Is Jimmy Rollins Overrated?

I know this is about a week late on the uptake, but I just had to get it off my chest. Sorry.
While I’m going to use numbers here to “prove” my point, I will admit that the terms “overrated” and “underrated” are (a) overused and (b) relative to a number of factors that are difficult-to-impossible to quantify in terms of measuring fan perception, what counts, etc. I’m clearly as guilty of overusing them as anyone.

But why do I care about this? After all, I like Jimmy Rollins, but I’m not a Phillies fan.

During the World Series buildup, different writers whom I enjoy wrote that Rollins isn’t really a “star” despite being treated like one (whatever that means) and that he is overrated. So it wasn’t so much what they said, but who said it. No, I’m not going to name them — this isn’t a “call out.” I’m not anyone people should be afraid of being called out by, and this isn’t a lame attempt to shame anyone. The point is that even smart people usually conversant with the numbers can get carried away without examining the numbers. (Not me, of course. I’m always completely objective.)

What could these people who said Rollins is “overrated” be talking about? Obviously, in 2009, he had a dreadful time at the plate. Of course, a player is probably pretty good if he has a down year that’s so bad he ends up being “only” league average. Another complaint is that Rollins leads off, and he’s never had a particularly great on-base percentage. While OBP is very important, it’s only part of a players’ value. Moreover, it’s his manager who makes him lead off, a role for which Rollins isn’t well-suited.

More importantly, though, saber-friendly writers know that current season stats don’t tell the story about a player, right? That’s MGL 101. Rather than going through the hassle of a projection, let’s see what kind of company this player has been keeping while being “overrated.” Over the last three seasons (including 2009), Rollins has accumulated 14.4 wins, making him “only” the 17th most valuable position player in that period according to FanGraphs’ WAR. Whose company is he in? Ichiro Suzuki is at 15.0, only half-a-win away (practically nothing over three years). Derek Jeter is Mr. Overrated Guys Bloggers Love To Whine About, and he’s the same as Ichiro. Ryan Zimmerman has been exactly as valuable. Grady Sizemore has been ever-so-slightly less valuable; is he a hack? How about Lance Berkman or Adrian Gonzalez?

Look, Rollins shouldn’t have won the 2007 NL MVP, when he wasn’t even the best player on his own team (ahem). Again, I don’t know exactly who’s been doing the “rating.” But if you ask me (and you didn’t), it’s tough to imagine that a guy who’s been about as good as Ichiro!, Jeter, Zimmerman, Grady Sizemore, Big Puma, and A-Gon over the last three years deserves the “overrated” label.

Then again, does Rollins have his own cologne?

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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

48 Responses to “Is Jimmy Rollins Overrated?”

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  1. Jason says:

    Dude, haven’t you heard? Ichiro is the most overrated player in history.

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    • TCQ says:

      Uh, he’s pretty much a lock to put up 4+ WAR every year, and a lot of times he’s closer to(or above) 5. That’s only overrated if you’re comparing him to Albert Pujols.

      Unless I’m blatantly missing some sarcasm here.

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  2. Richie Abernathy says:

    overrated is the new underrated.

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  3. TCQ says:

    I’m not really sure those WAR ratings are entirely applicable to the question at hand. Rollins is a plus defensive shortstop, which obviously means he benefits in that area from his defense(does anyone say “duh” anymore?) and from a pretty huge positional adjustment. I think that most people that call Rollins overrated are mainly talking about his offense(everybody from Tim McCarver to MGL will tell you that the dude can play short), which probably is overrated. Comparing his WAR to guys that play (generally) worse defense at less difficult defensive positions(Jeter is the obvious exception, although he isn’t nearly as strong at shortstop) is kind of disingenuous.

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    • I’m learning I can’t reply to everything people say in response to my posts, but I will say that part of the point of WAR is that thorugh positional adjustments, etc., it _does_ allow us to compare the value of players at different positions.

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      • TCQ says:

        Well, learn that lesson well, I guess, because most stuff isn’t worth responding too(and I, for one, certainly won’t ever be offended ’cause I didn’t get a response to my comment), but seeing as you did, in fact, reply…

        I understand the basic concept of WAR. I also think that most people are saying that Rollins’ offense is overrated in a specific way, rather than his value as a complete player. Therefore, an article based off of wOBA might address the issue more directly.

