San Francisco Giants Riding the Pine: Jimmy Rollins

Aug 31, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Jimmy Rollins (11) hits a single during the fourteenth inning against the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 31, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Jimmy Rollins (11) hits a single during the fourteenth inning against the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports /

Over the course of seventeen seasons, Jimmy Rollins has constructed a respectable major league career, a career which will garner him votes for the Hall of Fame when he decides to hang up his spikes for good. In joining the San Francisco Giants, he’s signing up for a rather unfamiliar role.

The San Francisco Giants have agreed to a minor league contract with Jimmy Rollins, one of baseball’s best shortstops over the past two decades. In fifteen seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies, plus a season each with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox, the three-time All-Star has earned four Gold Gloves, a Silver Slugger, an MVP, and a World Series ring while accumulating 2,455 hits, 470 stolen bases, 231 home runs and a career slash line of .264/.324/.418.

Rollins was the nucleus of Charlie Manuel’s powerhouse Phillie teams from 2007 to 2011, playing an integral role in helping Philadelphia reach the World Series in back-to-back seasons.  According to Ryan Spader, Barry Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Paul Molitor, Ty Cobb, and Honus Wagner are the only players in baseball history to accumulate more career extra-base hits and stolen bases than Rollins.

There is no mistaking that “J-Roll” was a premier shortstop in his heyday, but as he enters the twilight of his career with his prime well in the rearview mirror, the 38-year-old now looks to extend his playing career by fighting for a spot on the bench with the San Francisco Giants, a role he has never occupied in his near two decades of baseball.

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Father Time has begun to catch up with Rollins, as evidenced by the veteran’s performance in recent seasons. Rollins played barely a quarter of a season with the White Sox in 2016, participating in 41 games before the team designated him for assignment in favor of rookie Tim Anderson. The Oakland native was sub-par with the bat during his brief time in the South Side of Chicago, compiling a WAR of exactly 0 with a mere weighted on-base average of .277, batting average of .221 and wRC+ of 69. Advanced defensive metrics did not favor Rollins either. As a shortstop, Rollins had a UZR/150 of -5.8 in 299 innings, far from the high bar he set in previous seasons which earned him the golden leather.

The shortstop showed flashes of the power and speed combination from his prime, hitting two home runs and stealing five bases, albeit on nine attempts. He walked at a decent rate of 9.6% as well, which would have been the third highest of his career had he played over a full season. Despite averaging about 12 home runs in his last three full seasons, Rollins’s isolated power numbers have been on the decline, and last season’s total of .107 is far below average.

Rollins isn’t too far removed from being a full-time starting shortstop, playing 144 games for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015. During his lone season in the “City of Angels”, Rollins compiling a slash line of .224/.285/.358 with 13 home runs and 12 steals, but advanced metrics proved age was beginning to creep up on the former All-Star. His weighted on-base average and isolated power at the end of the season stood at .283 and .133, respectively, with a UZR of -6.2, all of which are tell-tale signs of decline. From the eye test alone, the overall athleticism and strength which compensated his slender frame was no longer present.

The veteran’s on-the-field production has noticeably dipped since hitting the mid-30s, but his leadership ability and clubhouse presence makes him an invaluable piece for any team, especially one built around strong characters like the Giants. The San Francisco Giants have taken pride in establishing strong chemistry and a positive atmosphere, and Rollins is the perfect fit for the model Bruce Bochy has built since he arrived.

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Rollins wasn’t afraid to step into a leadership role as early as his sophomore season for Larry Bowa’s ballclub, taking initiative when no veterans stepped up to the plate. He remained driven to maintain Philadelphia’s mental backbone for the remainder of his career in the City of Brotherly Love and stepped into a similar role with the Dodgers after the Phillies traded him.

Rollins would undoubtedly help San Francisco’s younger players just as he has done in the past. In particular, Rollins would likely be of huge help to the young speedster Kelby Tomlinson, who needs to refine further the art of base stealing, a craft Rollins has mastered. The youth cannot prosper without veterans to guide the way, and Rollins perfectly fits that bill.

Bochy’s fondness for veterans may sway him to choose Rollins over other players gunning for a shot at the bench. Should he make the team, Rollins may dethrone Tomlinson as the primary infield option. The 38-year-old proved last season that he has the power to run into one on occasion and swipe the occasional bag, and Rollins’s ability to hit from both sides of the plate is a tremendous asset as well, giving Bochy another chess piece to exploit match-ups in later innings.

The switch-hitter is noticeably better against left-handed pitching, batting a career .272 against south-paws compared to a .261 average against right-handed pitching. Rollins has played shortstop his entire career, which limits his defensive versatility, but spring training is an ideal time to try the veteran out at different positions around the infield.

Based off conventional wisdom, Rollins has an excellent chance to suit up for San Francisco to open up the season. Rollins is an ideal candidate for Bochy late in ballgames, both for offense and defense, and his superb leadership ability is the cherry on top. The veteran will still have to battle for a spot in spring, but his track record as a ballplayer and a personality provides him with an advantage neither Tomlinson nor Adrianza possesses.e

Next: Riding the Pine: Kelby Tomlinson

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