Coming off a stint last October as an in-studio analyst for TBS’s post-season coverage and two replacement-level seasons with the Dodgers in 2015 and the White Sox in 2016, 38-year old Jimmy Rollins is in camp with the San Francisco Giants trying to make the team in a utility infield competition that includes Aaron Hill, Gordon Beckham and Kelby Tomlinson. Rollins, who grew up in the Bay Area, is trying as best he can to fight off Father Time and is playing for the first time since last June, when Chicago released him after 41 games.
The 17-year veteran has acclimated himself nicely at second base, but he’s notched just three hits in 32 at-bats. And even though one of those hits was a home run, his batting average is an unsightly .094, and his on-base percentage is just .216. If Rollins doesn’t get things turned around and doesn’t make the Giants’ roster, then what? If Bruce Bochy had to pick his 25 guys now, it’s almost a guarantee that the aging veteran wouldn’t be one of them.
At his peak, Rollins was a Hall of Fame-level player. From 2004 to 2008, he averaged 5.1 WAR per season. He won the National League MVP award in 2007 and collected four Gold Gloves. He made three All-Star game appearances, stole 40-plus bases four times and strung together the longest hitting streak (38 games) of the last quarter-century. The all-time Phillies hit leader has a World Series ring at home and was one of the core members of a Philadelphia team that won five consecutive NL East titles and two straight pennants.
The man they call J-Roll is one of four players ever with a 20-homer, 20-steal, 20-double, 20-triple season. He’s the only shortstop that you will find in the 400/200 club – 470 stolen bases and 231 homers. Not that there’s anything significant about the 400/200 club, but it shows us that Rollins brought a power/speed package to his position you very rarely see. He led his league in runs, steals and triples – not a single other shortstop who ever played baseball has done all of that.
Although it’s pretty clear that Rollins falls short of Cooperstown, consider his ranking in the follow categories among shortstops: 10th in runs (1,421), 14th in hits (2,455), 7th in doubles (511), 12th in triples (115), 9th in homers (231), 23rd in RBIs (936) and 11th in steals (470). Only 12 shortstops have ever been on base more often than Rollins (3,413 times). He’s fourth in total bases behind Cal Ripken, Derek Jeter, Robin Yount and Honus Wagner. Only Ripken, Yount and Jeter have more extra-base hits.
Durability was certainly one of Rollins’ better traits. He’s sixth in games played among shortstops, behind Jeter, Ripken, Omar Vizquel, Luis Aparicio and Ozzie Smith. He’s stayed healthy enough to play at least 130 games at short in 14 different seasons, a total reached in the last 30 years by only Jeter, Ripken and Vizquel.
Despite his speed and flashes of power, Rollins never walked enough and he never hit .300. His Wins Above Replacement (WAR) total (46.0) certainly doesn’t scream “Hall of Famer,” even though four inducted shortstops (Travis Jackson, Hughie Jennings, Rabbit Maranville and Phil Rizzuto) had fewer. Rollins ranks far below the likes of Jeter (71.8) and Barry Larkin (70.2). He falls more in line with Vizquel (45.3) and Miguel Tejada (46.9).
This wasn’t meant to sound like a eulogy for Rollins, but he doesn’t appear to have much left in the tank and it wouldn’t be fair to remember him for his days as a Giant. Years from now, Rollins wouldn’t be recalled from his days with the Dodgers or White Sox either. If this is the end of the road for Rollins, he will go down as one of the best shortstops of his era and one of the greatest Phillies in franchise history.