        But, I don’t want to give the wrong impression here. I like this piece, and I’ve enjoyed your work so far. I don’t mean to come off as overly harsh.

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      • AJS says:

        “I’m learning I can’t reply to everything people say in response to my posts,”

        It’s never stopped Dave Cameron.

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  4. Joe R says:

    All you answered was “is Jimmy Rollins a very good player?” (something no one on here disputes), not “is Jimmy Rollins overrated?”. After all, who was the guy who went on TV while the Phillies weren’t doing anything? And like you said, he won the 2007 MVP despite not being the key cog to his own team.

    And then comparing him to Ichiro, the same Ichiro that just won the silver slugger award even though Shin-Soo Choo had him beat in pretty much every meaningful offensive category (except zOMG HITS AND BATTING AVERAGE AND RUNS SCORED!) (Choo even out-doubled and out-tripled Ichiro), is probably not the best way to expand on your point.

    And then saying Ryan Zimmerman is as good as Rollins hurts your point again. Most casual baseball fans don’t know jack about Ryan Zimmerman, and using him as a comparison to a guy w/ endorsement deals out the ying yang, an MVP trophy, and mass recognition to prove said former MVP ISN’T overrated? Oof.

    This post just comes across as an angry, over-the-top defense of a guy who is a very talented baseball player w/ evident flaws. If you wanted to pursue this angle, you should’ve run names of other guys who have praise heaped on them, like Ryan Howard (12.4 WAR since 2007), Torii Hunter (9.2), or Justin Morneau (9.2 as well).

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    • Wow, “angry and over-the-top?” I thought it was just a comment on a couple of blogs postings I read last week. How much do you charge for your brilliant over-the-datalines psychoanalysis (winky-face).

      I’ve discussed Toriii’s overratedness elsewhere, didn’t want to beat it into the ground.

      Finally, I’m not talking about casual baseball fans — it was some writers who are saber-oriented (supposedly) who were saying this, which is why I thought it was worth posting about.

      Seriously, though, thanks for reading.

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      • Joe R says:

        I do the same thing when I write, it sounded like you were getting worked up towards the end.

        I guess knowing that when logical people are saying it, I can see why you’d be upset. And besides, it’s never a bad thing to beat Torii’s overratedness into the ground, maybe even Joe Morgan will get it one day…yeah, that’s not happening.

        I probably come across as a Rollins basher since I always seem to be doing it, but for what he is, which is a .270/.330/.440 guy that can steal bases and field like a maniac, he’s a wicked good player. Not his fault Charlie Manuel still thinks this is 1985 and leading off with a speedster is en vogue.

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      • TCQ says:

        I’ve already addressed my issue with the substance of the piece above, so I won’t go into that, but I didn’t read into the post that Matt was getting upset or over the top. I thought it was a well written, interesting article, that had a relatively minor flaw(again; addressed above).

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      • Joe R says:

        I think I came across as overly harsh, too.

        I do agree that there is a growing community of people who underrate Rollins.

        And really, any player that has a polarizing skill set is capable of doing that to people. Ichiro and his batting average, Rollins and his base stealing, Howard and his home run power, it all leads to two things in the mainstream.

        1) A group of people (usually traditionalists / Plaschkeists) who overvalue the one or two said skills, make ridiculous, over-the-top statements about the player, completely ignore what they don’t do well because it “doesn’t please them”.

        2) A group of people (usually the “geek” crowd aka us) that tunnel vision about what’s not good about the player (Rollins – OBP, Ichiro – ISO power, Howard – defense, contact), and in turn forget that, yes, he is a very good player, sorry not everyone is Albert Pujols

        I try to meet in the middle. It’s much happier that way.

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  5. Steve says:

    Dave taught us earlier this week how WAR does not account for difference in leagues.

    So if Jeter and Rollins have similar WARs, Jeter is the better player.

    but we knew that already.

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  6. Steve says:

    i’ll tell you one guy who doesn’t think Rollins is overrated: Jimmy Rollins.

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  7. neuter_your_dogma says:

    Good piece. I didn’t think it came off as overly strong or over the top. However, if there is a big debate out there as to whether Jimmy is overrated, I haven’t heard it. He is not.

