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Are There Really Only 20 Fantasy Players Better than Jimmy Rollins?

Jimmy Rollins is a great baseball player. He has everything we as fans want to see from guys on the diamond. First and foremost, he is extremely talented. But everyone in MLB is talented. What separates Rollins is how he excels in all facets of the game and the drive and determination he brings every day. Rollins may go 0-4 but he can win the game with a highlight-reel defensive play. And his intangibles reached legendary status back in 2007 when he said that the Phillies were the team to beat in the National League East and then went out and delivered on the field, winning the MVP in the process.

Rollins is an electric player in real life. He is just not an elite player in fantasy baseball, however much his owners wish him to be one.

In his MVP season in 2007, Rollins established career highs in 11 of the “Standard” categories on the FanGraphs player page. If you go to the “Advanced” section, he notched eight more personal bests. And this was from a player who had six full seasons in the majors previously. Rollins was 28 in 2007, an age where it was more likely to be a career year rather than a new level of performance.

In 2008, fantasy owners unanimously considered Rollins to be a first-round pick. However, Rollins went on the disabled list for the first time in his career and fell from 162 games played in 2007 to 137 in 2008. The Razzball Point Share System rated Rollins as the 70th-best fantasy player that season.

Many fantasy owners remained unfazed. Once again, Rollins was considered a first-round pick in 2009 carrying an ADP of 9. There were no injury problems for Rollins last year, as he played in 155 games. However, he had a dismal first half of the year, due in large part to a .240 BABIP before the All-Star break. Rollins did much better in the second half (despite a .262 BABIP) but overall he came in at 86th in the Razzball ratings.

Now, despite back-to-back seasons of 7th-8th round value, owners still see Rollins as an elite fantasy player. The latest ADP rankings at MockDraftCentral have him at 21. He has been drafted as early as 13th and no later than 35th in the last 361 qualifying drafts.

One of the many cool features at FanGraphs is the Fans projections. As of this writing, 100 fans have made projections for Rollins and they give him a .273-19-65-102-35 line. This is the most optimistic projection out there, but basically right in line with what the Bill James and CHONE systems have for him. Marcel has a slightly more pessimistic view, largely due to 61 fewer ABs than CHONE and 82 fewer than what the Fans project.

A rough approximation of the average starting fantasy SS in a 12-team league in 2009 gives the following line:

.290-16-76-83-15

So, the fans have Rollins comfortably above average in SB and R, above average in HR and below average in RBIs and AVG among his position peers.

Compare this to Matt Holliday, the player with an ADP of 20, or the player valued right above Rollins. In 2009 starting outfielders had a rough approximation of the following fantasy line: .279-20-76-81-14. Currently, 111 Fans have given Holliday a .313-26-126-107-15 line.

Let’s compare apples to apples and use another shortstop. Derek Jeter has an ADP of 48 and 151 Fans have given him the following line:

.313-14-75-115-22

So, if you wait two-plus rounds and take Jeter, you get 40 more points of AVG, 10 more RBIs and 13 more runs while giving up 5 HR and 13 SB. Maybe the fans are overrating Jeter, so let’s look at another SS. Jason Bartlett has an ADP of 105, so you can wait seven rounds after you draft Rollins and anticipate these numbers, which come from 109 Fans:

.294-9-81-75-26

So, Fans project Bartlett to be available over 80 picks after Rollins and beat him in two fantasy categories while being competitive in SB. Clearly, Rollins is the better player than Bartlett but once you figure in their draft status, the edge narrows considerably, if not disappears altogether.

The past two years, Rollins has not justified his lofty draft status with production on the field. There have been extenuating circumstances (injuries, luck) but the fact is he has been a disappointment. Now age 31, how likely is it that Rollins will exceed Fans’ expectations and return to 2007 levels? Fantasy owners have developed a Pavlovian response to Rollins, giving him an automatic high ADP just at the sound of his name. But before you make him your second-round pick, investigate other options at the position.