Older, wiser Rollins posting strong numbers
While attempting to become Phils' all-time hits leader, shortstop has regained form
PHILADELPHIA -- Jimmy Rollins can't turn back the clock.
Rollins still turns 36 in November, which makes him just another Phillies player entering his mid-to-late 30s. But Rollins, who needs only 22 more hits to pass Mike Schmidt to become the franchise's all-time hits leader, looks youthful on the field this season, playing better than he has played since he helped the Phillies win the World Series as a 29-year-old.
"It comes with age," Rollins said on Sunday morning at Citizens Bank Park.
Every player should be so fortunate.
The Phils just passed the quarter mark of their season, so there is plenty of baseball to play. But as the club gets ready to open a three-game series on Tuesday in Miami, Rollins, who had the worst season of his career last year, is hitting .262 with five doubles, two triples, five home runs, 18 RBIs, a .359 on-base percentage, a .428 slugging percentage and a .787 OPS.
Rollins' on-base percentage is 10 points higher than his career high in 2008 and 31 points higher than his career average. His slugging percentage is his best since 2008. Rollins' OPS is his highest since he won the National League MVP Award in 2007. He is seeing more pitches per plate appearance than at any time in his career (4.10, which is 29th out of 176 qualifying hitters in baseball) and swinging at fewer first pitches than ever before (13.1 percent this season compared to 21.5 percent in his career).
Rollins credits the walks, seeing more pitches, being more patient at the plate, etc., to how he is being pitched and for allowing him to see fewer fastballs as the team's No. 2 hitter in the lineup (Rollins hit leadoff for the first time this season this weekend against the Reds). But his .802 OPS at shortstop (Rollins is 2-for-10 as a DH and pinch-hitter, which lowers his overall OPS) is fourth out of 28 shortstops in baseball. Only Troy Tulowitzki (1.267), Starlin Castro (.832) and Alexei Ramirez (.830) have been better.
"Wiser," Rollins offered as another explanation for his uptick in performance.
It seems few have noticed because the Phillies have disappointed, posting a 19-22 record and occupying last place in the NL East. At least Rollins has done his part. He had a disagreement with Phils manager Ryne Sandberg in Spring Training, which put him on the bench for three consecutive Grapefruit League games. Shortly thereafter, ESPN.com reported there was strong sentiment within the organization to trade Rollins sooner than later because a new shortstop would help set a new tone in the clubhouse.
Rollins has 10-and-5 rights, which means he can refuse any trade, and he has said repeatedly he has no plans to waive those rights, although he has hinted that could change after he passes Schmidt and only if the team is truly blowing up the entire roster and starting from scratch.
But the folks in the ESPN.com report as well as some teammates have wanted Rollins to be a better leader, which meant coming to the ballpark ready to work, prepared to play and setting a strong example for others.
Some players talk about those things, but once the season starts, they revert to their old ways and fall short. Rollins made no promises publicly, but he has quietly been a superb teammate.
"His concentration level has been very high since the start of the season," Phillies bench coach Larry Bowa said. "He's always been a leader, but he's been more vocal this year. It just seems like he's into everything. In his own mind, maybe he said, 'I don't want to do this again [repeat 2013].' Not him personally, but team-wise. That's the first time he's ever been on a team that was out of it.
"The so-called blow-up or whatever it was with Ryno, I don't think it was a blow-up. But I think since then, he's been a model citizen. I think he's been great in the clubhouse. He's been great. Even if he was hitting .230 right now and he had that attitude, I'd tell you the same thing. He talks to different guys about what the ball is doing when he hits. He's talking to [third baseman Cody] Asche in between pitches for positioning. He's on top of everything right now. Hopefully, that continues."
The Phils would welcome that. Rollins needs only 266 more plate appearances this season for an $11 million option to automatically vest for next year. But next on the horizon is catching Richie Ashburn on the franchise hits list.
Ashburn has 2,217. Rollins has 2,213.
Rollins could pass Whitey before the Phillies return home Friday to open an 11-game homestand. After that comes Schmidt, who has 2,234 hits
"It's not happening fast enough," Rollins said of the pursuit.
In other words, Rollins believes he could be playing even better.
"It'll happen," he said. "All you have to do is keep playing and getting hits. It'll happen. But I haven't done much. I haven't scored enough runs. I haven't gotten enough hits. My on-base percentage is high, but I've scored more with a .320 on-base percentage."
But looking ahead, one wonders how long Rollins can play if he continues to produce like this.
"I plan on five [years]," he said. "I always said I wanted to play until I was 38, but that's when I was 21 or 22 and it seemed like a long time. Then when you get there, you're like, 'It isn't that long.' When you're young and you're 21 in the big leagues, 38 is forever away, you know?"
So Rollins wants to be an everyday player at 40?
"That's the plan," he said. "But it also depends on the team you're playing for."
But if Rollins is hitting like this …
"I'm not even hitting yet," he said. "Just watch. When I start hitting, I'll let you know."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.