For the first time in recent memory, Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel has a legitimate option to replace shortstop Jimmy Rollins at the top of the lineup.
Rollins, who has spent a majority of his 13-year career penciled in as the Phillies leadoff hitter, has a unique skill-set that could be used to sure up the bottom portion of the lineup while handing the baton at the top of the order off to newly acquired center fielder Ben Revere.
Unlike most leadoff hitters in the game today, Rollins has the ability to hit for power, perhaps more efficiently than average at this stage of his career, something that the Phillies currently lack near the bottom of the order. Last season, Rollins hit 23 home runs and drove in 68 RBI while batting primarily leadoff. This season, though, with catcher Carlos Ruiz suspended for the first 25 games for using PED’s, and question marks in the outfield when it comes to expectations for Darin Ruff, Delmon Young and Dominic Brown, Rollins may be best served batting lower in the order in an effort to get production from the lower half of the lineup.
In previous years, Rollins has been quite dismissive about the idea of hitting any lower in the lineup. He bristled when it was suggested either Marlon Byrd, Shane Victorino or Jayson Werth take over the leadoff position through the years. However, with Revere now in the fold and a lineup that lacks any palpable pop lower in the order, it appears Rollins may for the first time be open to dropping in the order.
“Yeah, he’s definitely a leadoff hitter, Rollins said of Revere during a sit down with the media at Spring Training in Clearwater, FL. “from what I’ve seen playing against him in spring training, he was batting second last year behind (Denard) Span in Minnesota, but he can definitely do it. He’s a fun guy, excitable, steals bases, doesn’t get thrown out. Those are things you have to do to find ways to score runs.”
Revere, acquired by the Phillies this offseason in a trade with the Minnesota Twins has started 128 games in his career from the leadoff spot while hitting .263 with a .310 on base percentage. Meanwhile, Rollins has a lengthier resume at the top of the order, leading off 1,374 games while batting .273 with a .332 on base percentage. However, at age 34, Rollins has seen his on base percentage trending down in recent years, while the 24-year old Revere is trending upwards with his career .319 on base percentage.
Where Revere has a clear edge, is in the stolen base department. The 24-year old swiped 40 bases last season for the Twins, ten more than Rollins’ total from a year ago.
While Rollins at this stage of his career has more experience, and a higher career OBP over the past two seasons, at .327 to Revere’s .322, Revere has shown improvement during his two-year career. Additionally, Revere should see a boost in moving to the National League, from the pitching-centric American League.
However, if there is one criticism that is stronger than any when it comes to Rollins’ ability to leadoff, it is his propensity for striking out and his lack of plate discipline. Through the course of the past two seasons Rollins has struck out 155 times, while Revere has struck out just 95.
For the Phillies, at this stage of Rollins’ career, it’s only a matter of time before a new leadoff man sits atop the lineup and with Revere’s skill set and Rollins unique blend of power and speed near the bottom of the order, the time should be now in an effort to form the most complete lineup possible.
Matt Lombardo is a Sports Talk Radio Host on 97.5 FM The Fanatic in Philadelphia and has covered Philadelphia sports as a credentialed member of the media for the past five years.