Making sense of a minor move: David Rollins and the lefties

543716Last week, when the Phillies made room for recent acquisition and bullpen arm David Rollins by cutting Cody Asche, the general reaction focused more on Asche than Rollins. Asche, who performed admirably in the high minors at a time when the Phillies’ prospect depth was not what it is today, was once received by overeager fans as the first member of a future core. Non-tendering him means the Phillies don’t expect him to reproduce that success at the major league level.

The other justification for that reaction is the unexciting nature of the move. In addition to being a role player rather than a real difference maker, Rollins’ past performance doesn’t give much cause for excitement. Although a real optimist might dismiss his 7.71 ERA and WHIP over 2.00 in the majors last season as being artificially inflated by an absurdly small sample size of less than 10 innings, his career peripherals in the minors offer little to brag about.

Rollins hasn’t produced a better-than-average strikeout rate since 2014, which came in double-A, and his walk rate has usually ticked just around average in any significant stretch of innings at a given level of competition. But his time with the Mariners’ triple-A club last season (45 innings) saw his BB/9 dip to a favorable 1.19, a degree of success he’ll have to carry into the majors in 2017. Throwing more strikes didn’t come at the cost of giving up more hits, either; opponents hit .232 against Rollins in triple-A last season. So there is visible progress.

What Rollins does offer is a lefty bullpen arm, something the Phillies need. The 40-man roster includes only two other left-handed relievers, one of which is Elniery Garcia, who has yet to pitch above high-A ball. The other, Joely Rodriguez, pitched to an impressive 154 ERA+ for the Phillies in 2016, but his entire Major League résumé is shy of 10 innings pitched. Understandably, the team is reluctant to rely on him as its sole left-handed option for the length of the season. Moreover, the front office knows a lefty competition is needed, adding onto the pile by signing Sean Burnett to a minor league contract Friday night.

If Rollins can build from his 2016 triple-A experience and not give too many free passes, he fills a certain need, especially considering a lack of other options and how much the bullpen struggled in the final month of last season. He figures to face predominantly left-handed competition and will hopefully benefit from that platoon advantage. If nothing else, fans can once again see “Rollins” stitched on a player’s jersey and dream of days gone by.

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