We’re one-third of the way through the 2009 season and Jimmy Rollins still hasn’t gotten going.
Every time he appears to be on the brink of breaking out of the slump that’s plagued him since the opening series against the Braves (in which he went 1-14), an “o-fer” has stopped Jimmy’s momentum.
In mid-May, Jimmy went 6-10 in back-to-back games against the Reds and Yankees, raising his average from .217 to .240, leading to speculation and hope from Phillies fans that the dynamic shortstop was making headway. But a 2-22 skid followed, and Jimmy was back to square one.
After an 0-13 mini-slump last week, Jimmy was moved to sixth in the order, and responded by going 5-8. Then last night, he greeted the leadoff spot with an 0-5 game.
But there’s reason to believe last night was an exception, and that Jimmy may actually be getting out his funk.
For the season, his batting average of balls in play (BABIP) is .245. The league average is .300, which is usually true for any major league season. An enormous difference like this is common among hitters with low averages, but it is evidence of bad luck more than anything.
This means that Jimmy has been plagued by bad luck in 2009, a statement that can be cosigned by anybody who’s watched every Phillies game this season.
He’s been hitting “atom balls” all season, line drives right at fielders. Few things affect a struggling hitter’s psyche more than making solid contact and seeing no result.
This lack of luck may have led to Jimmy subconsciously altering his approach at the plate earlier in the season, because 40% of his balls in play this year have been fly balls, the second highest rate of his career. To make matters worse, 15% of those fly balls have been infield flies.
But recently, Jimmy has gotten back to what makes him a threatening leadoff batter by hitting more liners, ground balls, and going to the opposite field more. Since June 1, Jimmy has hit almost as many line drives (12) as he has fly balls (14.)
If Jimmy continues to hit liners and ground balls, you can be sure to see his BABIP go up. A .245 BABIP is looked at as unsustainably low, meaning that he is MUCH more likely to see it move closer to his career BABIP of .298 than see it remain the same or decrease.
Fly balls or no fly balls, the main concern with Jimmy right now is plate discipline, a problem he has always dealt with while trying to become one of the best leadoff hitters in baseball. Last season, Jimmy had a 9.4 BB%, meaning that he would like 9 or 10 times per 100 AB. This season, his BB% sits at 4.7%, less than half of the league average of 9.5%.
For this reason, Jimmy has a ridiculously low OBP of .268.
Any realistic Phillies fan knows that Jimmy won’t wake up tomorrow with the eye of Brian Giles, but he MUST improve his plate discipline if he wants to be the run-scoring machine that could propel the Phillies to even greater offensive heights.
For now, though, don’t worry as much about the hits. The hits will come. If his BABIP is under .275 by season’s end, I’ll buy you all a beer.