Let’s dive into what has gone wrong with Jimmy Rollins. For comparison purposes, we will compare his numbers to his 2008 season, his last “successful” season at the plate. Now, I know Rollins was plagued with injuries last season, but there are some numbers to consider with what went wrong with Jimmy Rollins.
First, the good news. Rollins walked more often and struck out less than normal, at 10.2% and 9.1% respectively. For his career he has a walk rate of 7.4% and a strike out rate of 12.7%. So at first look, you’d say to yourself, “Wow, Rollins really improved his discipline at the plate.” His 1.25 BB/K rate was the highest of his career and the first time he had a rate over 1 in his career. So really, what happened?
Last year, Jimmy Rollins swung at pitches out of the strike zone 23.1% of the time. The highest percentage since his MVP season in 2007. However, he swung at only 59.7% of the pitches he saw in the zone and only swung at 40.2% of the pitches he saw in general. Last year, was the first season of Rollins career where he was dealt with seeing pitches in the zone lower than 50% of the time at and astounding rate of 46.7% of the time. Because of seeing less pitches, Rollins seemed to get a little antsy at swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone, even if he made contact 77.4% of the time on those pitches, the second highest percentage of his career (2008). In fact, Rollins made contact 89.7% of the time, second to only his 2008 season again.
So far, Rollins has walked more, struck out less, and made contact more often than usual in his career. Seriously, what went wrong?
When Contact Was Made:
As noted earlier, Jimmy Rollins made more contact than normal, but it is important to see what happened when Rollins made contact.
First, a glaring number is that Rollins hit line drives only 16.8% of the time. Well, below his seasonal average of 21.7%. With his line drive rate down, we now should turn the focus to his gb/fb ratio. Rollins hit a ground ball 45.8% of the time compared to fly balls only 37.4% of the time for a gb/ratio of 1.23. Right now, we can see why Rollins slugging percentage slumped to .374 and below .400 for the first time since the 2003 season and the lowest of his career. Lower line drive and fly ball rates lead to less power from Jimmy Rollins.
Did he pop up more? Nope. Rollins hit an infield fly on only 10% of his fly balls, lower than his career average. So, what made Jimmy Rollins hit so many more ground balls?
Image from FanGraphs
Last year, Jimmy Rollins saw less fastballs than normally (58.8%). For his career, Rollins saw fastballs 63%-64% of the time. During the last two years, Rollins saw an increase of curve balls (9.5% each year). He also saw more split-fingered fastballs last year, which leads you to believe teams are trying to induce Rollins into swinging at ground ball inducing pitches.
I could be wrong, but if I remember correctly, Rollins would often swing pitches low in the zone leaving him swinging over the top of the ball and causing it to kill worms. Once again, this is the cause of Rollins low total of “power” swings.
Last year, Rollins was pretty abysmal from the left side of the plate (.657 OPS LH vs .773 OPS RH). Remember line drives? Rollins hit a line drive only 13.8% of the time as a lefty compared to 23.3% of the time batting right-handed. He popped up more as a right-handed batter, but he also hit home runs at a higher rate.
Usually, Rollins bats left-handed more than right-handed because of the abundance of right-handed pitching the Phillies face, 269 PAs to 125. So, to see an improved year from Rollins, all he really needs to do is improve his swing from the left-side, specifically by hitting more line drives.
How much improvement?
Just by doing some quick calculations, if Rollins had 9 more base hits last year, his average and OBP would have risen to .268 and .345, which we would consider an average season for Jimmy Rollins.
I think it is pretty safe to say Rollins should be able to improve with no problems in 2011.