Year in and year out, you could usually count on Jimmy Rollins for double digit home runs, 30+ steals and a boat load of runs scored hitting atop the Phillies lineup. But his age 34 season was quite the disappointment as he hit the fewest home runs in a season for his career and posted his first sub-.100 ISO and sub-.300 wOBA. Heading into his age 35 season, it is fair to ask whether Rollins’ days of earning top 10 shortstop value are over.
The most difficult thing when trying to project older veterans is determining whether a disappointing season was just any poor season or whether it represents the first data point of the hitter’s age-related decline. While the percentage play is to assume the old player is not going to rebound and recapture his glory days at the plate and on the base paths, any sort of better performance could provide his fantasy owners with a nice profit, for those brave enough to take the plunge for one more season.
While Rollins’ power took center stage in 2012, that may have actually been the year that the decline began. His strikeout rate spiked as he swung and missed more often than he had since 2007. Looking back, that should have been a sure sign of a slowing bat, raising red flags heading into this year. Instead of cutting down on all those extra strikeouts, he whiffed even more frequently this year, and swung and missed at the worst rate since 2003.
Never a high BABIP guy, the loss of his contact skills are very troubling for his prospects of not hurting your batting average. For a guy with power and speed and a reasonable batted ball distribution, it’s pretty amazing that his career high BABIP is just .309. Pop-ups are certainly to blame for some of his struggles, but his career average IFFB% is only a bit above the league average, not significantly so.
One ominous stat is that of his average batted ball distance. Though he has just once recorded an average distance above the league average (back in 2007), his distance plummeted from 275 feet last season to just 257 feet this year. That my friends ranked a pathetic 288th out of 300 batters! My first inclination was to assume he must have been playing through some sort of injury. But a quick check finds nothing other then minor aches here and there to his foot and hip. It’s doubtful that those impacted his power so greatly.
He also attempted fewer steals and posted his first ever sub-5.0 Spd score. Rollins ranked just 19th in value among shortstops, but a chunk of that is due to his paltry 104 runs plus runs batted in. Some of that could be blamed on his power going MIA, while the weak Phillies offense also factored in. The team scored the third fewest runs in the National League. You have to figure that he’ll fair better in those categories in 2014.
While everything is pointing to old age catching up, I still wouldn’t ignore Rollins completely. He still has a good chance of reaching 10-20, or perhaps 10-25, which still has value even in 12-team mixed leagues. Since he’ll probably cost little, he’s not a terrible option to end up with. No doubt you won’t be doing jumping jacks if you do indeed draft him, but don’t forget that he did just go 23-30 in 2012.
Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.