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The Phillies' Jimmy Rollins On Track to Make History

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Jimmy Rollins is already the Phillies' all-time hit king, and he is on track to hit more doubles, and more extra base hits, than any shortstop in major league history.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Jimmy Rollins became the Phillies' all-time leader hits in 2014, and unlike many players who are on their last legs by the time they set career marks, Rollins had a very good year in his age 35 season. After a 2013 in which his power was down substantially, it was back this year, and resulted in overall hitting that was about league average:

2013: .252/.318/.348 (.295 wOBA, 85 wRC+)
2014: .243/.323/.394 (.319 wOBA, 102 wRC+)

He also overcame a dip in batting average with the highest walk rate of his career (10.5%, edging out 2010's 10.2%). His fielding meanwhile was above average (or well above), according to all three common advanced measures: UZR at fangraphs, and both Total Zone and DRS at baseball-reference.com.

The result was 3.6 fWAR, good for 5th highest among all MLB shortstops, despite missing most of September with a pulled hamstring. What that means in terms of his career is that he may be able to continue building on some already quite impressive counting stats, especially among shortstops.

Hitting stats as a shortstop

There are some who say you go to the plate as a hitter, not as whatever your fielding position is. That's true at a very simplistic level, but it ignores the fundamental concept of position scarcity. It's much tougher to play shortstop than, say, left field, and as a result there are many more good hitters available who can play LF than who can play shortstop at the major league level. And so we often compare players, especially those at tougher positions, with other players at the same position.

One question that always comes up in doing that is where to draw the line for minimum playing time. For example at shortstop, Ernie Banks played 45% of his games at short -- is that enough to call him a shortstop and count all of his career stats in comparing shortstops? Alex Rodriguez has played 49% there so far, and that will likely drop further. We could use the cutoff of 50% -- if they played at least half their games at SS, say, then ALL of their stats would count when looking at shortstops. That excludes Banks and ARod, for example, but would include Robin Yount (55%), who moved to the outfield for most of the second half of his career.

If that seems too low a threshold (I think it does), then we could increase the minimum to say 66%, and that's typically what I use in questions like this. Using that threshold, Rollins already ranks high in some key stats. Among all shortstops in the history of MLB, Rollins is...

16th in hits (2306)

10th in runs (1325)

9th in stolen bases (455)

7th in home runs (216)

6th in total bases (3655)

5th in doubles (479)

4th in extra base hits (806)

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And, again, while he's at an age where he may hit a wall at any point and decline rapidly, he showed this year that he may have something left in the tank to build on these numbers before he hangs up the spikes.

The method above is one perfectly valid way of comparing hitting stats at a position. The flaw inherent in it though is that it still compares players who were able to play their entire careers at short, with those who became too heavy, or slow, or who had to move off the position for any number of reasons. For some (e.g. ARod), one could argue that on a different team, or in a different situation, they would have stayed at shortstop. But the bottom line remains -- they didn't.

Instead of arbitrary all-or-nothing cutoffs, we could instead look at their splits by position. We could then at least credit someone like ARod with his stats at shortstop, and they would show, for one thing, that he came only 1 HR shy of reaching Cal Ripken Jr's record of 345 at the position.

Shortstop Batting Splits: Making the Sausage

But splits like this are only complete (and available at baseball-reference.com) going back to the early 1970s, and then with varying completeness back further to the late 1930s. Data before the early '70s can't be used reliably because we have to be on the lookout for splits that are flagged as "incomplete" (bb-ref helpfully flags incomplete stats with an "I"). For example, bb-ref doesn't have any batting splits at shortstop for Hall of Famer Lou Boudreau for 1938-39, has only incomplete splits for him for 1940-1946, and complete splits only for the back end of his career, 1947-51.

