JAWS and the 2023 Hall of Fame Ballot: Jimmy Rollins

© Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2023 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

Few players have ever been more central to the Phillies than Jimmy Rollins. In fact, with the exception of Mike Schmidt, no player spent more time in a Phillies’ uniform than Rollins, and even counting the Hall of Fame third baseman, none collected more hits or stole more bases. The pint-sized shortstop — 5-foot-7, 175 pounds according to Baseball Reference — spent 15 of his 17 major league seasons with Philadelphia, where he was at the center of the team’s return to contention following a slide into irrelevance at the outset of the Wild Card era.

Rollins was the starting shortstop on the Phillies’ five straight NL East champions from 2007-11, including their ’08 World Series winning squad — just the second in franchise history — and ’09 pennant winner. A slick fielder who offered speed and pop from both sides of the plate atop the lineup, he garnered the nickname “J-Roll” from legendary Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas. J-Roll projected a confidence that bordered on cockiness, and carried himself with a swagger. “We’re the team to beat,” he said at the outset of the 2007 season, all but thumbing his nose at the reigning NL East champion Mets, who had outdistanced the Phillies by 12 games.

After losing their first three games and 10 of their first 13 to start the 2007 season — including two out of three at Shea Stadium, where he was booed lustily by New York fans — the Phillies didn’t spend a day in first place until September 27, when they tied the Mets with three games remaining. While they took two out of three from the Nationals, the Mets dropped two of three from the Marlins. Not only was Philadelphia back in the playoffs after a 14-year absence, setting off a run during which the team became just the fifth to win five straight division titles, but Rollins took home NL MVP (Most Valuable Prognosticator) honors. A year later, he added a World Series ring to a collection that also grew to include four Gold Gloves.

Though he made just three All-Star teams, Rollins compiled impressive counting stats over the course of his 17-year career. His modest on-base percentages and defensive decline in his 30s limited his value, however, so he doesn’t really stand out via WAR and JAWS. His Hall of Fame candidacy does have a certain old-school appeal, but it probably won’t be enough to get him to Cooperstown anytime soon — an assumption reinforced by his receiving 9.4% in his ballot debut last year.

2023 BBWAA Candidate: Jimmy Rollins
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Jimmy Rollins 47.6 32.6 40.1
Avg. HOF SS 67.7 43.2 55.4
2,455 231 470 .264/.324/.418 (95 OPS+)
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Rollins was born in Oakland on November 27, 1978, and grew up in Alameda, as part of an athletic family. Mother Gyvonie Rollins played fast-pitch softball in industrial and church leagues; she was a middle infielder with speed and soft hands. Father James Rollins Sr. was a wrestler and weight lifter. Brother Antwon Rollins, two years younger, was a fourth-round pick by the Rangers in 1998 and played four years of minor league ball, while sister Shay Rollins, nine years younger, was a starting guard on the University of San Francisco basketball team. As a child, Rollins played Little League against older, bigger kids and attended A’s games at the Coliseum, watching Rickey Henderson, Carney Lansford, and the Bash Brothers, Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire.

Rollins was about the same size as his peers until his teenage years, when he developed the compact physique of his mother rather than his 6-foot-1 father. “Those long legs kept on shrinking,” he joked in 2002. “I was short and skinny, but when I picked up a ball and a bat, there was nothing people could say [except] ‘He can play.'”

At Alameda’s Encinal High School, where he played on a field named for Hall of Famer Willie Stargell (an Encinal alumnus), Rollins set school records with a .484 career batting average and 99 stolen bases. Phillies Bay Area scout Bob Poole was struck by his play, but careful not to emphasize the shortstop’s size lest the organization reject him sight unseen; he fudged Rollin’s height as 5-foot-9. The gambit worked, as the team’s crosschecker, Marti Wolever, saw him for himself and came away impressed. The team chose Rollins in the second round of the 1996 draft, and signed him for a $340,000 bonus.

The 17-year-old Rollins scuffled at Rookie-level Martinsville in 1996 (.238/.351/.285) but stole 46 bases in 52 attempts at A-level Piedmont the next season, and after a solid showing at Double-A Reading in ’99 (.273/.336/.404) got a brief taste of Triple-A and cracked Baseball America‘s Top 100 Prospects list at no. 95. After hitting .274/.341/.457 with 12 homers and 24 steals at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, he got a September call-up, and went 2-for-4 with a triple and a walk in his debut against Chuck Smith and the Marlins on September 17, 2000; he hit .321/.345/.377 in his 14-game cup of coffee, and climbed to 31st on BA’s list.

