How Good Can Jimmy Rollins Be?

With the second-half resurgence of Jimmy Rollins, it's time to talk about just how good the young shortstop can be. To compare, we put Rollins up against his boyhood hero, Rickey Henderson. It's a lofty comparison, but one worth looking at, since the Phillies are in desperate need of a leadoff hitter and Henderson was probably the best to ever play the game.

Jimmy Rollins was three years old when Rickey Henderson had perhaps his most awesome season of his career. It was 1982 and Henderson swiped 130 bases as a 23 year old member of the Oakland A's. That's a phenomenol number. To put it in some perspective, Rollins is in his fourth full season and he has a career mark of 130 stolen bases. By the time Henderson was 25 – the age that Rollins is now – he had stolen a remarkable 493 bases. To reach that mark, Rollins would have to steal 182 bases a season for the next two seasons. Needless to say, it's not going to happen.

Comparing Rollins and Henderson in stolen bases simply isn't necessary. There is no comparison and that's okay, since Henderson was a stolen base freak.

To compare Rollins and Henderson, we took their career numbers at the age of 25. For Rollins, that brings him to his current career stats. For Henderson, it covers through the 1984 season. To try to put things in a more even light, we broke out the stats on a basis of 162 games. In other words, what stats would each player put up if he were to play 162 games? It may surprise some to know that Rollins compares pretty favorably. Of course, Henderson is a Hall of Famer, so there are bound to be some differences.

Rollins has averaged about 70 at bats more per 162 games than Henderson did at the same age in their careers. Besides stolen bases, there are really two categories where Rollins is way shy of Henderson's numbers. The first is in runs. Henderson averaged 23 more runs per 162 games than Rollins has. It's not that Henderson had much greater hitters surrounding him, but his speed made it much easier to steal bases. For instance, Henderson was averaging about 67 stolen bases per 162 games, compared to Rollins' 34. Imagine if Rollins had stolen 67 more bases this season, putting himself in scoring position that many more times than he has. Even though the Phillies have struggled with runners in scoring position, you have to figure that his run numbers would be higher.

The other glaring area is average. Henderson was a .291 career hitter at age 25, while Rollins is a .268 hitter. Rollins actually averaged five more hits per 162 games, but keep in mind that he is getting about 70 more at bats over those games than Henderson did in his career.

One thing that Henderson had pretty well mastered by age 25 is something that Rollins still needs some work on; plate discipline. Rollins averages just 55 walks per 162 games, while Henderson was at nearly twice that amount. Henderson's ability to draw walks and his ability to hit for a higher average resulted in a much higher OBP for Henderson. The lowest OBP for Henderson by age 25 was .338 in his rookie season of 1979. Rollins highest OBP has been .345 in his short rookie season of 2000 and he's at .344 this season.

As for the favorable comparisons, Rollins is more of an extra base hitter than Henderson was. Rollins has a 58 to 42 edge in extra base hits per 162 games. Rollins leads Henderson in doubles, triples and homeruns, although only leads in homeruns by one per 162 games. Ironically, the Phillies are trying to get Rollins to be less concerned with homeruns and more concerned about simply getting on base. While Rollins is learning the art of getting on base, his power numbers aren't dropping. He's just three homeruns shy of his career high of 14. As Rollins becomes an even better overall hitter, his power numbers will provide the Phillies with some pop out of the leadoff spot. At least enough to keep pitchers on their guard.

Rollins is also slightly ahead in his RBI totals.

The biggest difference in Henderson and Rollins at the same age is the ability to get on base and make things happen. While Henderson is known as the consumate leadoff hitter, Rollins is really just making the adjustment. For him, it's a mental adjustment that seems to have hit home in the second-half of the season. All of the physical tools have been there all along, so seeing Rollins accept the job mentally is much more than half the battle. Keep in mind that comparing Rollins is comparing him to a Hall of Fame player. That's never an easy comparison when you're a 25 year old player on a team struggling for an identity. Plus, it's a different era. Stolen bases have been deemphasized in today's game or Rollins stolen base numbers might be better. That's not to say they would be anywhere near that of Henderson, but they would likely be better playing in a different age and time.

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