Next year will be the 10th season the Phils infield will consist of Ryan Howard at 1B, Chase Utley at 2B and Jimmy Rollins at SS. Rollins is the longest tenured Phillie, having started his major league career as a September call up in 2000 and playing shortstop regularly since 2001. He’s played in a total of 1,925 games of a possible 2,107 games in that period and has been one of the best defensive SS’s of his era, and may be the greatest fielding SS in Phillies history.
We say may be the greatest defensive SS because a good argument can be made that Larry Bowa wears that crown. Bowa had a higher dWAR (15.8 in 12 seasons as a Phillie) compared to Rollins dWAR (12.8 in 13 full seasons including 2013). Rollins fielding percentage is .983 compared to Bowa’s .982. Rollins won 4 Gold Gloves, Bowa two. Rollins high water mark for Assists in a season was 479. Bowa eclipsed that number on five occasions, three times going over 500 assists while topping out with 562. Rollins high water mark for Chances was 717. Bowa eclipsed 717 Chances four times and maxed out with 843. I’ve seen both play and would have to say it’s too close to call. Both were excellent, slick fielding shortstops. I’d give the edge to Bowa in range and edge to Rollins in arm strength. Offensively it’s no contest. Rollins beats Bowa hands down.
Other than playing 1/3 of an inning at 2B in 2002 and one game at DH in 2011, Rollins has played exclusively at SS his entire career. There’s been no one better in Phillies history at the position. In fact the triumvirate of Howard, Rollins and Utley is considered by most Phils fans to be the best at their respective positions in the team’s 130-year history. They’ll be together again in 2014 and if Rollins option for 2015 vests, they’ll most likely take to the diamond for at least one more, final 162-game lap in 2015. It’s been an amazing run that’s produced five NL East flags, two pennants and one World Series title.
In 2007 Rollins decided to fire his team up by throwing gas on a one time intense rivalry between the Phils and the NY Mets. On January 23rd, 2007, just a few weeks before pitchers and catchers were to report to Spring Training, Rollins boldly predicted the Phillies were the team to beat in the NL East. The Mets and their fans laughed when they read Rollins comments, and the fans let him have it every time he stepped to the plate that year at Shea Stadium. After all, the Mets had won the NL East in 2006 by 12 games over the 2nd place Phillies.
The Phils got off to a slow start at 1-6 and then stood at 11-14 at the end of April, 2007. It looked as if Rollins attempt to fire up his teammates was a failure, but 162 games is a long way to go. At the All-Star break the Phils were 48-44 and sat in 3rd place, 4.5 games behind the Mets. Though Rollins was hitting .286 with 16 HR’s and 53 RBI’s at the break he wasn’t selected by the fans as the starting shortstop for the Mid-Summer Classic. In fact, Rollins didn’t even make the All-Star team. Rollins ended up winning the MVP, Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Award that year as the Phils came from 7 games back with 17 to play to win the division on the last day of the season. Even after getting swept by the red-hot Rockies the Phils had finally arrived, and it was Jimmy Rollins who predicted it to start the season.
In 2008 Carlos Beltran decided he was going to strike the first blow in this now burgeoning rivalry. The Mets added two-time Cy Young Award winner Johann Santana over the winter, which spurred Beltran to say he had “no doubts” the Mets would win back the NL East championship. But Rollins and the Phils were just getting started. Rollins didn’t win another MVP, but did have a fine season and picked up his 2nd gold glove. That year the Phils went on to win the World Series for only the 2nd time in the team’s history.
Rollins prime spanned eight years (2001-2008). Batting almost exclusively out of the leadoff position the SS had a slash line of .277/.333/.442 while averaging 105 runs scored, 15.62 HR’s, 11.12 triples, 38.25 doubles, 67.37 RBI’s and 36.5 stolen bases. A familiar phrase was coined that went “as Rollins goes, so go the Phillies.” Rollins turned 30 before the 2009 season and his numbers started to regress, however the Phils went back to the World Series that year, to the NLCS in 2010 and the NLDS in 2011.
After the 2011 season Phils GM Ruben Amaro Jr. rewarded Rollins with a 3-year contract at $11,000,000 per season – with a very attainable vesting option for the 2015 season. Amaro is determined to get one more championship out of the core players who had lead the team to a World Series championship in 2008, and Rollins is the catalyst of that group.