However while we don't have complete splits for every player, what we do have, going back to the beginning of (baseball) time, are appearances by position. We can use these to estimate, in any given year, what a player's hitting stats were while in the game at each position. All that this requires (other than a big spreadsheet and a lot of math), is the assumption that, in a given season, players will hit about the same regardless of which defensive position they play at. As an example: in 1957 bb-ref does not have complete batting splits by defensive position for Ernie Banks. That year he appeared in 156 games in total, and we know he played short in 100 games, and he played third base in 58 others (he must have moved from one to the other in two games). So 100/158 or 63% of his stats that year can be allocated to SS, and the other 37% (58/158) are allocated to 3B.

Presumably over the coming years bb-ref will continue filling in the missing splits further and further back (to the extent that the information survives in some form), but in the meantime this method provides a very good estimate for those splits.

Shortstops Batting -- All-time Rankings

With all that out of the way, below are the all-time Shortstop rankings based on position splits -- either as reported by bb-ref (BR), estimated (est), or a combination of the two (B/e).

You will note that Honus Wagner, the greatest player ever at the position (at least until ARod, anyway), doesn't appear as prominently in these rankings as we might have thought. The reason is that Wagner came up playing a variety of positions. He didn't appear in his first major league game at SS until his fifth season in the majors, and didn't become a full-time shortstop until his 7th season. As a result, only 68% of his games were played at short.

The other thing that jumps out is where Rollins' sustained above-average performance at a demanding position has put him on these lists:

Only two players in history have more extra base hits than Rollins' 803 while playing short: Derek Jeter (852, 49 ahead of Rollins), and Cal Ripken (855, 52 ahead). Assuming no major injuries, and that he continues playing shortstop into 2016, sometime early that year Rollins will become the player who has had the most extra base hits in major league history while in the game as a shortstop. Shortly after that he will also set the mark for most doubles as a shortstop for good measure (he needs 55 to pass Derek Jeter's 532).

That's worth repeating:

Rollins will have hit more doubles, and more extra base hits, than anyone ever has while playing shortstop, in the long history of the game.

Also, while Derek Jeter is out of reach in Total Bases (4798, 1158 ahead), Rollins could easily surpass #2 Ripken (4064, 424 ahead of Rollins).

Likewise in runs scored, Jeter is way out in front, but Rollins needs only 81 runs to pass turn-of-the-century Boston Beaneater Herman Long for second most all-time.

So before 2016 is out, with the stated caveats about health and playing time, Rollins could be either #1 or #2 all-time in doubles, extra base hits, total bases, and runs scored.


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Other key stats are shown at the end.



Hall of Fame Consideration

What would these accomplishments mean for his chances at induction into the Hall of Fame?

First, since these aren't stats or rankings that will appear in any official or widely used source (again, until bb-ref can flesh out incomplete splits), Rollins almost certainly won't be recognized for this, though at least some of us will be aware of it.

In addition, his rate stats may be low enough that the counting stats won't save him, no matter how imposing. At some point I may revisit this previous review of his Hall chances, including recalculating his Hall of Fame Monitor and Standards numbers. But as of now, I think that view from two years ago is still about right, including the conclusion:

Jimmy Rollins has a chance to rack up some of the most impressive hitting stats by a shortstop in the long history of baseball. The luster of those impressive stats would always have been dimmed some by his lower batting average and OPS, which, while still very good for a shortstop, are at the low end of the range for shortstops in the Hall of Fame, and even compared to some who are still not in.

In addition, SABR concepts, and in particular WAR, continue making their way into the mainstream, and more to the point, into the thinking of Hall of Fame voters, and I envision they will be used much more in judging Hall candidates when Rollins becomes eligible in nine or ten years. The fact that there will likely only be a handful of shortstops in the Hall with lower career WAR than what he is projected to compile, will be a tough hurdle for Rollins to overcome.

But for a somewhat different take, I'll leave you with Jayson Stark's article on this from when Rollins set the Phillies hit record.

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Other Shortstop Batting Splits -- All-time Rankings

(middle column is the source: BR=baseball-reference.com, est=estimated, B/e=from bb-ref for the years that splits are complete, and estimated for the rest)

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