Over the last decade or so, Jimmy Rollins has been called a lot of things for the Phillies. He has been called the spark plug for the Phillies offense and the unofficial leader of the club. Conversely, one thing that absolutely nobody has ever labeled Jimmy as is a “prototypical leadoff hitter”.
But what exactly are the characteristics and skill sets of someone that you would consider the perfect leadoff man? Possibilities include abilities such as speed/baserunning ability, hitting for average, a solid approach at the plate, and a knack for hitting linedrives and groundballs. You could also throw in the ability to keep from striking out constantly.
What it really comes down to, though, is can you get on base more than the average player? Then, if you get on base, can you give yourself the best chance to score?
Rollins has always had good speed and above average baserunning ability in his career, so once he gets on base he has a better than average chance to score. Obviously much of it depends on what the player behind him in the order does at the plate, but in having good speed, Jimmy can score on certain hits or balls in play that other players of lesser athletic ability could not. In this aspect, Jimmy is a perfect guy to have on base when the likes of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard step in the batter’s box.
Unfortunately for the Phillies, speed seems to be the only prerequisite that our beloved J-roll has for the leadoff position. Looking at his BA and OBP during the last four years (’09-12), he has put up an average of .253 and .316, respectively, over those years. The league average for BA during those years was .257 and OBP was .325, so as you can see, Jimmy is slightly below average in each category. Not exactly the tablesetter needed at the top of the lineup. (stats via baseball-reference.com)
When it comes to his patience and approach at the plate, that has also been suspect over the years. Far too many times during his career we have seen Jimmy pop up the first pitch in the first inning, pretty much giving the defense an automatic out. Batting in the leadoff spot in 2012, he had an IFFB% of 19%. So, 1 out of every 5 flyballs he hit was an out as soon as it left the bat, and that was the third worst percentage in the entire MLB last season out of players with 400+ plate appearances. (stats courtesy of FanGraphs.com)
Then we have to look into his stats concerning the rates at which he hits fly balls, grounders, and line drives. It doesn’t get any more promising. Jimmy hits ground balls 39.4% of the time, line drives 19% of the time, and fly balls a whopping 41.6% of the time. Those numbers aren’t bad relative to most power hitters, but they aren’t the numbers of a good leadoff hitter. Flyballs give the defense the upper hand, unless you are hitting them out of the park at a significant rate. (Fangraphs.com)
Groundballs on the other hand, if hit well, not only have the chance of finding their way through the infield, but can cause fielding/throwing errors. Also, a player with good enough speed can sometimes beat out throws to first base even if there isn’t an error on the play. In general, it gives the batter many more ways to get on base instead of just relying on a fly ball to drop or leave the park. There are just more variables for the defense.
So, why hasn’t Charlie Manuel been able to pull the trigger on moving Rollins out of the leadoff spot? It may have something to do with the fact that Manuel wants to be loyal to the player that he has spent the most time with during his tenure with the Phillies. Or maybe it is because there wasn’t anybody that stood out to him on the roster that would be better suited to the spot.
Most people would say, and I would agree, that Juan Pierre in 2012 would have been a much better option to lead off. The only problem with that is that Pierre was only on a one year minor league deal in 2012, so he wasn’t even a sure thing to make the 25 man roster. He also wasn’t garunteed to be here more than just that one year. Maybe Charlie didn’t want to take Rollins out of the leadoff spot if he would just be forced to put him back there the next year if and when Juan Pierre was not resigned (which he wasn’t).
Now that we are ringing in the new year and the Phillies finally have someone on their roster that fits the bill for a leadoff man much better, Manuel may have to make his resolution for this year to not go through another season with Rollins at the top of the order.
Ben Revere was traded for this winter from the Minnesota Twins for Vance Worley and Trevor May. He may not quite have the OBP in the majors that would be “perfect” for the leadoff spot… yet, but he is only 24 years old and has been improving steadily during his time in “The Show”. He did have a BA of .294 in 2012, so he is definitely more of a contact hitter than Rollins.
Many have been comparing Revere to a young version of Juan Pierre or Michael Bourn. He has almost no power to speak of, but has speed to burn and specializes in slap hitting grounders and line drives and using his speed to cause havoc on the basepaths.
Revere lives off of ground balls and line drives. Out of all of his batted balls, 66.9% were grounders and 18.6% were line drives. With a fly ball rate of 14.5% compared to Jimmy’s 41.6%, he has a lot less outs right off his bat. Revere may also be in the top 10 of the fastest players in the majors, so the more grounders he hits, the more chance there is of an error.
It is also promising when you look into Revere’s minor league career. Throughout 6 years and 1755 plate appearances, Revere averaged a .326 BA and a .383 OBP. Those are numbers that the Phillies would love to see at the top of their lineup for years to come.
One thing that the Phillies are hoping to do is work on Revere’s approach, possibly getting him to draw more walks, therefore increasing his OBP. He is young enough to teach still, so it isn’t out of the realm of possibility for him to improve in this aspect of his game.
There is another part to Revere’s game that gives him a slight edge over Rollins, and that is the fact that he doesn’t strike out quite as often. That is another part of his game that can only get better with time and experience.
Revere is under team control until 2018, and is presumably the CF now and in the future for the Phillies, so he will be here a while. Now is the time to put him at the top of the order and let him have some “on the job” training while already contributing to the team’s overall potential.
Seeing as though Jimmy has the ability to knock 20+ homers, he would be better served in a spot in the lineup where he has more opportunity to drive in runs. Power is in short supply on the Phillies roster, so they need to put the power they do have in the right positions to make a difference.
There is no better time than now to make the change. We will have to wait and see if Charlie can make the objective decision for the better of the team this year.
Insanity is loosely defined as doing the same thing over and over again, while expecting a different result. If Rollins once again spends the 2013 season as our leadoff hitter with a below average OBP, it will surely be insane in my opinion.