    To me “overrated” means players who win awards and accolades but don’t even remotely deserve them. Lets take All Star voting – an indicator (fixed or not) of fan perception. Jimmy doesn’t make many All Star teams (3 in his career, none since 2005), even though Philly’s attendance figures have led to serious ballot box stuffing over the last 3 years. I mean come on, even Guzman made the 08 team!

    So overrated? Hardly.

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    • Steve says:

      “To me “overrated” means players who win awards and accolades but don’t even remotely deserve them.”

      wait, doesn’t this decribe Rollins’ MVP?

      i guess “remotely” makes it questionable, he had a great season. but Pujols or Utley should have won the MVP.

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  8. Logan says:

    Great article Matt, and great follow up on the comments. Like you said, pretty much one of the biggest points of WAR is to counter claims of “overratedness” that are based on specific deficiencies. Can Rollins get on base? No. Is his power consistent from year to year? No. Do these flaws negate the fact that he plays quality defense at Baseball’s premium position? Abso-friggin’-lutely not. Positional adjustments are there for a reason. They’re an integral part of WAR, and like Dave said, WAR works.

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    • Logan says:

      Oh, and I’m a Mets fan btw. Rollins is a premier talent, even if he makes a living off of roasting my team.

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  9. I think it stems from a few things. First of all, as pointed out above, a lot of his value comes from his defense, but his offense is what gets overrated, particularly b/c his main offensive value comes from two things that are traditionally overrated: hitting for average, and speed. Both of those skills are valuable, but not to the extent traditionally assumed.

    Also, I think part of what’s going on is how Chase Utley is still underrated. I know that shouldn’t make a difference, but when Utley is clearly the most valuable player on this Phillies team for a few years in a row, but Howard and Rollins keep stealing the headlines, it’s hard not to see them as overrated.

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    • neuter_your_dogma says:

      I see Howard and Rollins stealing headlines here in Philly, but not always in a positive way. Howard for striking outm Rollins for his poor offense and “dogging it” at times. On the other hand, Utley is a sure lock for every All Star game, which measures fan and manager perception of a player’s performance to some extent. He also by far is a fan favorite. Go to CBP and count the Utley v. other jerseys being worn. Utley wins.

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  10. Logan says:

    Rollins stealing headlines has a lot to do with his mouth. He said they were the team to beat, made good on that statement (with a little help from his friends), and then “led them to a WS” (as that Sporting Goods commercial would have you believe).

    Howard’s overratedness? He’s a power hitting 1B with monster rbi totals and a penchant for the “clutch”. Should I link you to Dave’s “Why do We Care” article?

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  11. Logan says:

    On another note, J-Roll had 21 homers, 31 steals, and 43 doubles. Am I the only one experiencing any degree of difficulty accepting that he was worth 23 batting runs fewer than he was last year (when he had 11 homers and 38 doubles)?

    His BABIP was 40 points lower than his career one. That has to be a factor, no?

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    • TCQ says:

      Well, seeing as his wOBA was over 40 points lower this year versus last, yes, I’d say you probably are the only one.

      But…yes, his BABIP probably had a lot to do with that(although his BB% regressing towards his career trend, rather than the (mostly) outlier 9.4% he posted in 2008.

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      • Logan says:

        I was surprised at how low his wOBA was. Of course, totals (HR’s, 2B’s, etc.) don’t tell the whole story, since he racked up more PA’s, but still.

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    • Samuel says:

      That’s certainly a factor for his performance this year, but you’ll note the article was looking at 3 year performance. That line from this season would back up the author’s point even more, considering assuming average luck it would boost Rollins above the other mentioned players.

      However, I don’t believe this year really had any effect on the points made by most of the people commenting in this article.

      It did most probably, though, cause more mainstream people to appropriate the “overrated” label for poor old Jimmy.

      As mentioned by others above, I think the sad part about this whole thing is that Rollins is called “overrated” while being a better player than Ryan Howard, yet both of those guys get all the attention.

      I think the only way Chase Utley might finally have gotten his due was if he smashed a few more bombs to finish out the Series and win it for his team so we could be talking about “Mr. November” for years to come.

