Saturday, May 04, 2013

Jimmy Rollins - on legacy and leading off

Jimmy Rollins is a legacy player for the Philadelphia Phillies. In a game where few stars play at a premium position such as shortstop and play it as well as he has, Rollins has had a great thirteen seasons. has given him a total of 41.8 WAR for his career. has given him 44.8 WAR. So both agree that Rollins has been a terrific player in his career. My one problem with his legacy really is not his fault. Some 78.4% of his career plate appearances have come as a lead-off batter. This season, when Ben Revere got off to a slow start, Jimmy Rollins was again put on top of the lineup and has now been there for the last fifteen games. Rollins is not a good lead-off batter.

"But wait, William," you say, "he has scored over a hundred runs on six different occasions including last season." Yes, I hear you. He has also stolen over thirty bases ten times, four of those times over forty and had over thirty steals last year. I get it. But that still does not mean he is a lead-off batter. Let me explain. You might even think he has been a better lead-off batter than Derek Jeter (who has really only batted lead-off for about half his career. Look at the following War Graph from Fangraphs and remember that most of Jeter's value comes from his offense whereas at least a third or more of Rollins' value comes from defense:

Jeter has clearly been the better offensive player.

Here is some facts to back my argument about Jimmy Rollins as a lead-off batter. Look at this spreadsheet picture of Rollins' on-base percentage compared to the entire major leagues for each season he has played and then also compare it to the average on-base percentage of lead-off batters year by year:

There have only been five of Rollins' seasons where he had a higher on-base percentage than league average and only three times has he had a higher on-base percentage than the average lead-off batter in baseball. Two of those times, he was just barely over average. Only his 2011 on-base percentage was significantly higher than the average lead-off batter. To see it better, here is the same information in graph form:

You might be stuck on those 102 runs he scored last season. You might counter that Rollins was on base 210 times last season. Yes, he was. But that was 78th in baseball. And Rollins played 156 games last season. 

So who, then, should bat lead-off for the Phillies? I would go with Michael Young. Young's current on-base percentage is .386. Young's career on-base percentage is .347, which is 19 points higher than Rollins' career on-base percentage.

Again, do not get me wrong here. Jimmy Rollins has been worth every penny he has made from the Philadelphia Phillies. When his bat was not great, he glove was. He has earned his legacy place in Phillies history. If he plays six or seven more seasons, he will come close to 3,000 hits. All I am saying here is that he is not the best suited for lead-off. His on-base percentage has often not been high enough. And the one thing you want from the first guy in your lineup is to get on base.

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