Jimmy Rollins turned 31 last November and for a baseball player, that's a good time to start putting together your baseball bucket list. You know, the stuff you want to do before you retire. Rollins has already crossed off little things like play in an All-Star Game, win a Gold Glove, be the NL MVP, win a World Series, etc. So now, he can start working on the little things.
Moved to the top of his baseball bucket list is to steal 50 bases. Hmmm, that one probably should have been done earlier in his career, when his legs were a little fresher, but, okay. Actually, Rollins could have done that years ago and perhaps multiple times, had he not gone through his schizophrenic days of "I'm a power-hitter, I'm a base-stealer, I'm a power-hitter, I'm a base-stealer." Of course, if hitting 30 home runs was on his baseball bucket list, he conquered that during his ultimate MVP season of 2007, so perhaps that was just a matter of reaching another goal.
The truth is, that Jimmy Rollins can steal 50 bases. While his legs aren't as fresh as they once were, they're not on the quick-sale rack with the milk that has to be sold in the next day, so there's no reason to worry there. Besides, it was just 2008 when he stole 47 bases, which was a personal best for him as a professional player. Had he not missed playing time because of an injury, he would have likely surpassed the 50 stolen bases mark. It bears noting that he stole 46 in 2001 and led the league, but his 47 left him in third among NL thieves, 21 swipes behind Willy Taveras. Of course, last we heard of Taveras, he was signing a minor league deal with the Washington Nationals.
What does it take to steal 50 bases? Well, naturally, speed and we know that Rollins has plenty of that. It also takes skill; speed alone isn't always good enough to steal a base if you don't know how to read situations and pitchers. Rollins has definitely shown that he knows how to read pitchers, having been successful in 82% of his stolen base attempts in his career. Stealing 50 bases takes two other things; a patient hitter behind you in the order and the ability to get on base as many times as possible.
Placido Polanco has been penciled into the number two spot in the order by manager Charlie Manuel. It's not something that there are routine stats to go to, but Polanco is regarded as one of the best number two hitters in baseball. He's willing to take pitches and is at least a decent two-strike hitter (.251 in his career). There is an amazing stat among Polanco's numbers that is almost unbelievable. Believe it or not, in 106 plate appearances in his career where he has faced an 3-and-0 count, Polanco has a .000 batting average. Now, you're probably thinking that's not good at all, but you would be wrong. In those 106 plate appearances, he has been hit by a pitch once and has drawn an amazing 104 walks. Meaning that he is really only 0-for-1 when he has a count of three balls and no strikes. If you're playing along at home with your calculator, that works out to an amazing .991 on-base percentage when he's got a 3-0 count.
In other words, figure that the presence of Placido Polanco should help Jimmy Rollins get to his goal of 50 stolen bases. As well as Shane Victorino hit behind Rollins, Polanco is definitely an upgrade when it comes to the number two hole in the order.
That brings us to the idea of Rollins needing to get on base as many times as possible to swipe his 50 bases. When he reached 47 in 2008, Rollins had an on-base percentage of .349 for the season, which was also a career-high. The bad news is that he followed that up with an OBP of .296 in 2010, the lowest of his career. Not only did Rollins hit just .250 last season, he drew walks at a lower rate than he did in 2008. Last season, Rollins drew a walk once every 16.5 plate appearances (PA), while he drew one ever 10.8 PAs in 2008. Coming into last season, Rollins had drawn a walk once every 13.6 PAs.
The biggest factor in Rollins being able to steal 50 bases actually doesn't come from just pure speed or who is hitting behind him, since he would have grabbed 50 or more stolen bases in 2008 while hitting ahead of Victorino, if not for his injuries. No, the biggest factor in whether or not Rollins will be able to steal 50 bases lies within Jimmy Rollins. He'll need to show patience at the plate himself to work better hitting counts and it wouldn't hurt if he exchanged some of his wild home run looking swings for some bunts that he can leg out. Rollins can surely steal 50 bases, but he may need a different approach to the game to make it happen.
Jimmy Rollins' career stats