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  12. MBD says:

    Nice piece, Matt. I like being surprised by how a player’s WARs stack up against “clearly excellent” beisbolistas. Seems to me that you and Joe R have gotten at part of the cause of over- and underratedness: each camp focusing on only part of the player’s game and dismissing counterbalancing factors as though they don’t contribute to wins. That’s ok when they specify that they’re going to look only at a subset of the game’s facets, but it’s confusing when they slip up and forget that their favorite aspects of baseball aren’t the only way to win. It strikes me as related, perhaps only tangentially, to basing evaluations of value on a pretty swing, an athletic physique, or effortless running instead of the things that count. Brings to mind the phrase “tight bomb pattern” from Catch-22.

    I think that part of the reason Rollins upsets some of us is that he seems to be failing to live up to his full potential. What would he have to trade off to achieve a higher OBP? He’s fast and makes good contact, and he generally hits more GBs than FBs (oddly enough, he didn’t in 2007, when he was the “most valuable” player); shouldn’t he be able to take more pitches without fear of striking out, beat out more infield hits, or accept a few more K’s to get more walks and clog the bases? He may not choose to bat leadoff, but given that he’s there, he should adjust. Maybe he just wants to hit for power. In any case, it’s not so much that he’s overrated as that he’s under-realized.

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    • Al Dimond says:

      Changing batting approaches is really hard. Players that do so successfully in order to maximize their value to their teams get featured in Fangraphs posts (the recent Scutaro post, and the one on Castillo a while back). Players that try and fail become Corey Patterson.

      My guess is that randomly (according to intelligent strategy… this is a game theory thing, minimize the pitcher’s ability to gain an advantage) adding in a handful of straight-takes per game could be effective without forcing a player to think too much.

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      • MBD says:

        I’ll grant you that it’s not easy, but it is kind of their job to try to improve. That said, Matt Holliday made a change to his timing mechanism at the beginning of the year and didn’t get good results. I like your idea of just mixing in some straight-takes. Players who don’t walk enough and who have low BABIPs might consider the possibility that they’re swinging at some tough pitches and should be more patient. In any case, players with Rollins’s speed and contact rate (87%) should be able to go deeper in counts and get on base more than he does. He has the tools, even if he can’t put them together correctly.

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      • Al Dimond says:

        Their job is to help their team win baseball games. Changing anything involves a lot of risk — especially when they’ve been playing for a long time. A player like Rollins has a lot to lose changing his approach (assuming 2009 was an aberration — a bad 2010 changes the calculus). Pitchers, who don’t have to react as quickly, can make adjustments in ways that hitters can’t, so you sometimes see teams acquire established MLB pitchers thinking they can change something (the White Sox with José Contreras, Cardinals with their army of journeymen-turned-to-GB-machines). With established MLB hitters it’s more often, “He is what he is.”

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  13. acerimusdux says:

    Nice post. I pretty well agree with all of it. I always thought Rollins was somewhat under-rated, up until he won that MVP, at which point I thought he was being over-rated based too much on counting stats, and there were better choices.

    But in general, he gets under-rated as much as over-rated. I think partly that’s because defense is a bit less obvious and often gets a bit less credit than it should relative to offense. In the always classic “great shortstops of the NL East” debates, between Rollins, Reyes, Ramirez, and I guess now Escobar as well entering that discussion, Rollins was always the best defender of that group.

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    • dan says:

      I think what acerimusdux said is closest to how I feel as well. Some players are underrated until they get some attention and then they become overrated a little.

      Like Alex Poterack said earlier, his offense is why he’s overrated by some. Although I think it’s because of his power and speed.

      And like Toffer Peak said, some people still look at Rollins and think of his ’07 season even though the odds are probably against Rollins ever doing that again.

      If you only look at that ’07 season it would be easy to think that this guy must be one of the elite shortstops in baseball. Except that was the ONLY year in which he had a top 5 OPS among all full-time shortstops. It’s not his offense that makes him so valuable, OR his defense, it’s his all around game. He’s not a perfect player but alot of teams still wouldn’t mind having him.

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  14. Bono says:

    I’m pretty sure the label is due to his career .269 EqA. As TCQ said, it’s more a complain about the perception that he’s a dangerous hitter because of his speed and “grit.”

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  15. Toffer Peak says:

    I think it’s simple why some people might think he’s overrated.

