J-Roll Is No. 1

Every Phillies beat writer, including myself, gets countless e-mails and tweets from readers who want to know why Ruben Amaro Jr. does this or why Charlie Manuel does that.

Believe me, in almost every case, your questions have been asked numerous times.

One question I’ve been getting asked more and more recently is why Manuel continues to hit Jimmy Rollins leadoff. After all, entering last night’s 10-6 victory over the Mets at Citi Field, Rollins ranked 148th out of 170 qualifying players in baseball with a .286 on-base percentage and 163rd with a .572 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.

That made Rollins one of the least productive offensive players in baseball through the first two months of the season.

Now, my typical answer when I’ve been asked about Rollins is this: If you know Charlie, you know he likes to give his veteran players a long leash. He waited until the final week of the season last year to move Chase Utley out of the No. 3 spot, something that should have happened weeks earlier. He kept Rollins in the leadoff spot in 2009, despite the fact he was hitting .205 with a .569 OPS on July 1. Charlie is going to give Rollins every chance to succeed in the spot he is most comfortable hitting in the lineup. And in Charlie’s mind, two months is not enough time to decide to drop his leadoff hitter for the past seven-plus seasons.

Asked yesterday in the visitor’s dugout at Citi Field about Rollins’ offensive struggles, Manuel said, “It’s kind of been the way things have been going for him. He usually hits a ball a night hard — some nights he gets a couple hits, some nights when he hits that ball hard, he doesn’t get any.”

That was hardly praise for the way Rollins had been swinging the bat: He usually hits a ball a night hard.

So then I followed with why he thinks Rollins should still be his leadoff hitter? Manuel got a little agitated, which is not unexpected. He isn’t always a fan of lineup questions. (He especially isn’t a fan of lineup questions when the question starts like this: “Have you ever thought about … ” The reporter doesn’t necessarily mean it that way, but Manuel doesn’t like the implication. Have I ever thought about moving up Carlos Ruiz in the lineup? Gee, no, I’ve NEVER thought of that. Thank you SO MUCH for the suggestion! The thought LITERALLY had never occurred to me!)

But Manuel answered the question, “He’s been there ever since I’ve been here, and at the same time, I’d like to know who else I could put up there? You always ask me the same questions. He’s been our leadoff hitter. There’s guys I can put there, but I like him better than anybody I’ve got, I guess.”

So, naturally, Rollins went 3-for-5 with a three-run home run. (He now ranks 138th out of 166 players with a .294 on-base and 154th with a .602 OPS.) After the game, reporters filed into Manuel’s office and Manuel good-naturedly (I think) busted on me about my question earlier about Rollins.

“That’s why you’re a writer,” he said.

“Hey, that hurts,” I replied.

“It was meant to,” he said.

I laughed. Maybe in a couple months we’ll look back to May 29 as the night Rollins finally got on track. But right now it’s one good night. If Chase Utley and Ryan Howard ever come back and Rollins is still struggling late in the season, I think then you might see a change in the top spot. But right now Rollins is Manuel’s guy, no matter how many times he is asked about it. And he’s been asked about it a lot.

*

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9 Comments

Rollins should stay at the top spot. He’s earned a chance to bust out of his slump.

Better to get that pop up out of the way first thing…

who else was willing to pay rollins what rueb the boob gave him?

The question of whether Rollins is leadoff or not is something to pass the time when he’s not humming along. Obviously he is the leadoff hitter. He always has been, and always will be. That was solidified when they signed him in the offseason. They made a commitment to the guy. He’s a piece of the organization. Rollins and the Phillies are as permanent as you can get in baseball these days. Outside of some catastrophic situation from injury or a massive losing streak, Rollins is #1. It’s actually a really great thing that Manuel can leave him in there and let him figure it out over time. Baseball can’t be the knee-jerk enterprise/instant gratification machine that people online wish it to be, and thank goodness. Tweeting and blogging every second about the status of a player’s performance has nothing to do with the long-tail of a season. It takes time. Manuel knows this, and we’re lucky he doesn’t cave in to every piece of scrutiny. I’m cheering for Rollins, and for the long haul.

Who else would he put up there? Vic is the only obvious choice, and he doesn’t seem to do much better, but Jimmy does not do as well in other spots. So any benefit you get from putting Vic (or anyone else) up there is often negated by Jimmy’s lack of production in other spots. I think Jimmy’s value goes beyond the field. Every time he goes down, the team seems to suffer. Every time he comes back, they go on a tear. Even when he is not doing anything particularly awesome. Baseball is such a mental game, I think he brings a calming and confidence-building attitude to the clubhouse that is infectious. They just “feel” better when he is out there, and that makes them better. I can’t explain it, but I have seen it too many times to ignore it. That is why I was OK with them bringing him back. And, as long as he is healthy, he’s gotta be the leadoff man.

That said, they do need to be grooming his replacement, because he’s done after this contract expires.

This issue about Rollins leading off has been kicked around for years now. I am a Rollins fan and I am glad they resigned him but I am not a fan of his leading off. At most he is the best of a bad lot of candidates on the current Phillies team to take on the job. More telling is the fact Junior has never addressed this issue.

The team wins when JRoll is getting on base and scoring from the leadoff position. That is just a fact. I probably would have pulled the plug by now, but Charlie is the one with his job on the line about this. He believes, so I really have no choice. Play ball.

I really think that Jimmy’s popouts occur so frequently because he thinks he’s 6′ tall and swings accordingly. He also thinks he is a power hitter, thus the uppercuts that result in popouts and lazy flyouts. If he could just accept the facts that he is short and has limited power, I think he will be able to consistantly hit the ball the way Charlie wants him to hit it…

pierre is the only true lead off man they have…rollins signing a big waste of money!

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