Is Scott Rolen Finished?

I’m a Scott Rolen fan.  At age 37, he is still a very good defensive third baseman. He is a great teammate and one of the most positive influences in the Reds clubhouse.  He plays with passion and intensity.  That doesn’t change the fact, however, that he’s hitting .182 and slugging .318 through the first twenty-eight games.  Is he finished?  Or, is this just a really tough start that Rolen will eventually overcome?

April 14, 2012; Washington, D.C., USA; Cincinnati Reds third baseman

When an aging player’s offensive performance declines, the culprit is usually either chronic injuries or declining bat speed.  Rolen appears to be healthy.  Has his bat slowed?

First, let’s take a look at Rolen’s Batted Ball Statistics on FanGraphs.  Keep in mind,  the sample size is small.  Rolen has only been to the plate 97 times this season.  In those 97 plate appearances, Rolen is hitting a larger percentage of ground balls, fewer line drives, and fewer fly balls than he has throughout his career.  These can be symptoms of declining bat speed.

His strike-out percentage this season is 18.6% which is slightly higher than his career 16.5% average.  This can also be a symptom of declining bat speed.

Second, let’s take a look at his plate discipline:

The chart on the left represents the location of Rolen’s swings in 2012.  The chart on the right represents the location of  all of his swings since 2007.  The illustration suggests Rolen is expanding his strike zone more than normal, especially at the top of the zone.  This is consistent with his higher strikeout percentage and his lower walk rate.

courtesy of Bill James Baseball IQ app for the iPhone

So, which is it?  Is Rolen’s bat speed declining?  Or, is he expanding the strike zone?

courtesy of Bill James Baseball IQ app for the iPhone

There’s a third possibility.  Rolen is actually seeing fewer fastballs (56%) this season than he has seen throughout his career (65%).  He’s seeing significantly more sliders (21% in 2012 versus 14% career) and he’s swinging at them.  The illustration at right shows Rolen’s swing percentage against the slider in 2012.  Forty five percent of them have come on sliders outside of the strike zone.

This too, is consistent with his higher ground ball percentage.

Personally, I don’t see a significant decline in bat speed.  Evidently, neither do the advance scouts.  If they did, Rolen would be seeing more hard stuff not less.   Furthermore, Rolen hit .356 in Spring Training.  His bat speed didn’t suddenly decline on Opening Day.

Players go through slumps.  Sometimes, they see the ball well.  Other times, they do not.  If a player is swinging at errant sliders, he can expect to see more of them.  It’s possible Rolen is feeling healthy for the first time in awhile and he is being overly aggressive.

I believe Scott Rolen will make the adjustments necessary to emerge from his current funk.  When he does, I look for him to hit more line drives, more fly balls, and chase fewer pitches, especially sliders, outside of the strike zone.  Until he does, enjoy his defense and look for Todd Frazier to get more time at third base.  Look at it this way, he’s outperforming Albert Pujols.

In other Reds news:

Todd Frazier started in LF Wednesday in Milwaukee.  Click here to read.

Hal McCoy commented on the ugly loss in Milwaukee Tuesday night.  Click here to read.

Bronson Arroyo discusses the Cole Hamels/Bryce Harper incident.  Click here to read.

John Fay discusses the Willie Harris demotion.  Click here to read.

John Heyman says the Reds medical staff was wrong to force a Josh Hamilton trade.  Click here to read.

Ken Griffey, Sr. says Billy Hamilton is swifter than Lou Brock, Ricky Henderson, and Joe Morgan.  Click here to read.

Reds prospect Didi Gregorius talks to Ben Hill of MiLB.com about his development.  Click here to watch.

Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun wrote a great piece in mid-April about the Joey Votto extension.  Click here to read.

For those of you who would like to see Kevin Youkilis in a Reds uniform, Gordon Edes (ESPN) believes he will be traded:

 

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Topics: Billy Hamilton, Bronson Arroyo, Didi Gregorius, FanGraphs, Gordon Edes, Joey Voto;Bob Elliott, John Fay, John Heyman, Josh Hamilton, Ken Griffey, Kevin Youkilis, Scott Rolen, Willie Harris

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