In a very unsurprising result, Philadelphia Phillies legend (yes, I said it) Jimmy Rollins was not elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year on the ballot. Rollins did manage to garner 9.4 percent of the vote, meaning that he’ll stay on to fight another year, but his long-term prospects are dubious at best. Still, no matter if the Hall ever calls on him or not, Rollins lays claim to an MLB record that will be nearly impossible for anyone to beat: most plate appearances in a single season.
By coming to the plate 778 times during his MVP season in 2007, Jimmy Rollins set a new MLB mark, breaking the old record of 773 which was set by Lenny Dykstra for those ’93 Phils. It’s a record that might not look like a big deal at first glance, but it’s actually very indicative of many things going right in a particular season for said player.
Take Dykstra’s 1993 campaign. He was unbelievable, leading the National League in hits, walks, and runs scored. He even managed to snatch four first place MVP votes away from Barry Bonds, as he finished second overall. Rollins managed to somehow one-up The Dude in breaking his record 14 years later, as J-Roll led the NL in runs scored and triples, while he finished tied for second with a career-high 212 hits. Oh, and he also hit 30 home runs and stole 41 bases.
No wonder Charlie Manuel penciled his name into the lineup for the full 162.
Nobody is breaking Jimmy Rollins’ record for plate appearances in a single MLB season anytime soon.
And that’s really the key to Rollins’ record. Nobody plays everyday anymore. Things like load management and mental health days, regardless of how you view them, are a part of sports that’s here to stay. Yes, the old standard of “playing through an injury” still exists, but you’ll only find a handful of players who are going to take the field for 162 games these days. There were just two such players in 2021, Marcus Semien and Whit Merrifield, and neither finished within 50 plate appearances of Rollins’ record. This brings us to another reason why the mark is safe. Only a leadoff hitter can challenge it.
Semien led off 88 times for Toronto in 2021 but, even in such a potent lineup, he likely missed out on several dozen more plate appearances on the year because of the times he hit lower in the order. Merrifield actually did fit the mold, as he led off every single game for Kansas City, but the rest of his team’s offense wasn’t good enough to get him to the plate the extra time or two per week that it would have taken to challenge the record.
Jimmy Rollins had no such issues in 2007.
He led off 139 times for the Phillies that year, only ever flexing to the 3-spot for 23 games on occasions such as when Chase Utley missed time with a broken hand or when Ryan Howard got a day off and Utley moved to cleanup. And, boy, did that lineup produce. The Phillies led the National League in runs scored, walks, and on base percentage in 2007. They were even hit by the most pitches. Basically, they got on base in every way possible, and they knew how to chase runners home. Jimmy Rollins was the main beneficiary of that, hitting and running (and gloving) his way to the MVP while coming to the plate a staggering 4.8 times per game, every game, all season long.
To ever challenge this record, a player would need the perfect storm that occurred for Rollins in 2007. He’d need to hit at the top of a powerful offense, stay healthy all season, and enjoy a year so good that his manager dare not pull him out of the lineup for even a game. Even then, old skippers like Charlie Manuel are a dying breed, and it’s hard to see many of today’s current analytically minded managers running a guy out there as much as Rollins was in 2007. Heck, you even need the weather on your side, as too many rainouts could cause an inordinate number of doubleheaders that could wear a player down and maybe even cut a game off a team’s schedule if they have nothing to play for.
It also helps Rollins’ case that baseball has changed fundamentally even in the short few years since he has played. It’s now a “three true outcomes” game (home runs, strikeouts, and walks), and teams just don’t/can’t manufacture runs anymore, leading to fewer plate appearances to go around overall. And let’s not even talk about the dreaded shift, which has become much more prominent since Rollins’ heyday.
In 2007, Jimmy Rollins had luck on his side, but he also had everything else going for him. The plate appearances record that he set is safe until such time that baseball either enters a paradigm shift away from the three true outcomes or MLB decides to extend the season, which would be a terrible idea. Even then, few players will have the fortitude or the opportunity to challenge Rollins’ record. And so, whether it’s the Hall or not for Jimmy Rollins, at least we’ll always have this one.