"J-Roll" has been the Phillies' undisputed leadoff man for the significant majority of the past 12 seasons, the last five of which saw his team make the playoffs and included a pennant and a World Series title.
He is not, though, a "leadoff" hitter. His career batting average is .270, which would not be such a problem except that his career on-base percentage is .328.
In a career where he more often than not got 700-plus plate appearances per season, he has never drawn more than 58 walks in a year.
Leadoff hitters get on base any way they can. Even despite 2011 and 2012 statistical lines that have dulled his brilliance, Ichiro Suzuki's career on-base percentage is .365. Yes, his career average is .322, and yes, that certainly explains some of the difference. But then, Ichiro put the ball on the ground and exploited his speed, something Rollins only seems to do when he feels like it.
Rollins has speed. He has 398 stolen bases against just 83 times caught stealing, a success rate of just below 80 percent.
But Rollins is not a "basestealer." He has led the National League in stolen bases only once, in his first full season in 2001. He has never been the type who could steal 60-plus bases for three consecutive years like Jose Reyes (2005-2007) or for that matter lead the league in steals for years in a row (Reyes and Michael Bourn).
Rollins has pop. He has hit 30 home runs in a season (during his glorious 2007 Most Valuable Player campaign) and has 10 double-digit home-run years in the record books.
But he is not a "power hitter," much as he would like to be. Tallying 187 home runs in 7,395 career at-bats is a home run every 39.5 at-bats. As an example, Troy Tulowitzki has 130 home runs—in 2,813 at-bats.
Rollins is a very good defensive shortstop. He has three Gold Gloves to his credit (2007-2009) and a career fielding percentage of .983. Probably his defense had as much to do with the Phillies' willingness to sign him to his current three-year contract extension as did his marginally declining offensive skills.
But he is not an elite defensive player, in the manner of Ozzie Smith or Omar Vizquel. Or even Derek Jeter, who has five Gold Gloves despite playing short left field for the past few years.
And while Jeter is being mentioned, it has to be said: Rollins is the leader of the Phillies, but to call him a "leader" is probably stretching the meaning of the word.
Rollins leads the Phillies because when he plays well, they play well. His 2007 MVP season was not coincidentally the team's first playoff appearance in 14 years. In 2009, Rollins led the league in plate appearances and at-bats and scored 100 runs while also collecting that third Gold Glove.
But "leaders" do not have multiple incidents of failing to run out ground balls and pop-ups. "Leaders" do not show up late to the stadium without a reason. Basically, leaders do not put their managers in no-win situations (bench the player and hurt the team, or excuse the offense and look weak.)
For that matter, leaders do not put their teammates in the awkward position of having to answer questions about their own poor choices.
The enigma that is Rollins extends into the stands. He famously chided Phillies' fans for being "too quiet" during Game 2 of the 2011 National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. But when fans booed him for not running out a pop-up last week, well, he had a lot less to say. “Hell no,” Rollins replied to interrogating reporters. “(Manuel) already told you what happened. There you go.”
That's not "I made a mistake and I will do better going forward," is it?
Even if Rollins only plays the next two seasons guaranteed on his current contract, he projects easily to pass Mike Schmidt (2,234) for the all-time Phillies lead in hits. If he can play five more seasons, 2,500 hits and a ticket to the Hall of Fame become real possibilities.
Perhaps only then will Phillies fans finally know what sort of player Jimmy Rollins really was.
Because, even at this late date, it is still pretty hard to know.
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