Jimmy Rollins is entering a pivotal season in his career. For years, the switch-hitter was a power/speed dynamo who ranked near the top of pre-season shortstop rankings. But, at 32, Rollins faces a contract year coming off a season sabotaged by calf and hamstring injuries (he had cysts removed from his left wrist this offseason, too). Rollins’ ailments limited him to less than 400 plate appearances in 2010, the first season that he logged less than 600 PAs in the majors.
Since his 2006-2008 peak at the plate, during which he hit .284/.342/.485 (15 percent above the MLB average, once park and league factors are accounted for), Rollins has tumbled to a .248/.304/.406 triple-slash over the 2009-2010 seasons (11 percent below average). Can we expect better from a more Zen J-Roll in 2011, or will he continue to fade?
One of the biggest factors in Rollins’ offensive decline is his batting average on balls in play — his BABIP over the ’09 and ’10 seasons was .249. That’s fourth-lowest among qualified big league hitters over the past two years, and well below his career .290 mark. And much of Rollins’ BABIP downturn has come on grounders. From 2009-10, he had a .178 BABIP on ground balls, compared to a .225 career average and a .235 average for NL hitters. That ’09-’10 ground ball BABIP was sixth-lowest among MLB hitters, placing slightly ahead of speed luminaries like Casey Kotchman, Lyle Overbay and Jose Lopez. Wait, what?
Despite top-shelf speed, Rollins has generally posted below-average BABIP figures on grounders during his career. But recently, his performance on choppers has been commensurate with players whose 60-yard dash times are measured by sun dials, not stop watches. Could those aforementioned lower body injuries be sapping Rollins of some of his foot speed?
Rollins has remained a high-percentage base stealer, swiping 31 bags and getting caught seven times in 2009 and going 17-for-18 on the base paths this past year. But he is attempting to steal bases less often. According to Baseball-Reference, J-Roll took off on 16.6 percent of his stolen base opportunities (defined as a situation in which a runner is on first or second and the next base is open) from 2006-2008. That dropped to 15.6 percent in ’09, and 12.2 percent in ’10.
In terms of other base running aspects (such taking an extra base or advancing on wild pitches and passed balls), Rollins remains above average: Baseball Prospectus’ base running stats show him adding around two runs of value in non-SB base running last year. It doesn’t seem like his wheels are shot.
Perhaps in an effort to conserve his legs, Rollins is picking his spots to go full-bore on the bases. Those forty-plus steal seasons appear to be over. But if Rollins is healthy, it’s likely that his BABIP in grounders will perk up, and so should his line. ZiPS projects a .264/.323/.426 showing in 2011. Rollins’ go-go years may be behind him, but that offensive line, coupled with around 25 steals, still makes him one of the better options at a shallow position.
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