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I couldn’t stay quiet. Not after the Phillies swept the Mets AGAIN – this time at Shea. But  Coley’s steadfast endorsement of Jimmy Rollins for MVP absolutely wreaks of homer-ism This is not a reference to the idiocy of Homer Simpson, but rather, the disease that plagues 99.99% (yes, this includes me) of baseball fans - the inability to properly judge the players on the teams for which you root.

I believe that there are 12 hitters in the National League who have had MVP-calibre seasons individually – Chipper Jones, Hanley Ramirez, Jimmy Rollins, Matt Holliday, Albert Pujols, Chase Utley, David Wright, Carlos Lee, Eric Byrnes, Jose Reyes, Prince Fielder, and Carlos Beltran. Rollins does certainly come out looking pretty good even among this bunch:

MVP Numbers

In the above chart, “Rk” stands for rank, comparing among the dozen players how each of them fare within those categories. Rollins is Top-5 in four categories – Runs, Strikeouts, Total Bases, and Stolen Bases. But look at Matt Holliday. He’s Top-5 in seven. Or David Wright, who is Top-5 in six. So Rollins doesn’t have the most balanced numbers among them.

What Rollins is heads-and-shoulders above his competition in is the number of times he has crossed home plate. His 127 Runs Scored is best in the NL, leading Hanley Ramirez by 12. But how is it that Rollins has this distinction with the lowest OBP among the dozen players (.346)? I’m sure that his number of extra-base hits and stolen bases has a good deal to do with this. But I’m just as sure that having Ryan Howard and Chase Utley behind you doesn’t hurt either. Moreover, look at the column for “ABs”. Despite playing in only three more games than his nearest competitor, Jose Reyes, Rollins has 38 more at-bats which sounds like a lot to me.

In fact, I checked the list of players who had led the NL in Runs Scored over a full season and found something that would make a good trivia question: When is the last time that a player has led the NL in Runs Scored while having a lower OBP than Jimmy Rollins (.346)? The answer is Glenn Beckert of the Chicago Cubs, who accomplished the feat all the way back in 1968, scoring 98 times despite having an OBP of .326. Suffice to say, the general rule of thumb is that in order to score runs, you need to get on base. It’s very unusual for a player like Rollins to lead the league.

Which got me wondering, in what other categories has Rollins benefited from his number of at-bats? I know this isn’t exactly scientific, but for kicks, I projected the numbers for each of the 12 MVP candidates if they too had equaled Rollins’ 656 At-Bats:

MVP Numbers 2

Rollins doesn’t look very special in this light. He still keeps up with his peers, but he’s now only Top-5 in two categories.  Now I know this chart assumes that each player performs just as they have throughout the season, but I think the point can still be made. While this certainly does not change how much Rollins has contributed on the field – let’s face it, the guy’s been tremendous – but this does help put things into perspective. He’s performed exceptionally well, but he has also received more opportunities to do so than anyone else.

And if you need more proof, Rollins is ninth in Win Shares with 23 (behind David Wright who has 30) and is also ninth in VORP (behind Hanley Ramirez).

Jimmy Rollins has played at an MVP-level for certain. But when you compare him to his peers, he’s just middle-of-the-pack. To be fair, there’s still two weeks of baseball to be played. With the race for NL MVP so tight, I can be convinced otherwise.

13 Responses to “Jimmy Rollins’ Numbers are Inflated”

  1. Paul, there’s no doubt that Jimmy Rollins’ numbers are inflated. And there’s no doubt that I am a total homer, especially where Rollins is concerned.

    Rollins is a sentimental choice. I love the way he’s backed up his tough talk this year. Everybody outside of Philly wanted to see him fail, but he wasn’t having any of it.

    Still, your arguments about Rollins’ OBP and and number of at bats are valid.

    If you want to give the award to the guy with the most eye-popping stats, I nominate Barry Bonds, whose OBP is far and away the best in the NL (.483). His slugging percentage is sixth best in the NL (.570). I mean, it’s not even close. If the most important thing a hitter can do is get on base, and Bonds is WAY, WAY, WAY better at getting on base than anybody else, then why isn’t Bonds your 2007 NL MVP? (Ignoring, of course, the fact that the Giants are terrible, and that Bonds is a cheating ass.)

  2. Bonds isn’t MVP because he’s only had 474 plate appearances, which is tied for 74th in the NL. There’s a limit to how much value you could have when you play so seldom. And this is something that I know I didn’t give Rollins enough credit for – being able to stay on the field. That in itself is pretty valuable, especially when you do so at the level that Rollins has.