The 2000 season marked the Phillies’ seventh straight below .500; they lost 97 games in their final year under manager Terry Francona, and traded Curt Schilling to the Diamondbacks along the way. But with third baseman Scott Rolen (the 1997 NL Rookie of the Year), first-baseman/outfielder Pat Burrell (the top pick of the 1998 draft), and right fielder Bobby Abreu, they were laying the groundwork for a turnaround, and the 21-year-old Rollins became an important part of that. He hit .274/.323/.419 (93 OPS+) as a rookie while leading the NL in steals (46, in 54 attempts) and triples (12), clubbing 14 homers, and helping the Phillies to an 86-76 record under new manager Larry Bowa, with whom he quickly bonded. The performance earned him a spot on the NL All-Star team and some down-ballot MVP mention. He placed third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting behind Albert Pujols (a unanimous pick) and Roy Oswalt (the only 1996 draftee to outproduce him in terms of career bWAR).

Progress came unevenly for Rollins, who made the All-Star team again in 2003 but tailed off drastically in the second half. After hitting .319/.374/.532 through May 21, he managed just a .214/.278/.316 line the rest of the way and finished with an 85 OPS+, though with solid defense, his 2.3 WAR was just 0.1 behind his rookie campaign.

After improving to a 90 OPS+ and 2.8 WAR in 2003, Rollins broke out in ’04, hitting .289/.348/.455 with a league-high 12 triples as well as 14 homers and 4.7 WAR. For the first time, he topped a 100 OPS+ (102), and finished below 100 strikeouts (73), cutting his rate from 16.4% to 10.1%. Though the Phillies won 86 games for the second straight season, and the third out of four, that proved to be the last one for the high-intensity Bowa.

Former Cleveland manager Charlie Manuel, who had spent the previous two seasons working as a special assistant to general manager Ed Wade, took over. Though he gave second baseman Chase Utley his first shot at full-time play (for which the reward was a 28-homer, 7.3 WAR season) and the team improved to 88 wins, Manuel’s guidance couldn’t get the Phillies over the hump just yet; they missed the NL Wild Card by a single game. Rollins, despite just a 97 OPS+, stole 41 bases in 47 attempts, hit 11 triples to go with his 12 homers, made his third All-Star team, and improved to 4.9 WAR.

In June 2005, Rollins signed a five-year, $40 million extension with an option for a sixth-year. “We’ve never envisioned our ballclub going forward without Jimmy,” said Wade. “He brings a lot of energy and is a catalyst for this team.”

Rollins finished the 2005 season riding a 36-game hitting streak. He extended it by two games to start the 2006 season, making it the eighth-longest in major league history. It’s still the longest of the millennium, though Utley’s own 35-gamer in 2006 came close.

Longest Hitting Streaks
Rk Player Tm Year Games
1 Joe DiMaggio Yankees 1941 56
2 Willie Keeler Orioles (NL) 1896-97 45
3 Pete Rose Reds 1978 44
4 Bill Dahlen Cubs 1894 42
5 George Sisler Browns 1922 41
6 Ty Cobb Tigers 1911 40
7 Paul Molitor Brewers 1987 39
8 Jimmy Rollins Phillies 2005-06 38
9 Tommy Holmes Braves 1945 37
10 Gene DeMontreville Senators (NL) 1896-97 36
T11 Fred Clarke Colonels 1895 35
Ty Cobb Tigers 1917 35
George Sisler Browns 1924-25 35
Luis Castillo Marlins 2002 35
Chase Utley Phillies 2006 35

Rollins put together a similarly strong 2006 (101 OPS+, 36-for-40 in steals, a new high of 25 homers, 4.6 WAR), accompanied by big seasons from Utley and Burrell and a 58-homer, MVP-winning campaign from first baseman Ryan Howard. Again, however, the Phillies fell short; even playing .600 ball after the All-Star break wasn’t enough to outrun their 9-18 record in June.

As portended by Rollins, the Phillies finally made it back to the postseason in 2007, winning the NL East by a single game. Rollins enjoyed a career year, playing all 162 games and hitting .296/.344/.531; his batting average, slugging percentage, OPS+ (119), home runs (30), and triples (a league-high 20) would all stand as career highs. So would his 6.1 WAR, which ranked sixth in the league.

Regarding that “team to beat” proclamation, and Rollins’ public persona as well as his play, Philadelphia Inquirer columnist David Murphy wrote in 2011:

In my 12 years in the business, Rollins is one of the most fascinating athletes I have ever covered. First and foremost is his raw physical ability. The way he can backhand a groundball on the outfield grass, set his feet, and throw a dart to first base amazes me every time I see it. The way he can chase down a chopper up the middle and spin and throw with perfect accuracy is just as mind-boggling as Peyton Manning fitting a football into an opening the size of an aerobie 30 yards down the field.

…He understands the way the media works. When he says something, he knows exactly how it will be played in the next day’s paper, on that night’s news. You can see it in the devilish grin that always occupies his face, like a wise-ass high schooler who knows he is giving his teacher fits. It always seems to me that Rollins gets a kick out of how serious people take the things he says… In an industry where so many athletes take themselves way too seriously, Rollins seems to have a pretty good handle on the real-world importance of what he does.