    1. He won the NL MVP in 2007 despite only being the 6th best in the NL according to WAR (and only 2nd best on his own team).

    2. His performance has dropped off precipitously since 2007. So a lot of casual fans might still think he’s a Top 10 player in the league (“he did just win the MVP after all and he’s in all of those ads on TV”) despite the fact that he’s just been a Top 60 player the last two years (between Dan Uggla and Shin-Soo Choo!).

    Is he a good player? Yes, of course. Is he a top 30? Someone who you would call great? Probably not. And I think that’s simply why some people think he’s overrated.

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    • Logan says:

      Over the past four years? 20 WAR. That’s five a year. He’s a top 30 player. The end.

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      • Toffer Peak says:

        I guess what I was getting at is that he WAS a top 30 player but he IS perceived as a top 10 player and is probably now only a top 30-60 player so in that sense it is fair to consider him overrated.

        I still think he’s a great player though.

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  16. Bobo says:

    Does that make him a franchise player from Cameron’s other article? I never would have pegged rollins for that many wins over the past couple of years…very interesting stuff.

    Matt, love the way you interact with the peanut gallery, keep up the good work.

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  17. Yees says:

    If he plays another 7 years and gets to 3,000 hit is he a HOF?

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  18. MBD says:

    To Al D:

    Sure change involves risk, but these guys are risk-takers. Don’t hitting coaches exist to help the batters improve? Shouldn’t we be able to expect players to address obvious issues? Players constantly have to make adjustments as pitchers adjust to them, defenses overshift, their skills diminish, or whatever. Any player who isn’t trying to improve is probably regressing (risk is everywhere), and any hitter with a BABIP under .300 doesn’t really need to “stay aggressive” (the usual excuse of free swingers) by refusing to take balls.

    Even if Rollins can’t change now, part of my point is that his skills make him someone who could have developed some discipline as a younger player without losing anything. Instead, he has a hole in his game that is disappointing. A guy whose contact % on strikes is 92.7% shouldn’t be afraid to take balls and swing at strikes. We may have to take him as he is (a very good player who doesn’t get on base enough), but he seems tantalizingly close to greatness. So I maintain that he feels to many as though he has untapped potential and that’s why some call him overrated. Plus, they don’t realize how many wins he contributes.

    Thanks for the exchange, and thanks, Matt, for the post.

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  19. walkoffblast says:

    I see a lot of people saying his offense is overrated. I can see why you might say or think that but he is a SS. Look at Cal Ripken’s numbers on offense. You might then try and tell me he is one of the most overrated players in the history of the game. In this era of modern offense it is easy to not realize SS is still a defensive position that majority of guys put up poor offensive numbers. To consistently put up significant positive offense while playing plus defense at SS is quite valuable. In fact just to consistently put up good offensive numbers while being able to adequately field the position is usually an accomplishment. One reason Jeter gets underrated by some is because they forget his offense is judged on the SS scale.

    Over the past 3 years combined only 8 (of 19 qualified) SS have combined to add a full win with their bat (in fact only 12 managed to not provide a negative contribution) and one of the 8 gave it almost all back on defense (michael young). Of those now 7 only two added a full win with their glove and Rollins is the only one to add two wins over that time. Like the post says essentially equal to Jeter over that time tied for second behind Hanley. On offense alone there were only 3 SS clearly better than him over that time.

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  20. H says:

    It seems that the “Rollins is overrated” talk began after the 2007 when the BBWAA voted him as MVP and sabremetric community panned the choice. Now following a 2008 that was predictably worse than 2007 and a 2009 that was unpredicatbly worse than 2008, it seems like the “Rollins is overrated” bandwagon has grown so crowded that he’s probably a little underrated.

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  21. Jim says:

    Well, let’s see Rollins got the MVP, GG and SS in 2007…and didn’t deserve any of them (Holliday, Tulowitzki, Hanley Ramirez). This year, he got the GG even though Tulowitzki was better…so, yes, he is over-rated…still and great player, though

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  22. Jay says:

    Underrated is overrated.

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  23. Alesia Huell says:

    Jimmy Rollins has postponed the attempt to break the world record for striking a baseball the farthest due to calf problems.At this time the Most important Question at this time is Will He still confident enough to accomplish this?Evening Wear Dress

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