A .417 average. A .500 on-base percentage. A .750 slugging percentage. Four stolen bases.
Those are the numbers you totaled in 24 at bats of the World Baseball Classic, Jimmy Rollins. During that eight-game stretch, you were literally the best player in the United States, a sparkplug who seemed to ignite your countrymen every time you took the field.
These days, however, you’re icing your team.
This is no bash on your character. This is no judgment of who you are as a ballplayer. But yes, this is a read of the facts: Jimmy, you’ve been a punk. You’re playing like garbage. At least offensively, you’re doing absolutely nothing to allow the team a chance to win a ballgame. Instead, you’re the inverse: You’re making them lose.
We all know you aren’t a traditional leadoff hitter. You don’t sport the on-base percentages of the Rickey Hendersons or even the Kenny Loftons of the world. We’ve accepted that your game consists of more power and less patience. And the results have allowed us to smile along. In the Most Valuable Player season of 2007 you were constantly on point, nailing the big hits, pumping balls out of the park, consistently doing everything offensively to win games. And you still weren’t a leadoff hitter. We didn’t mind.
But you’ve walked five times in 2009. Five times. In 122 plate appearances. You’re carrying a .204 on-base percentage. That is putrid. It’s not even acceptable for a part-time player. What happened, Jimmy? What happened?
And even if the on-base numbers and walk numbers weren’t high, at least we could expect power. Right? No, in those 122 plate appearances you’ve hit just seven extra-base hits. Seven. That’s six doubles and a home run. No triples, mind you, from the man who sliced 20 of them in 2007. That’s appalling. What happened, Jimmy?
Hitting Coach Milt Thompson keeps alluding to timing, and Sunday it was that you were getting your hands under the ball, causing all those pop ups and fly balls that make us groan. Maybe … maybe … if you stopped thinking like a power hitter you’d help himself. Or maybe a couple bunts wouldn’t hurt. Hell, just drag the freakin’ bat out there and let your legs do the work. Yes, that’s right, Jimmy, your legs, which accounted for a career-high 47 stolen bases in 2008. Remember them? They work. Use them, and not to jog out a pop fly.
We’re most disturbed by your tendency to swing early in counts. He has put a ball in play nine times on the first pitch and 25 times on the second pitch. That means Rollins is expending a pitcher for two throws 34 times, or 28 percent of the time. What happened?
There are two sad ironies here. The first is in that 2007 MVP season, you also put the first two pitches in play 28 percent of the time. Only that season you saw many more fastballs — pitchers weren’t expecting your sweet swing then. The second irony: Your average dips greatly as the count proceeds. You’re hitting .444 on the first pitch, meaning you see the fastball, you’re swinging. That’s not the way to mend a slump.
Instead, the way to mend a slump is to study pitchers, one by one. Find their tendencies. What pitches do they throw first? Ahead in a count? Behind in a count? Then, study your tendencies. What would a pitcher throw you on an 0-2 count? Instead of trying to get that first good swing, start taking each appearance one at a time. Study. Learn. The best hitters do such a thing.
By contrast, Chase Utley (a .323 hitter) has put a first or second pitch in play just 14 times, or in 12 percent of his appearances. (He has put a first pitch in play once, a hit.) When does he hit best? How about on an 0-2 count, where he’s .364 with a 1.000 slugging percentage. You don’t think he does his research?
See, Jimmy, it’s not about getting your feet going. Or getting looks. Or whatever. (Even if it is about “getting looks,” you sure as hell aren’t getting them.) And it’s definitely not about getting that fastball. Because, see, like I alluded to earlier, pitchers know you’re trying to hit fastballs, so what do they do? Not throw fastballs. See, they’re beating you. They’ve done research.
You keep swinging. For some silly reason, you keep swinging at first- and second-pitch balls. And all your doing is lowering your average while your team’s winning percentage dips. Your bat is the cancer. As great as you played in the World Baseball Classic, that’s how horrendous you are today.
What happened, Jimmy? You’re better than this. You should be, at least.