In the Phillies’ first playoff berth since 1993, they ran into the buzzsaw of the streaking Rockies. Rollins went hitless in two of three games but hit a triple and a homer while driving in four runs in Game 2; even so, the Phillies lost 10-5 and were ultimately swept. Rollins took home some consolation prizes, winning his first Gold Glove as well as the NL MVP award, the latter despite being outproduced by Pujols (8.7 WAR) and Utley (7.8 WAR), among others.

Despite missing nearly three weeks early in the season due to a left ankle sprain, and dipping to 11 homers, Rollins turned in another strong campaign in 2008 (104 OPS+, 47-for-50 in steals, 5.5 WAR) thanks to outstanding defense (+18 runs) that resulted in his second Gold Glove.

The Phillies won the NL East again, then beat the Brewers in the Division Series, with Rollins hitting .375/.412/.688, capped by a leadoff homer off Jeff Suppan in the Game 4 clincher. While his overall numbers in the later rounds were unremarkable, he had a few big moments, adding another leadoff homer off the Dodgers’ Chad Billingsley in Game 5 of the NLCS (also a clincher) and a 3-for-5, two-double effort in Game 4 of the World Series against the Rays. The Phillies won in five games, their first championship since 1980.

Despite his 21 homers and 31 steals, Rollins dipped to an 87 OPS+ (.250/.296/.423) in 2009; with a defensive decline from +18 to -2 runs, he produced just 1.8 WAR. Nonetheless, the Phillies won the NL East, but Rollins continued to scuffle in October (.234/.306/.281), though he did mash a walk-off two-run double off the Dodgers’ Jonathan Broxton in Game 4 of the NLCS. The Phillies lost to the Yankees in a six-game World Series, the beginning of the team’s diminishing returns.

A recurrent right calf strain limited Rollins to 88 games in 2010, and he hit for just an 85 wRC+, but still delivered 2.0 WAR. The Phillies won the NL East and made it as far as the NLCS, where the shortstop’s four RBI provided the bulk of the offense in a 6-1 Game 2 win, but Rollins hit just .206/.289/.235 in October as the team’s quest for three straight pennants was denied.

The Phillies picked up Rollins’ $8.5 million option for 2011, and after two down seasons, his bat perked up again. He hit 16 homers, stole 30 bases, and finished with a 101 OPS+ in 2011 as Philadelphia won a franchise-record 102 games and claimed its fifth straight NL East title, joining the A’s (1971-75), Braves (1995-2005), Indians (1995-99), and Yankees (1998-2006) among teams that have done so during the division play era. Rollins hit a torrid .450/.476/.650 in the Division Series against the Cardinals, but the team scored just one run over its final 17 innings and was ousted.

Reaching free agency just ahead of his 33rd birthday, Rollins sought a five-year contract, but in December he returned to the fold via a three-year, $33 million deal with a vesting option. His performance across the deal was uneven; he hit 23 homers, stole 30 bases, and hit for a 101 OPS+ in 2012, winning his fourth and final Gold Glove despite -8 DRS, but sank to six homers, an 86 OPS+ and a career-worst 1.3 WAR in 2013. He had one more strong season in him, a 17-homer, 28-steal, 100-OPS+, 4.1 WAR campaign in 2014. The Phillies were trending downward, however, winning just 81 games in 2012, and 73 apiece in each of the next two seasons. Manuel was fired in mid-August 2013, replaced by Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg.

By remaining largely healthy over the course of his three-year deal, Rollins triggered an $11 million vesting option for 2015. Even so, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., finally confronting the reality that the core of the Phillies’ five-time division champions wasn’t going to produce miracles, traded Rollins to the Dodgers in December, with Zach Eflin — who had been traded by the Padres to the Dodgers in the finally-completed Matt Kemp blockbuster just a day before — heading to Philadelphia as one of the two players in exchange.

The transplant didn’t take. Rollins hit just .224/.285/.358 and produced just 0.4 WAR for the Dodgers, and in early September was replaced by top prospect Corey Seager. Rollins started just six of the NL West-winning team’s final 26 games, and just one out of their five postseason games. Unable to secure a major league contract that winter, he settled for a minor league deal with the White Sox, but made it only as far as early June before the team recalled Tim Anderson and sent Rollins packing. He went home, but signed a minor league deal with the Giants the following spring (“I couldn’t stand these colors growing up,” he admitted). He didn’t make the team, but he waited until May 4, 2019 to officially retire, doing so in a pregame ceremony at Citizens Bank Park.