  3. And if you need more proof, Rollins is ninth in Win Shares with 23 (behind David Wright who has 30) and is also ninth in VORP (behind Hanley Ramirez).

    That was as of September 8th.

    What about defense. Defense helps wins games as well. Rollins defensive ability makes up for his slight gaps in offense that you’ve pointed out.

  4. Justin, you’re right to an extent. But Win Shares actually factors in defense as well. Rollins’ contributions on defense are good, but not great (ie not Troy Tulowitzki level). His hands are sure, absolutely. But his Zone Ratings (whether normal ZR or revised) and his Range Factors are pretty much average. The Hardball Times has Rollins’ defensive contribution to his Win Shares at 3.7, which is, again, average for a SS.

    Don’t get me wrong, he’s miles better than Hanley Ramirez right now defensively. But in terms of the defensive abilities of other NL MVP candidates, David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, and Eric Byrnes seem to have more value at their respective positions than Rollins has at short.

    But then again, I think it’s difficult comparing the defensive merits of players at different positions.

  5. Wait, scratch that – David Wright isn’t as good at third than Rollins is at short. It may be comparable, but I’d give the nod to Rollins.

  6. Paul, your comment is actually a very important one.

    Part of what makes a player Most Valuable, is his ability to stay healthy, stay in the lineup, and keep producing through the normal bumps and bruises of a season. A player doesn’t “receive more opportunities.” Everyone gets 162 games worth of opportunities. Then it’s theirs to lose.

    Extrapolating numbers is fun, but more suited to a chat over beers. You’re talking 15-25% increase for the guys with lowest appearances, which can make a lot of players go from average to outstanding.

    Let’s talk about what has been done, rather that what could’ve been.

    Unless you’re buying the beers. Then we’ll talk about whatever you want to talk about.

  7. Oh, a note on the 3 game and 38 AB discrepancy.

    It’s a matter of plate discipline. Reyes has 70BB/71Ks (.985 BB/K). Rollins has only 47BB/76Ks (.618 BB/K). This could be either a knock on Rollins, or indicative of coaching.

    Still, since Reyes has 23 more BB, which aren’t counted as AB, the actual AB discrepancy is 15AB. If you figure 4AB per game, give or take, it’s not nearly as much of a discrepancy.

    They actually have a similar number of Plate Appearances. It’s what they did with them that shows.

  8. Rich, I’m going to split up my answer to your comment (most of which I compeltely agree with).

    1. On the matter of the “what has been done, rather than what could’ve been”, I know what you’re saying. But isn’t it odd that while Reyes has only missed three more games than Rollins that Jimmy has 38 more ABs? They’re both leadoff hitters in the NL East who’ve been healthy all year (although Reyes’ recent dropoff may hint at an injury). So what’s the difference? I suspect it’s because the Phillies have a much better offense. The less frequently your teammates make an out, the more at-bats you’ll receive. This really isn’t an individual achievement, is it? What about David Wright? He’s pretty much split time equally in the 3, 4, and 5 slots in the order. And this is true because he’s the best overall hitter on the Mets. As such, he won’t get as many ABs as a leadoff batter would. Why should he be penalized for being good at his job? So you can say that “everyone gets 162 games worth of opportunities”, but the important thing here is the number of ABs. And it needs to be recognized that Rollins’ number of times he’s stepped to the plate is pretty unusual.

    2. One thing that I decided to cut out of the post because it seemed a little off-topic: the number of times Rollins has come to the plate with a runner in scoring position. It’s very unusual for a leadoff hitter to have this many RBIs as Rollins has. But again, this has to do with opportunities. Rollins has 145 ABs with RISP, which is 4th among the twelve players discussed in the article (behind Matt Holliday, Carlos Lee, and Chase Utley). But Rollins’ batting average in those situations is .265, which puts him 11th out of 12 (last is Prince Fielder). Knowing this, how much credit can you give Rollins for those 85 RBIs when he’s underperformed during RBI opportunities? Again, it’s about how often he’s received his chances.

    Basically, it’s not just Rollins who has been able to stay healthy. Pujols, Fielder, Wright, Lee, Byrnes, Holliday and Reyes have all played pretty much a full season (with the occasional days off for some). Therefore, is it their fault that they didn’t get more plate appearances than Rollins has? I don’t think it is.

