Scott is Rolen

Baseball is a game of adjustments.

Usually when we use that word though, we’re talking about adjustments at the plate or on the mound in an effort to get the upper hand on the opposition. But there are other types of adjustments to be made in the game.

Just ask Jays third baseman Scott Rolen.

He’s still the same player in the field (a seven-time gold glove-winner, in fact). But an aging body and injuries – most notably to his non-throwing shoulder – have forced the 34-year-old to make adjustments in his hitting style to remain a contributor in the big leagues.

It’s safe to say that Rolen was once a ‘masher.’ From 1998 to 2004, the third baseman hit at least 25 home runs each season, while also amassing 100-plus RBI in five of those years (with first the Phillies and then the Cardinals). His best season came in 2004 with the Cards. In 142 games, Rolen posted career highs in nearly every major offensive category, finishing with a .314 average, 34 homers and 124 RBIs. Those numbers helped place him fourth in National League MVP voting.

Then he met Hee-Seop Choi.

After a collision with the Dodgers’ first baseman on May 10, 2005, it was revealed that Rolen had a torn labrum in his left shoulder. He underwent season-ending shoulder surgery three days later.

Now, a shoulder injury can be a tricky thing. First, there’s a chance the problem could be a recurring one (which Rolen later found out). And second, it can lead to a decline in power at the plate. Rolen has found that out as well.

Consider this: from 1997 – his first full season in the bigs – up until his original shoulder injury in 2005, Rolen averaged a home run every 22.9 plate appearances (5,199 PA, 227 HR). Impressively, he showed only a slight decline from that pace in 2006 after returning from injury (1 HR/27 PA) en route to earning a nominee for the National League Comeback Player of the Year.

It’s hard to say how much his shoulder bothered him in 2006, but it was definitely a problem the following year. In fact, on August 31, 2007, Rolen underwent another season-ending surgery. From the time he returned to the time of the second surgery, the third baseman managed a home run every 34.5 plate appearances (1,035 PA, 30 HR), a noticeable decline from his pre-injury number.

And the number has continued to go down since Rolen joined the Toronto Blue Jays. So far: 687 plate appearances and 14 home runs. That’s one long ball every 49.1 PA. How about this season? Once every 73.3 PA.

But wait a second … does this mean he’s no longer a productive major league hitter? No, it doesn’t. But that’s thanks in large part to the adjustments that Rolen has made to his hitting style.

Consider this: following a 3-for-4 day at the plate during yesterday’s 11-3 loss to the Marlins, Rolen now owns a team-best .320 batting average along with a very respectable .386 on-base percentage. Because he only has three homers this year, his slugging number is fairly low (.457), but he’s made up for it in other areas. For example, he’s hitting .340 with runners in scoring position.

We’ll be the first to admit that we questioned the move when the Jays acquired Rolen. After all, injuries were a significant concern. But we’ve since learned that this guy is a gamer. Defensively, he’s superb. And it looks like he’s made the necessary adjustments to remain productive at the plate.

Just don’t expect home runs.

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5 Responses to “Scott is Rolen”

  1. Jay B Says:

    .340 with risp, yet only 19 rbi…strange distribution of stats.
    might have a lot to do with hitting behind rios, wells, and lind for most of the yr, so all his opportunites are with only 1 guy on base (guess which one)…

    i wonder how many other managers would leave 2 near .400 obp hitters in the 6 and 7 holes in their lineup for this long…

  2. TD Says:

    Yeah, Cito definitely hates changing his lineup around. In all fairness though, how long before Overbay endures a slump of his own?

  3. Jay B Says:

    i don’t know that that’s a fair question for a couple of reasons.

    1) that’s kind of besides the point. baseball is a game of streaks, and all the best managers (look at how larussa, torre, and bobby cox mess around with their lineups) maximize the value of a player’s hot streak, by putting him in higher leverage situations (i.e. moving them up in the line up). is it really valid to say, if overbay does hit a skid, ‘see, we shouldn’t have moved him up when he was raking, cause look at him now’? the kind of question you’re posing, suggests that once the move is made, it can’t be undone, when really, he should be hitting 3rd against righties while he’s still mashing them. If he faulters, tinker again.

    2) for the first time in his career, overbay is platooning, and not having to face lefties where he hits for decent avg, but has an OPS of more than 100 points less than vs righties. His career OBP of .370 and career OPS of .850 against righties (or something around there) is pretty good. So given that overbay is only being asked to face righties, against whom he’s always been a bit of a killer, it’s not fair to just assume some kind of leveling off process for him, because he’s only doing slightly more than he always has, according to his splits…i agree that a regression to the mean is inevitable, but i don’t agree that it will be so dramatic that it will make a move up the line up to be made to look foolish…

    i know the natural answer to all this is ‘well, cito just doesn’t like to mess around with his lineup’, but i don’t accept that as a justification. it’s just another one of his philosophies that was born when he had studs hitting from 1-6, and didn’t have to worry about managing from game to game/week to week. manage the roster you’ve got, cito. not the one you wish you had.

  4. TD Says:

    Well, sure, baseball is certainly a game of streaks. But what you’re suggesting is to change the batting order continuously — simply moving guys around based on the current streak that they’re in, good or bad. Is this really realistic? You’d have a different lineup every week. There’s something to be said for maintaining at least some level of consistency.

    Thoughts?

  5. Jay B Says:

    but it’s not like i was calling for barajas and millar to hit 3 and 4 in the first month of the season when they were smashing everything…

    i’m suggesting that now that overbay is back to form, and doing what was expected of him when he was brought over (against righties at least), i think he’s better used higher in the lineup…

    what YOU’RE suggesting is that overbay can’t keep this up, and therefore the lineup will be in a constant state of flux, which is where we disagree…like i said, a career obp of .370 against righties doesn’t really suggest that he’s due for a slump…

    also, the cards have used 7 different cleanup hitters so far this yr, and the dodgers shuffle their lineup every day…when you look at what the dodgers, and to a lesser extent, the cardinals are doing right now, how ‘unrealistic’ is it to shuffle lineups a bit to accomodate streaks?

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