Jan 7, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Jimmy Rollins is introduced at press conference at at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Short, skinny, and fast. With the research done in lineup construction, mixed in with a more sabermetrically inclined front office, some might have expected that the archetype of a “short, skinny, fast” guy at the top of a lineup to die off and the Dodgers to go with somebody who fits the mold of the team better (OBP, sees pitches, OBP, sees pitches, OBP) .
Don Mattingly confirmed that Jimmy Rollins, short, skinny, and relatively fast guy is going to bat leadoff this season. Rollins is entering his first year with the team after being acquired for Zach Eflin and Tom Windle, and he’s going to be an improvement in a lot of different areas.
When looking at Rollins, the later part of his career appears to be what we should expect going forward, which means no more 5+ win seasons. And that’s perfectly fine, he’s settled in as a solid average regular with the upside of being an all star SS, heck, according to Steamer, he’s projected to be a top 5 NL SS (which speaks to the dearth of talent in the game at that position, but still).
Rollins by all accounts, runs the bases better than Hanley Ramirez. Hanley added 1.5 runs on the bases last year and has been worth negative value running the bases only once in his 9 seasons, however Hanley has only eclipsed 3 baserunning runs added once since he hurt his hamstring back in 2010. Rollins hasn’t been below 3 runs added on the basepaths since 2011, and has a whopping 86 runs added in his career (every projection system thinks he steals 20+ bases this season).
Along with BsR (baserunning) Rollins is regarded as a better defender than Ramirez, he’s rated as a positive defender in every single season since his rookie season (in no small part due to the defensive adjustment that shortstops receive). Despite some DRS shortcomings in recent years, he’s still an adequate defender
Besides, most comparisons that look at current shortstop Rollins and future outfielder Hanley Ramirez will likely favor the former. JRoll has a significant edge on the previous SS in baserunning, and defense. However, neither of these impact the leadoff position.
Hitting leadoff is significant for a team, because assuming Rollins stays healthy (ideal), he’s going to compile the most PA’s on the team. On a team that just lost two significant sources of power, having on base percentage to counteract that lost power is an ideal scenario.
Rollins is fine if his job is to play defense, hit with above average power (for a SS), and run the bases well but his on base percentage since 2009 sits at a seemingly underwhelming .318. That’s not terrible for a SS, but understanding that positions do not matter in lineup construction, lets take a look at how leadoff hitters have performed in the same time period.
Leadoff hitters since 2009 have gotten on base ~ 32.0% of the time. Needless to say, this was shocking to me. I’d have expected a line in the .330-.340 range. And this isn’t perfect, because Billy Hamilton leading off 602 times doesn’t reflect the state of the leadoff position, it reflects the shortcomings of Bryan Price. But thinking about the loss of offense in the game, this isn’t too far fetched.
Steamer is down on Rollins for next season, as it’s projecting a .305 line (which would be a significant hit if the Dodgers got that type of production from him.). Remember though, he hasn’t had a line that low in 6 years. And also, Rollins adds value with the number of pitches he sees, his walk percentage of 10.5% wasn’t exactly a fluke.
Remember when there was serious talk back in 2012 regarding AJ Ellis making it to the all star game that was being held in Kansas City? Almost solely off of his on base and plate discipline skills? By adding a player who saw 4.15 pitches per plate appearance last season, the Dodgers found a guy that won’t give away plate appearances, and that is one of the most important qualities to have in a leadoff hitter.
He’s been a league average on base man in the later stages of his career with above average pop (15 home runs per year since 2009), and the ability to steal bases (has averaged 26 bases during that timespan), he saw more pitches than all but 4 players in the national league last season, he’s adjusted his defense to better fit his abilities at this stage of his career. So this is all promising. As soon as Pederson becomes adjusted to major league hitting i’d prefer him to take over the leadoff spot even if he’s not the prototypical leadoff hitter (nobody in the lineup is), but Rollins, surprisingly, isn’t a bad candidate to leadoff this season.
All he has to do is beat father time for one more season. Consider that there’s only been 23 seasons in which a SS aged 36 or older has played in 120+ games, and there’s only been 14 seasons where SS’s with the aforementioned criteria have posted OBPs above .320, it’s not going to be easy.
The Dodgers need both of these things to go right in order for the trade to pay off for them, and age is the biggest question mark in Rollins game.