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Friday, April 3, 2009

Rollins or Reyes? You might not like the answer

On Baseball Tonight recently, Buster Olney claimed Jose Reyes was the best leadoff hitter in the NL East. If this question were asked last season, the unquestionable answer would be Hanley Ramirez. However, if I am not mistaken, the Marlins are going to bat him third this year. As a result, the two leading candidates are obviously Jimmy Rollins and Jose Reyes.

When Olney made the claim that Reyes was a better leadoff hitter than Rollins, some Phillies fans took offense. Yes, Reyes is a showboater. Yes, Reyes is a member of the "choke-job" Mets (or, in the words of esteemed professional Bill Conlin, the "dog-ass" Mets). However, let's assess Olney's claim: Reyes is the better leadoff hitter.

Primarily, the job of a leadoff hitter is to get on base. Reyes does this more efficiently than Rollins. Over the past three seasons (2006-2008), Reyes has an OBP of .355, while Rollins has an OBP of .341 over the same time period. Advantage goes to Reyes.

It doesn't hurt as a leadoff man to have a high slugging percentage in order to drive in runs from the bottom of the lineup and put oneself in scoring position for the heart of the order. Over the past three seasons, Reyes has a SLG of .461, while Rollins has a SLG of .482 over the same time period. However, Rollins plays in a much smaller park. Slight advantage to Rollins.

In order to adjust for the park-factor, we can compare the two players' OPS+ values (which is adjusted for park factors). Over the past three seasons, Reyes has amassed an OPS+ of 112, while Rollins has amassed an OPS+ of 107 over the same time period. Yes, Reyes has a higher OBP -- but Rollins has the higher SLG. When it comes to OBP and SLG combined, I'd have to give a slight edge to Reyes.

The next job of a leadoff man is to steal bases efficiently. Reyes has many more stolen bases over the past three years than Rollins, but he also has many more caught-stealings over the past three years. The success rate of SB attempts is more important than the raw number of total stolen bases. Rollins has stolen bases at a 89.8% rate over the past three years, far more valuable than Reyes' success rate of 78.9% over the same time period. Advantage goes to Rollins.

Rollins is the better fielder, but the question at-hand was the "best NL East leadoff hitter." So, in this discussion, Rollins gets no credit for his defensive advantage.

Overall, the difference between the two players, on a purely offensive basis of judgment, is minimal. However, even with my outspoken love for Rollins and my fact-based dislike for Reyes (his handshake-routines are embarrassingly exaggerated and far more showboat-ish than anything any Phillie has ever done), I'd have to agree with Olney on this one*. Oh, and Reyes is 25 (not yet in his prime), while Rollins is 30-years-old (in, or just past his prime). If the Mets offered Reyes for Rollins straight-up, Ruben Amaro would be a fool not to take the offer.

Sorry, Phillies fans, but the showboating choker may be slightly better than the power-hitting champion^.

*This will not happen very often, as you will come to learn
^At batting, certainly not life


Anonymous said...

you lost me at the hypothetical "straight up deal". you point out the difference between the two players offensively is minimal, give rollins a big defensive advantage, state that one is currently in his prime and then say you would support a straight up trade. ive never been a real big fan of looking at upside and the future, maybe id would just rather have the better player now, as opposed to the potentially better player later. too many thing can go wrong (injury, free agency, knoublochitis) to really bank on the future in pro sports.

Scott Graham said...

I'm going to respond to this purely because I think I read it first. Andy, if you come across this and I was wrong at interpreting what you were going for, feel free to correct me.

Anonymous, I think his only point was that the overwhelming majority of the time, a player like Reyes (ability, age, etc.) usually will tend to get better, and that players around Rollins age tend to be on the decline or will be in the near future.

Without a doubt, personality-wise and in the past, Andy would rather have Rollins on the Phils, but at this point in time, if offered a long term deal, Reyes would most likely be able to help out the team for longer. They're both under contract for the same length of time, but Reyes will make less.

Andy Musser said...

Well you may not be a big proponent of the future, but that's a pretty big part of a GM's job.

I used the stats to show that Reyes is probably the better hitter now, DESPITE the fact that he has yet to reach his prime. The "future" is irrelevant...I think Reyes is the better offensive player right now (if you want to use some stats to refute that, be my guest), and I simply underlined my argument with the comparison of their ages.

Injury can happen to either Reyes or Rollins, free agency will happen to both players, and Knoblauchitis is so rare it's not even worth mentioning.