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June 1, 2009
Performance Analysis: Many people thought Jimmy Rollins' 2008 season was disappointing, but little did they know that he was capable of falling even further from the production levels he had set during his peak years. Now Rollins is hitting all of .232/.276/.345 this year, a far cry from last season's "disappointing" .277/.349/.437. What exactly has caused Rollins to see such a massive dip in his production for two years in a row?
Before we dive into 2009's issues, let's take a quick look at 2008. He was 29 years old, so it's safe to say that Rollins was coming off of his peak years and returning to the power levels he'd demonstrated prior to his 25-homer explosion in 2006-that season was followed up by his most powerful, when he launched 30 home runs along with 58 other extra-base hits. Even if he kept the home-run rate, you could expect his slugging percentage to dip the following year, since he had hit 20(!) triples.
Unfortunately, not only did he lose the triples-Rollins hit nine of them in 2008-but he lost the home runs as well, going deep just 11 times and seeing his Isolated Power drop from a career high of .235 to a mark closer to his career rate. Part of this was because Rollins started to hit the ball on the ground as often as he had in the past (his non-2007 seasons), and he also hit line drives more often than he had since 2005. While liners correlate most closely with hits, Rollins ended up being hit-unlucky, with a BABIP roughly 30 points lower than it should have been (based on recent work with BABIP models).
Some of that poor luck from 2008 has spilled over into 2009, but with some new wrinkles tossed in as well. He's hitting line drives at the lowest rate of his career, and he's also having even worse luck than he did last year as far as getting hits out of them-he hit .724 and slugged 1.095 on liners last year, and he's at just .656 and .844 this season. (The league averages in 2009 so far are .733 and 1.007.) None of his liners have left the yard either, and he has just four doubles and one triple on them, while in 2008 he had 26 doubles, two triples, and three home runs on line drives. He's well behind his previous pace on doubles, which has caused his lower power numbers just as much as the lack of homers.
Based on this, it's clear he is having trouble driving the ball with the same authority that he had in the past. He's popping up on 14.5 percent of his fly balls and hitting home runs on just 4.3 percent of them, both his worst career numbers in the respective categories. The good news on that front is that Rollins has improved his ratio of infield flies to fly balls (or IF/FB percentage) dramatically in the past few weeks, so he may be on the upswing soon. To make matters worse in the interim, he is still hitting plenty of balls on the ground, and not with a high rate of success-he's hitting .213 on the ground, 25 points under the current league average, and much lower than you would want given his troubles in the air.
To add to his problems, Rollins is swinging more often overall, and with a slightly lower rate of contact. He isn't hitting balls outside of the zone as often as he managed to in 2008 either, which explains the increase in strikeouts. He's seeing more first-pitch strikes as well, which causes him to hit from behind in the count more often-look no further than his walk rate (down to 5.6 percent after a career-best 9.4 percent in 2008) to see how that's working out for him. As chicken/egg propositions go, whether this is part of the root of the problem or a symptom of his struggles is something I don't know, but it's not helping him either way.
Between the trouble driving the ball and the lower rate of contact, you have to think there is a timing issue involved. The problem with Rollins that has been cited most often during the first two months of the season is his pull-conscious approach, one that is hampering his production:
He's pull-happy from both sides of the plate, and then hitting the ball up the middle the next most. While balls he is pulling from the left side of the plate are turning into hits (.375/.366/.625), those from the right side (.250/.250/.458) are not working out well, and neither are the balls hit up the middle (.179/.179/.250 and .250/.250/.321 from the right and left, respectively). The league average for balls hit up the middle is much higher-.289/.286/.427 and .304/.300/.454. You can see the lack of drive and solid contact in his balls in play in those latter numbers.
If he's looking for a specific pitch and trying to pull it no matter what, it can mess with his timing and ability to drive the ball properly-something you can see in his below-average numbers above-and also give pitchers an excuse to exploit him or attack him a certain way at the plate. If Rollins is able to sort this issue out, all of these statistical problems can melt away, and he should produce at his 2008 level yet again. If not though, expect to see these struggles continue.-Marc Normandin
Scouting Report: Jimmy Rollins has always had a hard time accepting that he is vertically challenged at 5-foot-8. The Phillies' shortstop and leadoff man has been able to play the big man's game, though, as he has reached double digits in home runs in seven of his eight full major league seasons, and slugged at least .431 in each of the past five years.
However, sometimes Rollins' unwillingness to play like a smaller guy can get to Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. "I like Jimmy Rollins a lot better than J-Roll," Manuel likes to say. To Manuel, J-Roll is the guy who swings out of his shoes. In contrast, Jimmy Rollins is the hitter who is willing to work the count and who cuts down on his swing to put the ball in play.
It has definitely been J-Roll hitting at the top of the Phillies' batting order so far this season, as his .226/.270/.327 line in 223 plate appearances indicates. "He's been trying to pull everything since the start of spring training," said a scout who regularly covers the National League East. "I've seen him get pull-happy like this before, but not for this long of a period. He has enough pop to hit some balls out of the park, but now he's trying to muscle up on every pitch. He's at his best when he is spraying the ball around and using the whole field. Charlie is a hitting guy, and I know he's been preaching that to Jimmy for two months. He'll snap out of this funk because he's too good of a hitter not to, but it's taken a while longer than I thought."-John Perrotto
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .