Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Bad Luck or Downhill Slope for Rollins?

There has been little discussion in sports writing concerning Jimmy Rollins, the Phillies' shortstop. For someone who has been integral in the psyche of the Phillies and has been part of their championship run for the past several years, there has been little ink over what has been quite a long time drop in his performance over the last three years. Much, of course, has been written about Derek Jeter, who seems to be a lightning rod for every type of fan for or against the Yankees. But Rollins has strangely been given a pass. But despite the quiet, Rollins has not been near the player he was for a long time now.

For example, In his last 840 at bats, Jimmy Rollins has a .248 batting average. His slugging percentage has fallen three years in a row since his legendary MVP year of 2007. Thankfully, at least he is getting on base more often than last year. His OBP is a somewhat respectable .335 this year after leading off all of last year with a disastrous .296 OBP in 725 plate appearances. But even that .344 2010 OBP is misleading as his OBP for July is .295 in 105 plate appearances.

Can Rollins' struggles be explained away by one of the longest strings of bad luck in history? Possibly. Maybe. Over the last half of last season and the first part of this season, his Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) is .260. Particularly striking is his BABIP on ground balls which sits at .138 so far this season. To translate that, Rollins this year has put 115 balls in play that were either a fly ball or a ground ball and he has a grand total of 18 hits on those events. For those of you keeping score, that's a .156 batting average in those situations. His line drives are falling in at a .700 clip.

Without watching a lot of Rollins at bats this season, it's hard to qualify the BABIP. How much bad luck is it if you are routinely hitting weak fly balls to people or routine grounders to the infield? A famous old hitter once said the key to hitting was to "hit 'em where they ain't." Rollins is hitting them where they are. But is that a skill level thing or a luck thing? Would it be a stretch to say it is both? Apparently the purpose of batting practice is to perfect the ability to hit the balls in the holes or in the gaps. Rollins so far this year and last isn't finding those holes or those gaps. Luck? Maybe.

Part of this year's results could also be explained away by bad wheels. Rollins has missed quite a bit of time with calf problems, which seems to be the injury of the decade. But this year's problems can't explain away last year when Rollins walked up to the plate 725 times. Rollins is also 32 years old now. He is past the supposed peak years of 27 to 29. Is he sinking faster than most?

Rollins had a bad year last year. Real bad. His 88 OPS+ made him a less than league average performer. He even had negative fielding statistics last year for the first time in his career (he still won the Gold Glove - go figure). At least that has bounced back this year and he is in positive numbers, but no doubt due to wheel problems, those positive numbers aren't close to the glory numbers he put up from 2003 to 2007. From 2003 to 2008, Rollins averaged 4 wins above replacement (WAR) each season. Last year, that figure fell to 0.9. This year should be better, but it's still not great. His OPS+ this year sits at 98 or just under league average.

Rollins simply hasn't been an elite player since 2007 and there is argument that he hasn't even been a good one. It's really striking that so little has been said about it.

1 comment:

Josh Borenstein said...

I think his best years are behind him, but his glove is still elite. And while last season wasn't great, I wouldn't call it bad either. Not too many shortstops can give you 21 HRs, 43 doubles, 31 SBs, 77 RBIs, and 100 runs scored.