2014 Phillies Report Card: Jimmy Rollins
We’ve come full circle. My first article for this site was a look at Jimmy Rollins‘ early-season success. It’s fitting, then, that I was (randomly) tasked with evaluating the 14th season of the greatest shortstop in Phillies history. Because of his past performance for this team and a skill set that still plays very well at his position, I expect a lot of Jimmy Rollins, and I know many of you do as well. Overall, I love the way he plays. I love watching him play defense, which he does better than most shortstops in the league. But man, sometimes I hate watching his plate appearances.
So I was really pleased to see a .370 OBP after 34 games. I dug deep into his swing patterns because I wanted there to be, nay, I truly believed there was, a concrete explanation indicating he could maintain some semblance of a patient plate approach. Of course, I didn’t expect him to maintain a .370 OBP for the season, but I did think he could manage a .340ish season. Well, Jimmy finished with a .323 OBP, which is basically just who he is as indicated by his career .327 OBP. He’s finished with an OBP above .340 just three times in his career: 2004, 2007, and 2008. That was a long time ago.
I’m focusing so much on OBP because Jimmy hits on top of the lineup, and if you haven’t heard, it’s important for the hitters at the top of the lineup to get on base. However, I don’t want to pretend any more that Rollins can be the player I want him to be, namely, one who gets on base more than 35% of the time. I accept him now for who he is and the skills he has – good defense, decent baserunning that only hints at his speed demon days, above average power for his position, and essentially league average hit tools.
Relative to his position, Rollins performed quite well in 2014. Among qualified shortstops, he finished 10th in plate appearances, 3rd in homers, runs, and steals, and 9th in RBI. His walk rate of 10.5% was SECOND in the league and was the highest of his career. His .151 ISO was 4th, and both his .319 wOBA and 102 wRC+ were 6th. Looking at the components of fWAR, his baserunning was 7th, his defense 6th, his offense 6th, and his overall 4th. Those are all pretty fantastic. By traditional and advanced metrics, Rollins was one of the best shortstops in the game this year. His offensive production was right up there with Hanley Ramirez, Ian Desmond, Jhonny Peralta, Starlin Castro, and Jose Reyes. Defensively, he’s still elite enough to be graded out as similar to Erick Aybar or Alcides Escobar.
There’s nothing overtly anomalistic in his batted ball numbers. So how did he manage to have a career-high walk rate but register a Jimmy Rollins OBP? A career high strikeout rate, that’s how. He struck out 16.4% of the time, matching his career high from 2003. His 100 strikeouts, though unsurprising given the 2012 and 2013 trend he showed toward a higher whiff rate, were the most he recorded in a single season since 2003.
A 35-year-old shortstop who’s been well past his peak for several years just put up a top-5 (at worst, top-7) season relative to his peers. That’s solid gold, and worth significantly more than the $11 million he collected. His contract is up after next year, and while I expect Jimmy to stick around until 2017 (hmm, what’s going to happen then?) there’s really no way to know how long he’ll be wearing red pinstripes. I’m going to enjoy Jimmy Rollins for who he is for as long as I can.