The Return of Jimmy Rollins’ Power

A year ago, eulogies were being penned –the once great Jimmy Rollins was done. The former MVP and once elite shortstop hit a paltry .252/.318/.348 with just six home runs as defensive metrics began to sour on a man who had once been among the league’s best defenders at shortstop. Rollins set career lows in ISO, HRs and RBI. His rWAR (-0.2) was far and away the lowest of his prodigious career. All of this combined with the fact that he was a 34-year-old playing one of the most physically demanding positions on the field and the Rollins’ Demise narrative was defensible but, as it turns out, also wholly inaccurate.

The starkest example of Rollins’ 2013 struggles was the complete disappearance of his power. After not having an isolated power (ISO) below .131 since his age 24 season, his ISO plummeted to.097 — for reference, Ben Revere currently has a .060 ISO.

This season has seen a dramatic turnaround. Rollins is currently sporting a .156 ISO good for 5th best among all MLB shortstops and well above the current MLB average ISO for shortstop: 0.116. He currently has 15 home runs and could very well reach 20 by the season’s end for just the 5th time in his career. Not only is he performing well compared to his peers, what Jimmy Rollins is doing with the bat this season is historical. Only five MLB shortstops have ever hit with more power than Jimmy in a season at age 35 or older:

Rk Player Year ISO Age Tm Lg BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Jimmy Rollins 2014 .156 35 PHI NL .241 .318 .398 .715
2 Cal Ripken 1996 .188 35 BAL AL .278 .341 .466 .807
3 Eddie Joost 1952 .170 36 PHA AL .244 .388 .415 .803
4 Eddie Joost 1951 .172 35 PHA AL .289 .409 .461 .870
5 Honus Wagner 1912 .172 38 PIT NL .324 .395 .496 .891
6 Honus Wagner 1911 .173 37 PIT NL .334 .423 .507 .930
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/8/2014.

For a player whose true calling card has been plus defense and plus speed, Jimmy Rollins’ power may be the thing that sets him apart and solidifies what is, in my opinion, already a borderline case for the Hall of Fame. Already he is one of just eight shortstops in MLB history with 200+ home runs. Admittedly much of his career was played in the era of high-octane offense, so let’s take a look at how his power compares to his peers over his career:

Rollins ISO

Year ISO – Avg MLB SS ISO – Jimmy Rollins % Difference
2001 0.134 0.145 8.21%
2002 0.132 0.135 2.27%
2003 0.132 0.124 -6.06%
2004 0.136 0.166 22.06%
2005 0.124 0.141 13.71%
2006 0.132 0.201 52.27%
2007 0.132 0.235 78.03%
2008 0.119 0.160 34.45%
2009 0.122 0.173 41.80%
2010 0.112 0.131 16.96%
2011 0.117 0.131 11.97%
2012 0.121 0.177 46.28%
2013 0.118 0.096 -18.64%
2014 0.116 0.157 35.34%

With the exception of the first few years of his career, 2013 is the clear outlier in regards to Rollins’ power. He has been notably above average throughout his peak and now well into his mid-30s. Is it enough for him to one day be enshrined in Cooperstown? That’s a debate for another day, but as it stands, Rollins ranks 17th in career ISO among all 188 MLB shortstops with 3,000+ career PAs. Whatever his final legacy will be, that type of power combined with 447 career steals and stellar defense at shortstop is an incredibly special career.

What is also abundantly clear is that reports of the death of Jimmy Rollins were premature. Given that the absolute best case scenario for the Phillies next great hope at shortstop, J.P. Crawford, is a 2016 MLB arrival, Rollins’ continued presence in the Phillies lineup (barring a trade) now that his $11M 2015 option has vested should be welcomed with open arms.

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