Scott Rolen found himself riding pine for the second consecutive day yesterday and the narrative out there is that Dusty Baker thinks he is playing through a sore shoulder, so he’s simply making the decisions for him. But Rolen, 36, has probably been playing with a sore shoulder for the better part of a decade, so reading the proverbial tea leaves makes the fantasy owner wonder if this “rest” has more to do with his recent ineptitude at the dish. While he’s surely going to return to the lineup soon, considering a triple slash line of .242/.279/.399, you have to wonder if there’s more unscheduled rest in his future.
July has been particularly inhospitable to Rolen as he’s performed at a .190/.227/.357 clip, registering a meager .257 wOBA, which makes his July just about as bad as any third baseman in the game. His hit trajectory in July is just plain wacky in comparison with his career, and at a minimum, even his 2011 overall. He is hitting darn near 63% of his batted balls on the ground and yet he’s converted just eight hits total in July over 44 plate appearances. This, of course, begs the question about whether or not the omnipotent fantasy gods are just shining lights of luck elsewhere in the league, and sure enough, his .206 BABIP in June is a good country mile away from his expected .337 expected BABIP based on his hit trajectory. For reasons of due diligence, let’s graph his month-by-month hit trajectory:
I recognize that July represents a small sample size, but there very well may be something else going on in July (ubiquitous sore shoulder?) that’s causing him to hack everything into a worm-burner. Assuming Rolen can ever get back on the field, it will be interesting to see if this trend holds or if he turns back into the old Scott Rolen, at least with respect to his hit trajectory.
What is pretty obvious about Rolen this year is that he has lost all patience at the plate. He is swinging at a career high balls outside of the strike zone and his walks are at an eye-popping 3.8%. He has averaged a 20.6% swing rate on balls outside the strike zone in his career, giving him a pretty discerning eye. But the last three years have crept up going 22%, 26% and now near 33%. As for walks, in his career, Rolen has a 10.6% walk rate and while the last couple of seasons have been a little below that, 3.8% is just wildly out of whack (the first data point represents his career average):
Walk rates are actually fairly reliable with this number of plate appearances so we can’t just eschew his descent into the Yuniesky Betancourt abyss of hackery. 3.8% isn’t just bad, it’s terrible. It is among the worst walk rates in all of baseball. In fact, his walk rates versus left handed pitchers has dropped from a career rate of 14.6% to just over 3%. Why he’s swinging at everything I can’t explain, but his inability to be more selective has really hurt his ability to get on base and drive in runs.
Two more things have changed in Rolen’s profile in 2011 — his struggles with right handed pitchers and his ability to pull the baseball. In his career, Rolen has actually bucked the platoon advantage and been a highly effective hitter, even a better hitter, versus right handed pitchers. Even as recently as last season, he was still producing at or near his career averages against RHP, but in 2011, all of that has changed:
Lastly, I’ll spare you another graph, but Rolen’s bread and butter was pulling the baseball, having a career wOBA of .485 on balls that he pulls and an ISO of .377. In 2011, his wOBA is down to .389 and his ISO is .314. Now I recognize that both of those figures are still pretty darn good, but he struggles so much going the other way with the baseball and so many of his hits are pulled that his deficiencies in this area have dragged his overall wOBA under .300 for the first time in his career and his ISO is a rather pedestrian .157.
Rolen is still owed a little over $8 million in 2012, so it would be a surprise if the team turned him into a part time player. In terms of wins above replacement, he’s still a valuable third baseman to a major league team because he continues to demonstrate a plus glove. But unless your fantasy league celebrates defense, Rolen has become a rather fringe option.
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