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Phillies’ Biggest Question: Just How Good is Jimmy Rollins?


The 2011 Phillies off-season presents quite a challenge from Ruben Amaro Jr.  His powerhouse team fell well short of its World Championship goals last season, and many believe that the Phillies must make some changes in their personnel and approach to the game if they are to improve upon two straight postseason disappointments.Jimmy Rollins photo:
The challenge that confronts Amaro, however, is finding ways to improve a roster that has most of its key personnel pretty locked in at their positions.    

In the starting rotation, Joe Blanton will likely replace Roy Oswalt, but three-fifths of the top NL Cy Young vote-getters will return to do the heavy lifting for the Phillies’ pitching staff.

In the bullpen, the addition of Jonathan Papelbon won’t change what the Phillies get from the closer position, as Ryan Madson was every bit as good as Papelbon in 2011.  The rest of the relief corps will also look much the same, with the possible additions of a specialist or two.  The bench will feature the return of Jim Thome, but it appears that Brian Schneider, Ben Francisco, Michael Martinez and Wilson Valdez will all be back in 2012 to give Charlie Manuel the same set of substitutes he had last season.    

That leaves us with the offensive starters, where only position does not feature a contracted starter at the moment.   And so it appears that Ruben Amaro’s off-season work will likely be graded on the decision he makes about the team’s starting shortstop.  

Jimmy Rollins has been a member of the Phillies franchise since being selected in the second round of the 1996 amateur draft.  He has manned the starting shortstop position for the better part of eleven straight years.  He is a three-time NL All-Star, a former league MVP, a three-time Gold Glove winner, and has provided an outstanding return on the $53 million the Phillies have paid him since he became a big-leaguer.  

But, as the 32-year old Rollins pursues what is likely to the last major contract of his career, the Phillies must determine two things. First and foremost, just how good is Jimmy Rollins at this stage of his career?  And second, does he represent the best move for the franchise at this critical point in their history?

When considering how good Rollins is at this stage of his career, we can only look at what has happened recently. The MVP season of 2007 has been mentioned already, but it is completely irrelevant when it comes to the team’s decision on Rollins.  

Rollins is coming off a season in which he performed fairly close to his career averages in a number of statistical categories.  He also continued to field his position as efficiently as any shortstop in team (and league) history.   

But how do Rollins’ statistics compare to some of the other starting shortstops in Major League Baseball?   Here is a breakdown of his Major League Rank in each of the key offensive statistics:

Avg:         .267       (15th)
Doubles:    22     (24th)
Triples:    2    (t-26th)
HR:        16    (6th)
Slg %:        .399    (t-10th)
OBP:        .338    (t-10th)
Runs:        87    (t-4th)
Steals:    30    (t-4th)

In terms of defense, Rollins’ fielding percentage of .988 was tied for third in the majors, and his career fielding percentage of .984 is the third best in major league history.   

In looking at Rollins’ statistics, a couple of conclusions can be drawn.  Jimmy Rollins Photo: Getty

First, he still represents the best defensive option available to a Phillies team that is likely going to win with pitching and defense once again in 2012.  It is believed that the Phillies’ top shortstop prospect, Freddy Galvis, is major-league ready on defense.  But even Galvis would represent a downgrade in fielding at shortstop.

As for those offensive numbers, they paint a picture of Rollins as a player who is likely near the bottom of the top ten shortstops in baseball. His batting average is, well, average by comparison to big-league shortstops. Disappointing are his recent numbers of doubles and triples, once a strength of his game. Those numbers are a bit more glaring when one considers that he still has good speed (as evidenced by his stolen base numbers).

Rollins’ position as a leadoff hitter has been debated for years.  His on-base percentage isn’t great, but isn’t much worse than many of the other top shortstops in the game.  The reality for the Phillies is that Rollins still represents the closest thing they have to a leadoff hitter (with the possible exception of the new version of Chase Utley).

So, as Rollins seeks a five year contract that will pay him somewhere in the range of $10-12 million per season, the Phillies must consider his value to their World Series plans.  The team is clearly in win-now mode, and they may have two more seasons left as serious postseason contenders.  If they can land Rollins with a four-year offer, does it represent their best option at the shortstop position?   

The opinion here is that he does.

Rollins game has declined from his 2007 numbers, but the frequent criticism that he has declined significantly each year since is simply not true.  He missed time with a calf injury in 2010, but his numbers from 2008 through 2011 are actually in line with his career averages.   He simply continues to be what he always has been: an excellent shortstop and an above-average offensive hitter who can be explosive at times.  

The Phillies do not have time for stopgaps in their starting lineups for 2012 or 2013. Could they afford a veteran rental for one year if it enabled them to add a difference-maker at third base or left field?  Sure.  But, those options are neither available (left field) nor realistic (Aramis Ramirez seeks a contract that does not fit the Phillies’ budget).

In the end, if the Phillies are to win another World Series, it is not likely to come down to Jimmy Rollins.  His production has actually been very acceptable for a player making the money that he makes. The teams that win the World Series typically have multiple players step up when it really matters, and there are enough players on the Phillies roster capable of big performances to match their big contracts and big reputations.  Rollins played quite well in the 2011 playoffs, and the Phillies success in upcoming postseasons will depend on some other players doing the same.


Matt Babiarz was born and raised in the Philadelphia area.  He graduated from the University of Alabama, but remained a very close observer of the Philadelphia sports scene.  He recently began covering the Phillies for Philly2Philly.com. You can also read his work at Bleacherreport.com within the Philadelphia Phillies section. 

Matt can be contacted at mattbabz@comcast.net 

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Photos- Hitting: Talksportsphilly.com
Scoring: MLB.com