what's wrong with jimmy rollins?

as we recover from the traumatic week of endless rumors and tweets, ending in albert pujols taking his talents to long beach (or thereabouts), we are slowly gathering ourselves for the next step, trying to figure out where we go from here.

unfortunately, the next-best-thing on the market was already gone. jose reyes is going to be a marlin. tiptoeing down the list of the next big free agents, jimmy rollins's name comes up shortly thereafter.

now, rollins resonates with me as kind of a quintessentially unappealing player to a sabr-type. overrated for a long time, received an undeserved mvp, aging middle infielder due for a collapse.and all of that is true. the most concerning statistic about jimmy rollins is 33: his age.

still, the market hasn't really coalesced around him yet. the phillies are probably most likely to re-sign him, partially because he's a familiar hometown hero and partially because ruben amaro has not yet grasped the whole aging curve business. (he's due for a fairly brutal crash course, soonish.)

however, if the phillies find another option, and rollins seems less adamant about 4-5 years, should we be interested in him at, say, three years? probably not, but he's a more interesting case than you might think.

first: the guy is starting to take walks. after going eight seasons without putting up an 8 percent walk rate, he's put up a 9 percent or better walk rate in three of the last four seasons. that's interesting. if he can maintain a decent walk rate, that's a skill that is less likely to decline as he ages.

second: it's not at all clear what is happening to his hitting. he's walking a lot more, so you'd think he'd have a soaring obp, right? nope. as his walk rate has risen, his batting average and babip have tanked enormously. his babips over the last four seasons are .290, .251, .246, and .275, which are completely abnormal.

and his sudden contact difficulties don't seem to relate to changing quality in contact: he's had line drive rates of 20, 1917, and 24 percent over the last 4 seasons.

while he had a down year defensively in 2011 (3.1 uzr/150), his defensive stats have been generally above average to very good.

the one thing that seems not-mysterious is the decline of his power. rollins' iso is not going to see the good side of .200 again. it would be nice if it saw the good side of .150. don't hold your breath for 25 hr from him.

anyway, i present his case as a mystery more than one to which i have an answer. why does a guy who seems to be making solid contact and walking more have such a terrible history over the last four season with batted balls? he seems like he should be hitting much better. even with the loss of power, the boost in walks should make him a reasonable on-base force. with generally good defense at short, he should be more than the 2-3 win shortstop we see before us.

i am perplexed. there is certainly a real, if counterintuitive, chance that he is suffering from a phenomenally bad 4-season long stretch of terrible luck.

i don't really know what do do with rollins's strange recent history. it does make me feel like he could be a semi-reasonable option if the market for furcal gets out of hand, he steps back from his demands, and no good trade propsects are on the horizon. still, i hate the idea of taking on a shortstop for his age 33, 34, and 35 seasons. on the other hand, a furcal contract would be for his age 34 (and likely 35) season(s). all these contingencies are unlikely to occur, and i certainly agree there is nothing interesting enough to justify a 4-5 year contract, or one at a high aav.

* * *

this year, listen to a beautiful christmas carol for people with social anxiety: "river," by joni mitchell.

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