Jimmy Rollins’ struggles could lead to change at shortstop

Mike wrote a good post (shocker) about Corey Seager on Wednesday, and I’m still of the opinion he shouldn’t come up until 2016 (though, each day it’s looking less and less likely that’s going to happen).

For the sake of argument, let’s just say the front office doesn’t bring up Seager this season. OK, what do the Dodgers do at shortstop?

I advocated for the Jimmy Rollins acquisition well before it happened. He seemed like a logical fit. But we also knew Rollins wasn’t going to be the 2007 version of himself. Still, I’m not sure anyone thought he’d be this inept on offense. Chad looked at some of the factors to Rollins’ slow start a month ago, but things haven’t improved that much. Sure, he has seven home runs and a decent 7.9 percent walk rate, but he isn’t doing much else well offensively.

His wRC+ is 68, which is 13th-worst in baseball among qualified leaders. His wOBA is .264, which is 12th-worst in baseball. And, he’s only 6-for-11 in stolen base attempts. His 3-run home run on opening day was great, but it’s about the only good thing he has done offensively this season.

Thankfully, his defense has been passable. Compared to Hanley Ramirez over the last two seasons, Rollins is amazing. He has a -2.5 UZR/150 and -1 defensive runs saved — so, basically league-average. A league-average defensive shortstop doesn’t have to hit much to have an impact. But the Dodgers’ offense is struggling over the last month (99 wRC+, league-average) and seemingly no other open position, they might want to upgrade at the position offensively.

The natural progression is to recall Seager and bench Rollins. They’d lose some defensively, but presumably gain some offensively. It’s hard, even for a 21-year-old, to not outproduce Rollins’ 2015 offensive output. But let’s look at some other options available to the Dodgers.

In-house options

Enrique Hernandez

Hernandez has logged 69 1/3 innings at shortstop this season, and has been pretty good defensively (no matter what a certain Dodger Talk host might say … #CoolGuy). He has a completely unsustainable 59.1 UZR/150 and 2 DRS. In 97 1/3 career innings at the position, he has a 49.7 UZR/150 and 3 DRS. Say what you want about defensive metrics (and this sample size is minuscule), Hernandez has not been a liability on defense at shortstop. Offensively, he only has 80 plate appearances, but has a couple home runs and a 98 wRC+. With that kind of defense, a 98 wRC+ is more than acceptable. But you also lose his versatility if you’re relying on him to be a full-time shortstop. Of course, the defense wouldn’t hold up that well, but Hernandez and his Rally Banana might be worth a look.

Justin Turner

Ginger Jesus is really good at hitting — better than anyone ever could have expected. Turner has only six innings played at shortstop this year, but last year’s results in 86 innings (-22.6 UZR/150, 0 DRS, plus the eye test) should end this option rather quickly. He’d be fine in a pinch for a game here or there, but he isn’t a full- or even part-time shortstop. Plus, his defense at third base has been among the best in the majors. With Hector Olivera on the way, there might be more chances to play Turner at shortstop, but I wonder if the offensive gain would be enough to cancel out the defensive shortcomings.

Alex Guerrero

“It’s his natural position.” LOL

Darwin Barney

He was just designated for assignment and removed from the 40-man roster. He’s highly unlikely to play shortstop (or any position) for the Dodgers in 2015.

Erisbel Arruebarrena

He’s suspended. If he only had gone out and done his job, he might be a serious contender to play shortstop. His defense is undeniably elite and his bat probably wouldn’t be that much worse than Rollins’.

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If the Dodgers don’t go with an in-house option, they’ll have to analyze the benefit of giving up resources to acquire a potential half-season stop-gap or a more longer-term solution that would cost even more resources.

Outside options

Asdrubal Cabrera

He’s, very surprisingly, near the top of the defensive metrics leaderboard for shortstops. But he’s actually been worse than Rollins offensively (62 wRC+).

Starlin Castro

Would be more than a half-season guy, but he’s atrocious defensively (-13.4 UZR/150, -6 DRS) and doesn’t project to get any better. And he’s only been about average offensively in his career, and is about 25 percent worse than average in 2015.

Ian Desmond

This one is interesting. Desmond is a free agent after the season and has some of the best power of any shortstop in baseball. He reportedly turned down a 9-figure contract extension from the Nationals last year, thus sealing his fate in Washington. But he has struggled immensely on both sides of the ball after three consecutive 4-win seasons (two nearly at 5 wins). Also, the Nationals are a World Series contending team and it would be awfully difficult to sell trading their starting shortstop to the fan base.

Jean Segura

Segura had a great 2013 season, struggled in 2014 and has been a little better than replacement-level in 2015. His defense has been a little worse than season than in his previous seasons, and his offense is better than any of the three guys listed ahead of him. But the Brewers have also said they don’t want to deal Segura, and it’d cost way to much to acquire him when compared to his potential impact on the team.

Ben Zobrist

This is the most interesting name on the list. Zobrist, 34, is a free agent after the season and the A’s are no stranger to trading big names at the trade deadline. While they A’s are playing better of late, they probably are going to be sellers in the next 4-6 weeks. Zobrist is their best non-Sonny Gray trade chip (and they have very little reason to trade him), so he’s going to cost a little something to acquire (not as much as they gave up to get him, though).

He has yet to play shortstop this season, which is somewhat surprise. Yes, he was injured for a time, but the A’s have the worst defensive shortstop in the league in Marcus Semien, yet, Zobrist has not yet played one inning at the position. And he isn’t a true shortstop, as he has played just 743 1/3 innings there in the last three seasons — but he’s been solid when he does. He might get exposed defensively as a full-time shortstop, but he also brings a lot more offensive potential than Rollins does. There’s also the Andrew Friedman connection, which may or may not play a role in a potential acquisition (#analysis).

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The options aren’t really great. Rollins is a solid presence in the clubhouse and there’s no telling what a benching would do to his confidence. Perhaps the Dodgers limit his playing time in hopes of getting more out of him. A platoon(ish) of Rollins and Hernandez is probably the best option at this point, with an extreme outside chance of an acquisition of Zobrist. I think Seager is ready offensively, but I also think he could benefit with a full year in the upper-minors for defensive purposes.

Shortstop has and always will be a defense-first position. This wouldn’t be an issue if the other hitters in the lineup were performing on a consistent basis. Guys are going to slump, but at times, it seems like they’re all slumping simultaneously. That’s when this issue is highlighted.

I’m not expecting anything too dramatic, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see Hernandez get a little more playing time in the coming weeks. It also wouldn’t surprise me to see a Seager promotion. Either way, I don’t see Rollins continuing to start nearly 87 percent of the games at shortstop.

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler
Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.