  9. Sarah Green says:

    The distinction between plate appearances and at-bats is key, Rich. Overall, though, I’m impressed with Paul’s math and chart-making skills! Bravo. Also, I’m SHOCKED at Prince Fielder’s disappointing RISP average. The media have been swooning over him all season long but the whole time he’s been sucking when it counts most! Holy crap!

  10. Alright, breaking it down.

    I don’t think Rollins numbers are inflated for a leadoff hitter. I explained the AB vs. Plate appearance (PA) discrepancy in my second comment. He is ranked 12th in walks taken, meaning he got AB credit instead.

    I also don’t think Rollins is the slam-dunk NL MVP, but I think the extrapolated numbers are a poor method of debunking. I do the same thing with my fantasy team to make me feel better. Upton and Hart with full seasons gives me the warm fuzzies.

    Note on the VORP and WS stats: Good players on lousy teams over-index compared to the average. Ex: Albert Pujols has 30+ more Games Played than Scott Rolen, his closest teammate, and the Cards are under 500. VORP is based on the players share of team PA, while WS takes into account the # of team wins. He has the largest share of PA and WS just by showing up (and having a good, but not great, season).

    Tossing out Beltran, Utley, Jones for lack of appearances, as well as Lee, Pujols and Byrnes, for lack of distinction, leaves six.

    Philosophical question: What do you consider most important criteria for MVP? A) Absolute numbers b) Team success c) contribution to team success.

    Personally, I have issues awarding the MVP to players whose teams are going nowhere, which is essentially the over-indexing I mentioned above. However, I’m quite possibly out of step with the baseball community at large. That’s what makes these discussions fun.

    Top three (no order): David Wright, Jimmy Rollins, and Prince Fielder.

    (RISP is interesting. I couldn’t find your data, but I’m interested to know how the others on the list performed compared to their season avg. After Sunday, I’m VERY interested to see how Big Papi is performing in the clutch.)

  11. Sarah Green says:

    Big P is not having a good year in the clutch. Revise: he’s not having a Papi-like year in the clutch. However, compared to mere mortals, he is still very good with runners in scoring posish. (HardballTimes is a good place to find that stat.) Ortiz is 13th in the AL by that measure, hitting .343. (For what it’s worth, however, Mike Lowell is doing better, hitting .365 in those situations, good enough for fifth in the league. SIGN HIM, Theo. SIGN HIM.)

    Coley and I have gone head-to-head over this before, because I am very mushy when it comes to “Most Valuable Player.” Stats can be useful, but I think “value” is ultimately subjective.

  12. Personally, I think that “absolute numbers” and “contribution to team success” are pretty much the same thing. But of course, the problem with the term success is its innate subjectiveness (82 wins, 90 wins, playoffs, best record, etc).

    And Rich, your comment has convinced me that I shouldn’t have bothered to put in the extrapolation chart. It muddles the conversation. But I still think that the number of ABs has to enter the conversation at some point to at least some degree. Yes, all teams play 162 games (usually) to rack up their win totals. But concerning individual achievements, it’s not a level playing field. Not everyone gets the same number of at-bats. And in a season where (if what Coley’s trivia question says is true) Rollins is on pace to break single season records for PA and ABs, I think it becomes relevant. As the leadoff hitter for the 2007 Phils, Rollins gets 70 or so more plate appearances than many of his MVP peers. Again, what he has done in those extra chances has been great and along with his ability to play day-in-and-day-out, that’s obviously to his credit. But you can’t deny that his counting stats have been positively affected by the extra chances. That’s why things like AVG/OBP/SLG/OPS+ are useful. It levels things out.

    And obviously VORP and Win Shares are not perfect indicators of value, but come on. What is? It’s only when you combine things like WS and VORP with more traditional measures like HR, RBI and AVG/OBP/SLG that you get a clearer picture of their worth. One stat doesn’t replace the other and that never was part of the conversation. But the entire purpose of WIn Shares is to try and evaluate the impact of a player’s contributions to team wins. If the counting stats AND things like WS/VORP/Runs Created don’t have you as the best, then I think the MVP candidacy becomes difficult.

    And I think we all need to remember that I wrote this post initially out of pure rage. The Mets were swept by the Phillies and Coley goes and endorses Rollins based upon a very small sample of games. He broke me.

  13. The fact that Rollins has had so many at bats and has played all 162 games is very important in the conversation. It shows that he is a fighter, a leader, which is always an important part of the MVP conversation. So, what is your point? If you were a Phillies fan you would understand how Rollin’s consistency and leadership has carried this team all year. That’s what being MVP is about right? It says you had teh greatest impact on your team getting where it is. Mere numbers don’t make an MVP.

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