The late-career Jimmy Rollins that we grew to love in 2011 and 2012 but was absent in 2013 returned in full force in 2014. The Phillies best shortstop ever once again gave us an excellent year. The numbers don't lie - Rollins had the 4th highest shortstop fWAR in the majors.
In other words, Rollins returned to greatness.
Then what happened in 2013 and what was different about 2014? In the season preview of Rollins, I attributed Rollins' poor 2013 to two things:
One, Rollins hit more line drives in 2013 than 2012 and fewer fly balls. He had 19% line drives in 2012 and 41.6% fly balls compared to 23.6% in 2013 with 38.5% fly balls. Two, the fly balls that he did hit just weren't going as far. In 2012, 10.4% of his fly balls were home runs. In 2013 that number was a career low 3.1%.
These are the two differences that explain Rollins' horrible 2013. He traded fly balls for line drives and home runs for fly ball outs. By definition, line drives are going to be easier to turn into outs than home runs, as are fly balls that do not leave the park. Line drives may turn into singles (he did have 10 more in 2013 than 2012) but, they aren't going to do much in the power department. This was Rollins' downfall.
The question for 2014 is whether this trend will continue. Has Rollins lost the power to hit balls far enough to get over the fence? Has he become a weak line drive and easy fly ball hitter? Or was 2013 a blip for a hitter who usually gets between 7 and 11 percent of his fly balls to go yard?
Rollins answered these questions emphatically. His line drive rate dropped by 4 percentage points, from 23.6% last year to 19.3% this year. He increased his groundball rate and flyball rate almost evenly, moving up just over 2 points in both.
And, more importantly, more of his flyballs left the yard. In fact, his 9.6% HR/FB rate, more than triple the rate of 2013, was the fourth highest of his career, surpassed only by his 23 HR season in 2012 and his mid-career years of 2006 and 2007.
In other words, unlike last year, in 2014 Rollins hit more balls further, resulting in more power (.151 ISO compared to .097 last year). He combined this with a better walk rate as well (10.5% to 8.9%).
Jimmy Rollins was simply a much better all-around hitter in 2014 than he was in 2013. Combine that with fielding that was, by almost every measure, markedly better than 2013 as well, and you had, in 2014, a 35-year-old shortstop playing near the top of his game.
Now, for the interview:
If I had traded you midseason, would the team have done better or worse?
Much much worse, and you're going to see that this coming year. Now that I'm with the Dodgers, you're going to have Freddy Galvis taking my spot. No offense to Freddy, but he's barely a quad-A baseball player. At some point J.P. Crawford will take over my position in the organization, but no matter how good he is, let's just face facts - the chances of him becoming the Phillies best-ever shortstop are slim.
All my options are open for next year. Should I trade you, release you, or keep you?
As much as I would have loved to stay here to finish out my career, you made the right decision trading me. Not only do I get to play this year for a team that has a great chance to go deep into the playoffs, but you helped your minor league pitching depth with two solid prospects who could be middle-of-the-rotation starters in a couple of years. I'd say that's a win-win-win.
Do you think you will be part of the next great Phillies team?
You know what, I hope so! I have one year left on this contract with the Dodgers. After that, I wouldn't be surprised if I sign one or two more short-term contracts to finish out my career. And if the last short-term contract is with the Phillies as their prospects turn into major-leaguers and your replacement, a forward-thinking general manager (no offense!), figures out how to capitalize on modern analytics, that would be the cherry on the top of my already great career.
On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the worst, how do you rate on the "it's my fault we're in this freaking mess and finished in last place" scale?"
1. If you had to list all of the different factors leading to the Phils finishing last, there's no way I'd be anywhere other than at the bottom of the list. My contract was cheap, my defense was good, my hitting was strong, my attitude was positive. Seriously, from a 35 year old, what more would you want?
Overall, explain to me how your time with the Philadelphia Phillies has been the highlight of your life.
It really has. If you didn't read my ad in this weekend's paper, go back and check it out. I meant it. Every single word. Philadelphia has been and always will be my professional baseball home. I may be a Dodger now and may go to another team or two before my career ends, but I am a Phillie through and through.
I love you all and am looking forward to coming back to a sold-out CBP on August 4.