06/15/09 5:08 PM ET
Rollins won't let bad luck get him down
Phils shortstop says being in first place is the best therapy
By Todd Zolecki / MLB.com
The swing is quicker.
The timing feels right.
But 2009 has been nothing like '07, when Rollins earned National League MVP honors. He became the first player in baseball history to have 200 hits, 15 triples, 25 home runs and 25 stolen bases in the same year. But this season has been the opposite. He enters Tuesday's Interleague series opener against the Blue Jays at Citizens Bank Park hitting just .217 with 13 doubles, one triple, five home runs, 25 RBIs, a .254 on-base percentage and a .330 slugging percentage.
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel and teammates see a player with some rotten luck. Line drives hit right at people. Fly balls outfielders snare at the last moment. Rockets hit on the ground that infielders stop.
"If there were a stat for hard-hit outs, I would bet he leads the team," catcher Chris Coste said.
Baseball Prospectus has a statistic called BABIP, which is batting average on balls in play. It includes plate appearances that don't result in a walk, strikeout or home run. Rollins' BABIP this season is .225. His career mark is .295. The NL average this season is .296. That suggests Rollins has run into some bad luck.
"I just laugh," Rollins said. "Like, 'Wow.' Really. It's really not stressful. It's really not frustrating. There are certain things we can't control. I can control my attitude. I can control the way I go out there and the way I approach the game. When the pitcher throws the ball, he no longer has control. When the ball comes off my bat, I no longer have control. If I'm taking good swings and they catch it, I can live with it. If you take bad swings, you know it's bad and you go out there and try to work on the good swings. It's constantly a work in progress, even when you're going well.
"But being where we are at the top of the division is probably the best therapy you can have. If you're in last place or you're three games back or you're in third place with two teams in front of you, then you get frustrated. But we're playing winning baseball. All I have to do is contribute. If I'm not doing it with the bat, make sure I do it with the glove until the bat catches up."
FanGraphs Baseball, a sabermetric-based Web site, measures how players make outs. Rollins has hit line drives for 17.1 percent of his outs this season, which is the lowest percentage of line drive outs in his career. Raul Ibanez is the only Phillies regular with a lower percentage (15.3 percent) of line drive outs. Rollins also has hit infield fly balls for outs 14.4 percent of the time, which is the highest percentage of his career. It also is the second-highest mark on the team this season behind Shane Victorino (18.4 percent).
So while Rollins might have run into some bad luck, he hasn't been hitting the ball as hard as he has in the past. He hasn't been as patient at the plate, either. He hasn't walked since May 27, a span of 16 games. He also has seen just 3.69 pitches per plate appearance, his lowest total since 2005.
"I'm not swinging the bat as well," Rollins said. "Let's say my MVP year. I hit the ball well, but sometimes some balls fell in for me. Let's say this year, some balls hit hard that didn't fall in suddenly fall in. I'm easily at .270 and nobody is really paying attention. But when it doesn't happen, it can look worse than what it is. Of course, baseball is full of numbers and the numbers are horrible.
"But Ted Williams hit .250 one year. And he's probably the greatest to ever play the game. Everybody is going to go through stuff. It's just at the end of the year, how much did you help your team win one way or another? I've always felt that way, even when I'm hitting well. Got to try to steal some bags. Got to lead the team in the right direction."
Got to play stellar defense.
"I have to," he said. "I don't want to get released."
But in an interesting twist, as Rollins struggles through the worst first half of his career, he could be headed to the All-Star Game. He leads NL shortstops with 1,216,007 votes. That is 87,460 more votes than Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who is hitting .330 with 20 doubles, eight home runs, 34 RBIs, a .395 on-base percentage and a .519 slugging percentage.
Rollins has been to three All-Star Games, but none since 2005. He had the best first half of his career in '07, but did not make the All-Star team. Jose Reyes and J.J. Hardy represented the NL instead.
Maybe this is payback.
"Maybe people just like me," Rollins said with a smile.
But does he deserve to go?
"It depends what numbers you're talking about," Rollins said. "If you want to talk All-Star Game, you pick the best at their position. I still fit in that category. What makes the criteria?"
The All-Star roster always makes for good debate, but Phils fans would rather have Rollins on point for the season's remaining 101 games.
History suggests Rollins will turn around his season. First, he entered the season a .277 career hitter. He is much better than he has been. Second, Rollins always has been a better hitter in the second half of the season. He hits 22 points higher in the second half. His on-base percentage also is 32 points higher and his slugging percentage is 51 points higher in the second half.
"That's baseball," Manuel said of Rollins' struggles. "I keep saying that and I know you don't like it, but that's baseball. Some of you guys sitting there have never been 9-for-115. I have. I know what it's like. But also that same year I ended the season big. It doesn't matter. You stay with it and you keep swinging. He hit a ball hard [Sunday] to left-center. He's been hitting one or two balls hard a night and they've been catching them. That's a good measure of who you are and everything. It tests you. Like Ted Williams said, every at-bat is an adventure."
Manuel, like Rollins, knows Williams hit .254 in 1959 before he hit .316 in the final year of his career in 1960.
Manuel, like Rollins, knows Rollins can turn things around, too.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.