clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

2014 Phillies Player Preview: Jimmy Rollins

Jimmy Rollins' 2013 was his worst since his sophomore season way back in 2002. Was it a blip or is it a sign of things to come?

Jimmy Rollins, all time great.
Jimmy Rollins, all time great.
Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE

Let's put aside all the nonsense for now and start with the stuff that matters - on the field performance:

2013: 160 G, 666 PA, 6 HR, 65 R, 39 RBI, 22 SB, 252/.318/.348, .666 OPS, 85 OPS+, .295 wOBA, 1.6 fWAR

2014 Steamer projection: 134 G, 615 PA, 12 HR, 68 R, 50 RBI, 18 SB, .238/.307/.360, .667 OPS, .295 wOBA, 1.9 fWAR

2014 Oliver projection: 143 G, 600 PA, 6 HR, 64 R, 49 RBI, 17 SB, .250/.315/.342, .657 OPS, .292 wOBA, 2.1 fWAR

2014 ZiPS projection: 137 G, 592 PA, 12 HR, 72 R, 52 RBI, 20 SB, .256/.319/.384, .703 OPS, .309 wOBA, 2.0 fWAR

There's no two ways about it - Jimmy Rollins had a bad 2013. His .666 OPS was the lowest of his career, and his 1.6 fWAR was the second lowest of his career, with only his 1.5 from 2002 being worse.

The surprise of 2013 was that Rollins was coming off his third most productive season, with a clear trend of improvement. In 2012, Rollins had a spectacular 4.7 fWAR, which was surpassed by only Ian Desmond at shortstop that year. His fWARs from 2010 to 2012 were trending in a great direction -- 2.2, 3.5, 4.7 -- raising the possibility that Rollins was learning as he aged.

2012 showed a marked improvement for Rollins in one area in particular - power. Even though he had a 13.7% strikeout rate, which was among the highest of his career and much different than his previous norm around 9 or 10%, he had a .177 ISO, which was his career high. That translated to 23 home runs, which it's easy to forget led the team. Combine those home runs with his 30 stolen bases that year, and Rollins made us believe that he was still an all-around player capable of playing at the top of the game through his later years.

But then 2013 happened. Rollins' K-rate inched up just a bit to 14% but his ISO dropped almost in half, falling to .097, far below his previous worst year of .124 (2003). His walk rate was just under 9%, slightly better than his early years, but he really did nothing much more to make up for his complete lack of power. He stole fewer bases, had worse defense, and was about the same in every other category.

So what the hell happened in 2013? His BABIP in 2013 was actually higher than 2012 (.288 v. .262), so that doesn't explain it. The oft-derided king of pop-ups hit fewer in 2013 than 2012 -- 19% (42) of fly balls in 2013 compared to 13.8% (27) in 2012. So, again, that's not what killed Rollins in 2013. He had a slightly higher ground ball to fly ball ratio (.98 compared to .95), but that's hardly going to change much.

Two changes do stand out though. 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?

The projections do not tell a happy story in this regard. ZiPS is the most positive, giving Rollins the highest ISO and SLG for the year, though still not that impressive. The others are even less optimistic on his chances in his age 35 season, thinking he'll approximate 2013, not 2012.

I'm no professional projection expert, but there's a piece of me that says that Rollins still has something left in him and that 2013 was just too much of an aberration. If he had been declining from 2010 to 2012 and then dropped off the cliff in 2013, that would be different, and I might agree with the projections here. But 2012 was just too good, and the trendline before that was too positive. I don't see Rollins repeating 2013, though I also think his 2012 is probably out of the question as well.

So how about a happy medium between the two? How about a year that sees Rollins posting a 3.0 to 3.5 fWAR with 15 HR and a .135 to .145 ISO? I think that's entirely possible for a guy who so recently led his team in home runs. If Rollins can get some of that power back and keep up his good (though not as good as before) defense while stealing 25 to 30 bases, he'll prove his doubters wrong and once again be an above average shortstop, something he's been for almost his entire career. In the second year of his three year, 11 million per year contract, a season like that would be great value for the Phillies.

A 2014 preview of Rollins would be incomplete without a few other comments. First, on the nonsense from this spring training, I've said what I need to say and will only summarize it here - the Phillies need to stop the bullshit and quit messing with Rollins publicly. If they need to get him in line, do it privately and keep the media out of it. Ruben Amaro's comments indicate that he understands this, but with people like Larry Bowa and Dallas Green still hanging around the team, I have no doubt there will be anonymous sources barking to the media about Rollins all year.

What's particularly galling about the idiocy surrounding Rollins is that if the team wants to trade him, they are fools to be negative about him in the media. There should be an all out campaign to explain how Rollins is the greatest shortstop in the history of baseball and remains one of the greats. They should be showing to the world that he is a loyal, fun-loving, fan favorite. Everyone on the team should be talking about giving him a chance to have the team hit record because he is a leader both on and off the field. Doing otherwise is not only unwarranted but it's also downright awful business.

Finally, Jimmy Rollins has played his entire career here in Philadelphia. He has brought us a World Series. He has been the best shortstop this franchise has ever seen, by a long shot. He has done this with a smile, with energy, with flair, and with fun. Whether he's traded tomorrow (very unlikely given his 5-10 status) or plays out the remaining two years of his contract (much more likely), we fans should sit back and enjoy, appreciate, and honor what this all time great has given us.

In other words, if this year he doesn't show the range of the past, pops up too much, doesn't walk enough, and hits too many lazy fly balls, I'm still going to enjoy knowing that I'm watching a franchise great.

To Jimmy Rollins - may your 2014 regress toward greatness, may you have two great last years with the Phillies, and may you forever keep smiling.