Coming off a year plagued with injuries, Jimmy Rollins has many reasons to rebound in 2011. But should he bat lead-off or should the job pass to Shane Victorino?
In 2010, Victorino took the majority of the at-bats in the lead-off spot while Rollins nursed a sore calf. In 348 at-bats in the lead-off spot, Victorino posted a .276 batting average. Rollins, in 294 at-bats in the same spot, batted only.242.
In fact, since his 2007 MVP year, there has been a steady decline in Rollins’ performance. Whether that is due to age, injuries or a combination of both is not certain. But with 2011 being a contract year for J-Roll, he should have plenty of motivation to get into better shape and improve.
Victorino is two years younger, but has also had his share of injuries. Also, neither player is a typical lead-off hitter. Both Rollins and Victorino are aggressive at the plate and routinely swing at first pitches.
This approach does seem to work for Victorino, who batted .352 when swinging at the first pitch in 2010. Similarly, Rollins hit .333 in the same situation.
Both players have speed on their side, but Rollins may be more tentative than Victorino after dealing with so many leg issues in 2010.
And then there is the psychological battle to be fought. For years, Rollins has been the engine that kicks this team’s offense into gear. Without him at the top of the line-up, the offense seems to fizzle.
But this magical momentum Rollins provides is more mental than physical. In order to change the entire teams’ outlook on the situation, the Phillies would need to start off the year with Victorino in the top spot.
This is by no means an easy decision. If Rollins has a comeback type of year, he should be in the lead-off position. But there is no way to know how it will go until it actually happens.
And if they start the year with Rollins batting lead-off and he flops, the transition to switch Victorino into that spot will be more difficult.
So who should it be? Right now, a slight edge goes to Victorino. But if Rollins catches fire in spring training, he could reclaim that edge.
Photo by Jenn Zambri Photography