Winning the Jimmy Rollins Trade
This week marks the return of future Phillies Wall of Famer Jimmy Rollins as the Los Angeles Dodgers visit Citizens Bank Park. Rollins, as you undoubtedly recall, was traded to the Dodgers in December for minor league pitchers Zach Eflin and Tom Windle. It marked the start of the team’s rebuilding efforts, one that continued right to last week’s trade deadline, and will continue in coming weeks and months.
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Usually one waits until a full season has passed before attempting to evaluate which side may have gotten the better in any trades. In that way, you can measure not just the statistical impact of the players involved, but also how that player, in this case Rollins, impacted his new team in their search for a world championship. However, with this trade, in my opinion, it is plainly obvious which side came out ahead.
By just about any measure you choose to use, this will probably end up being the worst offensive season of Rollins’ long and storied career. Through Sunday’s games, the switch-hitting shortstop has a .216/.272/.359 slash line, good for a 75 OPS+. His 77 wRC+ ranks 122nd out of 132 players with at least 350 plate appearances.
While Rollins does have 11 home runs, his slugging percentage will probably finish as the 2nd worst mark of his career. Even his base stealing ability has just about vanished. He’s only stolen 8 bases in 15 attempts. At -0.2 bWAR, one wonders why he is even still in the lineup.
Now, I’d be overly jumping the gun if I didn’t tell you about another number, one than just jumps out at you when looking at Rollins’ line. This year, Rollins has a .227 BABIP, just a stupid low number. In fact, of those 132 players with the 350 plate appearances, Rollins is 128th in BABIP.
While this measure frequently regresses to the mean, giving Rollins and the Dodgers hope for a turnaround, his career BABIP number usually has hovered in the .280-.300 range, meaning a huge bounce back actually shouldn’t be hoped for. This absurd number doesn’t hold enough weight, should a person attempt to defend his poor season.
When he’s at the plate, Rollins is seeing just about the same number of pitches in the hitting zone (45.2%) as he has the past 5 seasons. He’s not getting himself out by swinging at pitches out of the zone at an unusual rate (27.3%, nothing unusual compared to last year). Instead, he simply isn’t making the same amount of contact anymore (83.1% vs. 85.2% last year), which could mean any number of things.
If you look at what pitchers are throwing him, we can see that he has lost almost 30 points of batting average against fastballs (.195) when comparing this year with last year (.224), and almost 50 points compared to the 2013 (.242) season. Have pitchers and scouts noticed this, resulting in Rollins being thrown more of the “hard” stuff? You betcha.
As Rollins was feasting on that hard stuff in his prime, pitchers adjusted, throwing more breaking and off-speed pitches. Now, they know he is having trouble hitting the hard stuff, so they are throwing more of it. Rollins simply hasn’t adjusted.
While that BABIP mark could rebound next year and cause him to have a bounce back season, it seems as though pitchers have begun to exploit his weakness, and he can’t seem to close the hole.
Did the Dodgers make a mistake in trading for him? After all, they acquired him knowing he’d likely be a one-year rental. Their top prospect, one of the top prospects in all of baseball, was and is Corey Seager. He is a shortstop who they knew would be ready by 2016 at the latest.
However, a team with World Series aspirations apparently did not want to entrust two key positions to rookies (the other being Joc Pederson in center field.) The Dodgers also had to know there was risk in Rollins’ declining bat, and they decided they could live with it, so long as he continued to play good defense.
However, it looks as though Rollins is slipping there too. His UZR/150 is at -4.1, which would mark only the third time he has been in the negative with that rate. He’s cost his team runs as well (-4 DRS), and his F2O% (percentage of balls fielded turned into outs) is at 89%, down ever so slightly from last year’s 90%. All of this tells us that just as his batting is slowing, he is also slipping in the field.
As far as the Phillies’ side of the trade, things have worked out just fine and dandy.
Freddy Galvis has manned shortstop all year for the team, and has produced a more than adequate season. At the beginning of the year, I wrote how we should be fine with a slightly below average bat, if Galvis simply lived up to his defensive potential and turned balls into outs. How has he fared?
Galvis’ slash line of .277/.316/.367 with 5 home runs, 29 RBI, a 90 OPS+ and 90 wRC+ is more than anyone could have hoped for thus far. His BABIP of .329 isn’t so high that one would expect a huge regression. His 5.0 BB% suggests that there are still things to work on. He’s cut his strikeout rate from previous years, dropped his fly ball rate, and improved on hitting line drives.
In the field, he’s committed 12 errors, 7th in baseball, only 4 more than Rollins’ eight. He has been costing the Phillies runs (-5 DRS), but my objective belief is that a lot of that has to do with positioning. A lot of times, Galvis, against a right-handed batter, will play deep in the hole between second and third, only to see a ball hit up the middle, one that he could have gotten to had he been positioned properly.
Of course, without all of the data that the team has access to, we can’t know whether that positioning is due to Galvis, or the coaches adhering to a scouting report. All in all, Galvis has done a wonderful job holding the position while super-prospect J.P. Crawford marinates in the minors.
What of the prospect arms that the Phillies received in return for JRoll?
Eflin has turned in a nice season thus far, going 6-6 with a 3.41 ERA in 97.2 innings for Double-A Reading. According to Matt Winkelman, Eflin has actually been better than the numbers. He seems to be relying a lot on his two-seamer to generate ground balls (as evidenced by his 44.5% of batted balls being hit on the ground) this year, which has dropped his K/9 quite a bit (4.55 v. 6.54 last year).
Windle began the year as a starter, yet struggled to a 5.35 ERA in that spot before the team converted him to a reliever. He’s been better in that role, pitching to a 2.08 ERA. Both pitchers have helped deepen the Phillies’ farm system with talent, something they sorely needed headed into this season and beyond.
Is it too early to call the Phillies the winners of this trade? Yes and no. Obviously, we can’t know anything until the postseason is complete, as the Dodgers have a roster loaded with players who have the ability to lead them to a championship.
Losing previous shortstop Hanley Ramirez to free agency hurt the team, but they saw an opportunity to upgrade the defense in acquiring Rollins. While they may have accomplished that goal, they have taken a significant step back on offense. Yet if it leads to a World Series, they won’t care.
However, the early returns on this deal strongly favor the Phillies. With Galvis hitting and fielding better than Rollins (at a significantly lower cost), and Eflin and Windle adding talent on the mound in Double-A Reading, they are better positioned to be contenders sooner rather than later.
Stats found at Baseball Reference and MLBFarm.com