a result of a change in a hitter’s plate approach. Will he have a .370 OBP all year? Probably not. But I’m betting he’ll continue to draw a healthy number of walks and keep up a similar level of production. Look at the swing rate maps again. He’s definitely doing something different this year.

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