Keep On Rollin(s)

Jimmy Rollins probably left many fantasy owners disappointed last year. He hit .277/.349/.437 with 11 homers and 47 steals in 137 games. Obviously, those are good numbers, but they are may be a little below what optimistic owners were expecting. What can we expect from Rollins in 2009?

Let’s start with batting average. Rollins hit .277 last year, after hitting .296, .277, .290 and .289 over the last four seasons, respectively. Rollins’s strikeout rate was actually the lowest of his career last season, as he struck out in only 9.9% of his at bats. Over the last five years, his K rate has hovered right around 10-12%. However, last season Rollins’s BABIP was .285, but his expected BABIP (according to a new model I introduced) was .323. If you add in those “missing” hits, Rollins’s batting average becomes .311.

Additionally, Rollins improved his walk rate in 2008 – he walked a career-high 9.4% of the time, the first time in his career that he was even over 8%. This led to the highest OBP of his career, despite the (relatively) low batting average. As a result, Rollins had more opportunities to steal bases. Furthermore, he stole bases at an incredibly efficient clip, getting caught just three times in 50 attempts; this continues a trend that began in 2005 – since (and including) that year, Rollins has been successful on 165 of his 184 stolen base attempts, an impressive 90% conversion rate.

Perhaps the most disappointing thing about Rollins’s 2008 was his power – or lack thereof. He totaled only 11 long balls, after hitting 55 over the previous two seasons combined. Part of the problem was that Rollins played in only 137 games in 2008, after having played in every single game in 2007 and 158 games in 2006. More of the problem appears to be the fact that Rollins stopped hitting fly balls – only 30.6% of his balls in play were fly balls in 2008. In 2007, Rollins hit fly balls 44.2% of the time, but that appears to be an outlier in his career: in the three seasons before 2007, his fly ball percentages were 36.9%, 32.1% and 35.8%.

His fly balls became homers at a lower rate in 2008 (7.7% of his fly balls left the park) than in the past two years (11.1% and 10.7%, respectively), but his career HR/FB is 8.8%. The biggest problem was Rollins reverting to his ground ball tendencies – an issue that could have to do with faulty mechanics and/or the sprained ankle that sent him to the DL in April (although I highly doubt a sprained ankle would sap a player of his power). However, it could simply be that Rollins’s 2007 season was a fluke in terms of fly balls – he hasn’t hit nearly as many fly balls in any other season.

If we assume that Rollins’s fly ball totals from 2007 were out of whack, so too must we assume that the 30 homers he hit that season are likely going to be a career high. It’s certainly possible that Rollins will regain some homers from his dismal 2008 year (dismal in terms of power production, that is), as his fly ball rate will probably rise somewhat, and he could see a slightly higher proportion of his fly balls leave the park. Still, an increase in these two areas would probably yield somewhere around 15-20 homers, maybe 25 (assuming Rollins stays healthy all season). As Rollins will be 30 years old next season, it’s quite likely that he won’t match his age with his homer total ever again.

However, even accounting for Rollins’s relative lack of homers, it appears that he improved his game in other facets this season – improvements that he may carry with him into next year. Rollins is still an incredibly efficient base stealer who also runs often, and this should continue next year. Furthermore, if Rollins can take his improved strikeout- and walk-rates with him into next season, he could see a rise in his batting average (remember, his batting average should have been .311 this year) and OBP, leading to more opportunities to steal bases and more runs scored atop a powerful Phillies lineup.

You shouldn’t draft Jimmy Rollins expecting 30 homers, but you can reasonably expect 15-20 bombs, and perhaps even a batting average of around .300 and upwards of 50-60 steals. That’s still a heck of a player, especially for a shortstop.

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10 Responses to “Keep On Rollin(s)”

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  1. Mike Ketchen says:

    Great piece here, the thing my partner for our NFBC leagues have been debating for seasons is if he is better then Reyes. This is the first season in which I was leaning towards Reyes. However, I think I was strarting to swing back towards Jroll and this made it official. I know Reyes is good but Jroll will have the runs the rbis more HR same avg and usually more pop.

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  2. Jim says:

    Do you really think he can steal 50-60 bases? That seems quite optomistic to me considering what he has done in the past, even with the added plate discipline.

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    • Peter says:

      Here’s the logic: added plate discipline means a higher OBP, which means more opportunities to steal bases.

      Also, he stole 47 bases in only 137 games this year. He had played over 150 games in every season dating back to 2001 – if he steals at the same pace that he did this year but plays in 20 additional games…

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  3. Thom says:

    All of that great analytical breakdown and then you throw in “although I highly doubt a spained ankle would sap a player of his power” as an aside??

    Please tell me that was sarcasm. Unless you really don’t think that ankles are part of the body mechanics during a swing. I’m not saying your conclusions are wrong, I agree with your assessment of Rollins for next year. I just think that statement was out of place in the article.

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    • Peter says:

      Hi Thom,

      I meant that I wouldn’t expect a sprained ankle sustained in April to sap Rollins’s power all the way through the season. Especially considering that Rollins stole 47 bases. If the ankle wasn’t fully healed, he probably wouldn’t have run that much.

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  4. Matt says:

    I think 45-50 steals is more reasonable. Not as if he is gonna have a suddenly stellar OBP, it was .349 last season, marginally higher than years past, when he ‘only’ managed 40 or so steals. Don’t see a jump of nearly 20 steals based on his MARCELS projections of OBP.

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    • Peter says:

      I’m not saying it WILL happen, but…

      Rollins “only” had an OBP of .349 this year, but that was with a batting average that was approximately 34 points below what it “should” have been.

      I think it’s quite likely that both his BA and OBP rise in 2009. And if that happens, it’s not a stretch to see Rollins stealing more bases. If he attempts a steal next year as often as he did in 2008, but is on base more, it’d follow that he would attempt more steals.

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  5. Matt says:

    He is certainly a top option at SS and in fantasy period…. No doubt.

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  6. Kames says:

    Couldn’t we conclude that the left ankle injury, back foot, made Rollins change his style? If he can’t plant that back foot, he can’t hit the long ball anymore, which made him become more of a “hitter.” The evidence of this could be the fact he had a better strike out rate, a higher LD%, and hit far less fly balls than the previous two years. Therefore, a healed back foot will allow him to plant his back foot, which will bring back the power to the 20 to 25 HR range. Unfortunately, this would probably keep his SBs at his normal range since he won’t be on base as much if he is “going for it” more.

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  7. VidaB says:

    Boy, I’d love a current analysis on Rollins. What’s with the steep drop in BB%? And the IFFB%? et.

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