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February 9, 2011
Donnybrook - Jimmy Rollins
We just started this series on Monday, so you're forgiven if you missed the first. But the plan is to have a pair of our fantasy authors answer varying questions, in order to give you multiple angles on relevant topics. Today's question: "Is Jimmy Rollins finished?"
Mike Petriello: "Finished" is something of a relative term. Is Jimmy Rollins the player he once was? It's hard to look at three consecutive years of declining OPS (culminating in last year's .694) from a shortstop who's on the wrong side of 30 and think that he's getting back to his 2007 MVP form anytime soon. Even more troubling, his 2010 was interrupted by multiple injuries to his right leg, which combined to cost him 84 days of the season, and when he was able to play over the second half of the year, his OBP was just .302. This is one of those situations where I don't look at the career-low BABIP as a factor of luck, but an indicator that a traditionally speedy player is no longer able to beat out the hits he once could. While there's an argument to be made that he can still recover from those leg injuries and regain some of that value, let's not forget that he was coming off a healthier 2009 in which he had 725 plate appearances and still only got on base at a clip of .296.
The crop of shortstops is generally so barren that it's worth considering that even a diminished Rollins may still be worth your time, but the numbers just don't support it. Among shortstops with over 500 PA in 2009-10, he comes in 18th in OPS. Looking at just 2010 shortstops (with 350 PA), the results are largely the same: he's 19th. That means that even if you're in a 12- or 14-team league, there's almost certainly a comparable or better alternative that would probably come more cheaply, since Rollins still carries name value. Rollins isn’t finished in MLB, but his time has probably passed as a top-flight fantasy option.
Bill Baer: After two disappointing seasons, the most recent marred by calf and thigh strains, many are ready to count Jimmy Rollins out. The 32-year-old is not expected to reclaim his place near the top of Major League Baseball's list of the best shortstops. In 2009, Rollins posted a 719 OPS, his lowest since 2003. He only attempted to steal 39 times, his lowest total since '04. Last year, Rollins could only muster a 694 OPS and 18 stolen base attempts after missing nearly half of the regular season.
The common factor in 2009-10 is his BABIP. With a career average .290, it was only .251 in '09 and .246 last season. As the table below illustrates, the difference in '09 was line drives, and in '10 it was ground balls.
In '09, 19 percent of Rollins' batted balls were line drives, 40 percent were grounders, and 41 percent were fly balls. In '10, those numbers changed to 17 percent, 46 percent, and 37 percent respectively. As of right now, we have no reason to believe that hitters have a great amount of control over their line drive BABIP. Current research has shown it to be very prone to fluctuation. Personally, I am fine with writing off Rollins' '09 season as a fluke.
Injuries, I think, explain his poor performance last year and his extremely low .137 BABIP on ground balls. His strains were in his left calf and his right thigh. The legs are an important part of generating power in a swing, and Rollins simply did not have much power throughout the season (.131 ISO, his lowest since 2003). Even if he is not hitting home runs, he can still hit harder ground balls and harder line drives, both of which would be harder for defenders to field and convert into outs.
Despite the injuries last year, Rollins was about as good as the average National League shortstop. His triple-slash line was .243/.320/.374 compared to the average .266/.325/.388. He will have had nearly four months to recuperate and should go into the 2011 season 100 percent healthy. With even a moderate bounce-back year, Rollins should find himself among the league's top shortstops (still light years behind Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki, of course).
Mike Petriello is an author of Baseball Prospectus.