Phillies 2013 Preview: Shortstop

Love him or hate him, he keeps chugging along.

“Him,” of course, refers to Jimmy Rollins, the Phillies’ 34-year-old shortstop and Philadelphia’s longest-tenured athlete. He’s received his fair share of criticism from fans during the last couple of years, but it’s hard to argue with his production. Rollins has amassed the most fWAR of all National League shortstops (42.5) and the most of all shortstops in baseball not named Derek Jeter over the past decade.

Rollins, at age 33, put together an impressive 2012 campaign. He hit 23 home runs, scored 102 runs, and racked up 30 stolen bases, continuing to bat first in the Phillies’ lineup for most of the season — a 4.8 fWAR was the highest he’s posted since 2008. His lack of on-base skills are still a problem, and he’s not the ideal leadoff hitter — wRC+ pegs him as a league-average hitter — but his baserunning and fielding keep him among the game’s elite middle infielders. Some of Rollins’ range has disappeared with his age, but he’s still defensively sound and doesn’t make too many errors.

The only thing that’s slightly concerning about Rollins is that he derives most — if not all — of his value using his legs. He’s been quite durable over his 12-season career, but he has dealt with nagging calf and groin injuries in recent years. He remained healthy throughout 2012, but leg injuries are difficult to predict, and this iteration of the Phillies won’t be able to afford trotting Freddy Galvis and his brutal bat out to short for 30 games or more. Put simply, Rollins likely needs to avoid an extended DL stint for the Phillies to have a shot at a playoff berth this season.

Another noteworthy statistic: Jimmy’s walk rates have remained similar for many seasons, but his strikeout rate jumped from 9.4% in 2011 to 13.7% last season. His contact rate was the lowest it’s been since 2003 — nearly a decade ago and his third full season in the majors — but all his other numbers don’t look too out-of-whack and it’s possible this was just a one year blip in an otherwise stable skillset. It’s not particularly concerning unless he suffers from comparable issues this season.

We all know the old saying: “When Jimmy Rollins goes, the Phillies go,” or something like that. His on-and-off, streaky nature can be difficult to tolerate at times — the term “inconsistent” has been used to describe him one or ten times — but it’s hard to argue that Rollins isn’t a core player, even if it was Chris Wheeler who coined that phrase. Rollins has proven that he still has the skills to be a highly valuable and productive player as he enters his mid-30s. Betting on a career season wouldn’t be a wise decision — in fact, assuming that he’ll be able to match his 2012 numbers seems somewhat misguided, as well. I’m not sure how many seasons he has left in him, but he should still enjoy a successful 2013 campaign — as long as his legs allow him to do so.

Projections: .260, 17 HR, 88 R, 60 RBI, 27 SB

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