Friday, September 14, 2007

J-Rolling to the MVP

By Michael Rushton
The Phanatic Magazine

Please except my sincere apologies Chase Utley.

No, I didn't forget about you Ryan Howard.

Yes Pat Burrell, your second half has been one to remember.

But none of you three are the Phillies' most valuable player this year. In fact Howard, you may be dethroned as National League MVP by your own teammate.Utley and Howard, look to you right and behold the player who should win that award this season: Jimmy Rollins.

Let's do the easy part and dive into the numbers first. For starters, everyone's AL MVP favorite, Alex Rodriguez, leads the majors in runs scored and total bases. Can you tell me what player trails him in both categories?

How about Rollins, who leads the National League with 126 runs scored and 17triples as well.
J-Roll has set a career high with 27 homers this season and needs just one more run batted in to match his career high of 83 set last year. He is batting a very healthy .296 -- nearly 20 points above his career average -- and is tied for fourth in the majors with 190 hits.

Need more?

Rollins also became just the 10th player in the past 50 years to reach double figures in doubles, triples, and home runs before the All-Star break.

Mix in his 32 stolen bases and the second-best fielding percentage among shortstops (.986 for whatever that is worth), and Rollins is in the midst of a very, very good campaign.

But is it NL MVP worthy?

Some would argue that Rollins isn't even the MVP of the Phillies, given the play of Utley, the power of Howard, and even the comeback of Burrell.

But, even though injuries are unforeseen and often not the fault of the player, while Utley and Howard have spent time on the disabled list -- and Burrell battled an early season slump -- Rollins is just one of two players in the majors to have started everyone of their team's games so far this season.

With regards to the team, don't forget the major strides Rollins has made as a leadoff hitter. As early as the beginning of last season, the masses --including myself -- were screaming for manager Charlie Manuel to drop him out of the one spot.

Bat him second, third, fifth, sixth...anywhere but leadoff.

How many times have we said that last year. His 46 walks leave something to be desired still, but he has reduced the number of hacks he takes at the plate and pop ups to short. In fact, when Rollins was dropped in the order to compensate for injuries, a majority agreed he should return to top of the lineup sooner rather than later.

"It's nothing special -- I'm finding holes," Rollins told the Phillies' official Web site on September 4 after winning the NL Player of the Week Award. "Luck of the draw -- some nights you get them, some nights they get you."

And how about the fact that the race for the award itself is wide open. Who, besides Rollins, deserves the NL MVP honor. You can rightfully make a case for Utley, and Howard will get votes as well.

Outside of the Phillies? Milwaukee's Prince Fielder is having the type of season that won Howard the award in 2006, leading the league with 44 homers. Matt Holliday's 30 homers and 119 RBI are tough to ignore as well, but in the steroid era, voters might just start turning away from power numbers this year.

(That of course is assuming J-Roll isn't juicing himself, and I doubt he is.)

Florida's Hanley Ramirez has better numbers than Rollins in some categories, and is close in a host of others, but the odds of a Marlin winning the honor is slim, fair as that may be.

Then there is the two guys from New York. Throw Jose Reyes out because he has disappeared in the second half, leaving us with David Wright. However, while his average is higher than Rollins, Wright has just one more homer than J-Roll, far fewer runs and hits, and just 14 more RBI.

And hey, not for nothing but Rollins is a good guy as well. His second annual celebrity bowling tournament benefited The Arthritis Foundation of Eastern Pennsylvania, and the switch-hitter is also starting the Jimmy Rollins Foundation to work with kids in the Philadelphia area. The organization will also work on getting African American boys interested in baseball again, an alarming trend that is a concern of Rollins and Major League Baseball.

"Education is the key," Rollins said on Tuesday after accepting a Liberty Bell gift from Mayor John Street. "If I can encourage youth to continue their education and if they view me as a positive role model, which is a terrific accomplishment."

The Phillies are still in the hunt for a playoff spot, and Rollins is just a big a reason for that than anyone else on the roster. And if Philly makes the postseason, there is no reason that won't come with a little hardware for J-Roll.
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