Rollins finished his career with some impressive counting stats, including 2,227 games played at shortstop, the sixth-highest total all-time; he spent just one-third of an inning in a 2002 game at another position (second base). Among players who spent the majority of their careers at shortstop, his home run total ranks eighth, his stolen base total 10th, his hit total 12th, though you can bump the first two of those rankings down by two if you count Ernie Banks and Alex Rodriguez, classified by JAWS as shortstops because they accrued more value there despite playing less than 50% of their games at the spot (Rollins’ stolen base ranking drops by one due to interloper John Ward). On all of those leaderboards, he’s accompanied by Hall of Famers… but also other venerable shortstops who will have to pay their own way for admission into the Hall. For example, he’s just five games ahead of Bowa on the games played list, and below such luminaries as Hanley Ramirez, Jose Valentin, and Vern Stephens on the home run list.

Though Rollins made just three All-Star teams, his milestones, collection of Gold Gloves, MVP award, and role as the starting shortstop on a championship team, a pennant-winner, and four other division winners (including the Dodgers) gives him a Hall of Fame Monitor score of 121. That places him somewhere between “a good possibility” (100) and “a virtual cinch” (130).

That’s a credible case for the Hall of Fame, and it’s not entirely undercut by the advanced statistics, given that there are four enshrined shortstops with an OPS+ lower than Rollins’ 95, namely Phil Rizzuto (93), Ozzie Smith (87), Luis Aparicio and Rabbit Maranville (both 82). All four, however, are credited with at least 116 fielding runs in Baseball Reference’s system, where Rollins had just 43, good for only 91st at the position. Driven by his 81.7% success rate stealing bases (11th among players with at least 300 attempts since 1920), he gains some of that ground back with 67 baserunning runs, plus another 10 for double play avoidance… but among shortstops, Aparicio and Smith are first and second in that combination of measures, with 110 and 103 runs, respectively, and even Bowa ranks fourth with 78.

In terms of WAR, Rollins’ career mark of 47.6 ranks 26th at the position, ahead of just four of the 23 non-Negro Leagues Hall of Famers, including Maranville (44.0) and Rizzuto (42.2), though the latter did miss three prime seasons due to World War II. Rollins’ seven-year peak score of 32.7 is tied with Aparicio for 42nd, and ahead of only Maranville among the non-Negro Leagues enshrinees. His 40.1 JAWS ranks 32nd, ahead of only Travis Jackson, Rizzuto, and Maranville, not to mention current candidate Omar Vizquel, who’s 43rd at 36.2.

That’s too low for a Hall of Famer, at least in my book. I can certainly understand why Rollins would garner some support from voters given the excitement that he produced as well as the things he accomplished, but I can’t see supporting him with a spot on my ballot. He did receive 9.4% in his debut, putting him ahead of Abreau (8.6% in year three), Mark Buehrle (5.8% in year two), and Torii Hunter (5.3% in year two). Interestingly enough, just six of the 28 votes he received from ballots published in Ryan Thibodaux’s Ballot Tracker also included Vizquel, while seven of the 28 came from voters who dropped Vizquel after the allegations concerning the latter’s domestic violence received wide circulation. For those who have a burning need to include a shortstop unconnected to PEDs, I suppose he’s the best choice, and with less traffic on the ballot this year than last, I’d expect him to persist and perhaps inch upwards, but I don’t see 75% in his future.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky @jayjaffe.bsky.social.

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1 year ago

Would you consider excluding Rickey Henderson (130 stolen bases in 1982) from the Hall of Fame? Or Nolan Ryan (383 Ks in 1973)? How about Barry Bonds (73 HR in 2001)?

If these record-setting titans all soared above the Hall of Fame standard, then how can you justify barring the gates to Jimmy Rollins and his 778 plate appearances in that magical 2007 season?

1 year ago
Reply to  Anon21

Is plate appearances a skill beyond “good enough to play every game” and “healthy enough to play every day”? I don’t think attendance is a worthy statistic over a single season.

Also, all three of those three far surpassed the HoF standard in terms of their play. Rollins just doesn’t meet the standard.

The Duke
1 year ago
Reply to  EonADS

I guess this opens the door to F Bueller getting a shot.

1 year ago
Reply to  EonADS

What’s next–Mike Marshall not a Hall of Famer after appearing in 106 games in 1974? No plaque for Bill Russell (no, the other one), who played 1,489 and 2/3rds innings in the field in ’73?

1 year ago
Reply to  Anon21

Short of 800 though

1 year ago
Reply to  Anon21

Just for the record, historical leaders for single season PA
2007-Present – Jimmy Rollins (778)
1993-2006 – Lenny Dykstra (773)
1974-1992 – Pete Rose (771)
1962-1973 – Maury Wills (759)
1938-1961 – Frankie Crosetti (757)

Between Dykstra, Rose, and Wills that’s a bit of a frightening cohort to be a part of.