Rollins has tailed off dramatically at the plate since the start of the 2009 season. With 13 games to go this year his slash line over the last five years has dipped to .252/.316/.396. The 2013 season has been the toughest of the five seasons for Rollins as he experienced a career low in OPS at .653 and has only belted six HR’s. As bad as those numbers look, compared to his peers in the NL Rollins is 5th in BA, 4th in OBP and 7th in SLG%. He has dropped from one of the most formidable offensive SS’s in the league to someone who still ranks around 5th best at his position offensively. It is the dramatic drop-off in his numbers this year that has the front office worried however, especially as they look forward to 2014.
To contend in 2014 the Phils are counting on Howard, Utley and Rollins to regain their place among the best at their respective positions to help bolster an offense that has been anemic for most of the 2013 season. The Phils are 14th in runs scored this year, surpassing only a gutted Marlin team. A resurgent Rollins at or near the top of the lineup is almost a necessity if the Phils are to contend next year. This year the Phils have been shut out a total of 13 times and have been held to 3 runs or less 79 times in 149 games. Simply put, it’s not enough runs and next year’s team must do better.
To Rollins credit he has taken a lot more pitches and walked far more often under Ryne Sandberg than he did playing for Charlie Manuel. Rollins has 19 BB’s in Sandberg’s 29 games as manager this year, whereas he had 36 BB’s in 120 games under Manuel. To stay at, or near the top of the lineup he must continue to draw walks and raise his batting average. He must also begin squaring the ball up and discontinue the uppercut swing that has made him a virtual pop-up machine in many of his swinging outs. Rollins has the athletic ability to raise his average back to the .270-.280 range by making this adjustment. To be fair it would have been difficult to do in mid-season, but next year Rollins must change his swing if he wants to bat 2nd. If he’s not batting 2nd behind Revere it’s likely Rollins would drop to 6th or 7th in the batting order next year.
Rollins is motivated to break some Phillies records he has not yet broken and move up the ladder in other categories where he’s near the top of the list. He is only 75 hits short of Mike Schmidt’s team record of 2,234, but has recently taken over 2nd place in doubles, stolen bases and total bases, while passing Bobby Abreu for 10th all-time in Phillie HR’s. He’s currently 3rd on the team in triples with 107 and runs scored with 1,238. Ed Delahanty’s 1,337 runs scored are within reach, which would make Rollins 2nd in Phillies history in that department.
Bigger and more aspirational goals are attainable for Rollins, namely the Hall of Fame. There are currently 22 shortstops in the Hall. Comparing Rollins lifetime numbers to Barry Larkin, the last shortstop enshrined, you’ll see that he has a good chance of attaining baseball’s greatest honor if he can finish his career with some decent years. As a player motivated by individual accomplishments I believe next year’s manager will use this as motivation for Rollins to change his approach and swing.
Assuming Rollins contract vests for 2015, by the time that season is finished Rollins will have surpassed Larkin in runs scored (1,329 – 1,238), hits (2,340 – 2,159), RBI’s (960 – 831) and total bases (3,527 – 3,420). Currently Rollins already leads Larkin in doubles (450 – 441), triples (107 – 76), (HR’s 199 – 198) and stolen bases (423 – 379). After the 2015 season Rollins will be 36 years old. Larkin played until age 40. If Rollins puts in another four mediocre seasons to finish his career at he same age Larkin did he’ll come close to or surpass 3,000 hits, 600 doubles, 1,100 RBI’s, 1,500 runs scored, 250 home runs, 500 stolen bases, 1,000 walks and 4,000 total bases.
Both Larkin and Rollins have each won one MVP and one World Series title. Larkin has one less Gold Glove Award (3-4), but has far more all-star game appearances (13 – 3) and Silver Slugger Awards (9 – 1), The difference in awards could be offset by the disparity in numbers Rollins should put up in his career opposed to Larkin.
It all starts next year. A turn-around season for Rollins is in order and it could begin his final stretch drive to the Hall of Fame. Because Rollins is a 10-5 player he can veto any trade and has said he would. It looks as if he’ll be here for the next two seasons, barring an injury that prevents him from reaching 1,100 PA between this year and next year (he already has 611 PA this year with 13 games to play). His likely replacement isn’t Freddy Galvis, who looks like he’ll be used as a super utility player, but recently drafted J. P. Crawford, who even if fast tracked is still a minimum 3 years away.
Rollins has the athletic ability to play better than he has this year, and with the extraneous motivating factors should produce a good season for the Phils. If he plays well, batting 2nd behind leadoff man Ben Revere seems the logical choice for him. However, to remain that high in the order Rollins will have to up his game from this year. I think he can and believe that he will. The triumvirate that is Howard, Utley and Rollins will be called upon at least one more time to help lead the Phils back to the playoffs. If Amaro surrounds them with the right pieces and they stay healthy, it’s possible.