Jimmy Rollins is in the midst of a 31 game hit streak that has made him a media darling. Everyone loves a story, because frankly, it gives you something to write about. Even I'm using Rollins hit streak to my advantage, by writing something negative (did you expect anything else from me?) Let's take a look at a bunch of numbers; some in table form, some graphically, and some just thrown at you in regular text.
Rollins was hitting .262/.304/.378 after August 22nd's game against San Francisco. After that (the start of his hit streak, which is impressive no matter how much I bash reliever hoarder extraordinare Ed Wade today), up until today, his season line is .288/.333/.431, with a .386/.435/.629 line during the streak. His VORP has increased to the point (47.6; 7th among shortstops) where it has outdistanced his PECOTA projection of 34.9 VORP. Is he really an elite player though, or even a star? I think not. Two things: First off, I like EqA better than VORP, and his EqA (.263 in 2005; .260 is league average) says he is essentially league average offensively. Secondly, Net Runs Above Average confirms that he is essentially league average (actually a tick below if you want to be precise). What am I attempting to get at? Obviously he is not a star player, but someone forgot to tell Ed Wade about this when he served up a 5 year, $40 million extension to Rollins (and try to remember, this was before the streak, and in the midst of that ugly first line I wrote at the top of this article.) Of course, I should never judge a player on one season, since the sample size is too small. Let's take a look at his career according to NRAA in graph form:
It looks like Rollins is bobbing and weaving all over the place, until you realize the difference between his worst season and his best season (I ignored his 14 game performance in 2000, which skewed the data greatly) is only 4.18 NRAA. At his best, he was shy of 1 NRAA. At his worst, just over 3 runs below average. Consistency is good, and league average players have their worth (they are the core of championship teams as much as stars) but $8 million a year with an $8.5 million club option for 2011? Maybe Ed Wade cannot judge anything besides homeruns and relief pitching. That is why they dealt Polanco and kept Rollins.
One could argue that you get more for your money at $8 million for an established performance level that can safely be called league average rather than signing Edgar Renteria (4/$40 million)or Orlando Cabrera (4/$32 million) to roughly the same money for less production. To those people I have to say...well your'e right. Rollins contract is a product of the market, but I do think Ed Wade had a chance to shift the market back in a more sane direction, or move Rollins whose perceived value is much higher than his actual value, rather than Placido Polanco, who the opposite can be said of.
Let's compare Rollins career performance to those of the other elite shortstops of the 2000's to see if his high pay is worth it.
This is surprising in a way, since I was raised on the idea that the shortstop influx was amazing. It was more so in the 90's, but once the 2000's presented themselves all of these players sort of exploded into adequacy, except A-Rod who simply moved to third base. His replacement, Michael Young, is not an elite player at all, because his defense is...well in a word, vomit-inducing according to Rate2. This makes me think that the market for shortstops has been inflated ever since the time Tejada started making national noise. A-Rod, Jeter and Nomar basically earned their pay, and Renteria more than earned his for a season, but now it seems they are all overpaid or injured in Nomar's case. Jeter is the most productive of them in 2005, but his massive contract makes his value relative to dollars spent kind of icky.
What do I expect to happen next with the shortstop market? I expect Rafael Furcal to be paid exactly like all of the shortstops from the past few seasons. Somewhere between $8-10 million will be coming to the Furcal house for the next 4-5 years from who knows who, the way shortstops have played musical chairs in the offseason. Just so you know, Furcal's NRAA score this year is 21.15...or +21.6 NRAA better than media darling Jimmy Rollins. Someone needs to get Michael Young a spot as a DH in Texas, because his EqA is .301 (excellent) but his Rate2 is 83...or 17 runs below average per 100 games defensively. Rather than the +21.15 NRAA score Young would have if he were just league average, he sit at +4.51. Who will make more money, Furcal or Young? There should be no hesitation in anyone's voice when they say soon-to-be batting champion Michael Young. Baseball is a funny game, with an even funnier market, and the day I figure out the why is also the day Marissa Miller comes to my house and asks if I want to grab a bite to eat...
...please let me figure out the why.
Update [2005-9-27 23:10:46 by Richard B. Wade]:I plugged the top 40 shortstops (by plate appearance) into the NRAA spreadsheet and the average NRAA amongst them is roughly -3.44. Rollins is 4.57 better than that and ranks 16th out of the 40. He's a good 30+ runs behind Jhonny Peralta (the leader).