Party like it is 2004: Rollins questions again arise

Ah, 2004: John Kerry was campaigning, the Passion of the Christ was in theatres, and Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears were embarking on the slippery slope to self-annhialation.

But as far as the Phillies' leadoff situation goes, we are right back where we were five years ago. I remember attending a game at Citizens Bank Park back in 2004 and afterward driving back to my apartment. On the radio, the only topic of the day was Jimmy Rollins' struggles as a leadoff hitter. People were saying trade him, bench him, move him down in the order. He would never be a successful leadoff hitter, never wield a consistent-enough bat to reach his sky-high potential.

In the Phillies' first 28 games that season, Rollins hit .188 with a .255 on base percentage. The previous two seasons, he had hit a combined .254 with a .313 on base percentage.

Well, we all know what happened after that. Rollins finished 2004 with his best big league season yet, hitting .289/.348/.455 with 14 home runs, 73 RBI, and 119 runs scored. From 2004-08, he hit .286/.342/.468, averaging just over 18 home runs, 72 RBI and 38 stolen bases per season.

Now, in 2009, the questions after Phillies games again center around Rollins' struggles, and whether manager Charlie Manuel would be better served moving him down in the order. Rollins went 0-for-5 yesterday and is hitting just .195 through the first 29 games of the season. He has reached base just three times in his previous 23 plate appearances, and the Phillies offense has struggled along with him the past couple of days.

Manuel bristled a little bit yesterday when asked if it was time to move Rollins down, although the bristling was probably more out of frustration than anger over the topic of questioning. You can read a detailed breakdown of the situation here in the story that I filed for the paper. In summation, though, Manuel still thinks Rollins' best fit is at the top of the order. And he seems to think that once Rollins turns it around, he will do so for good. It is just a matter of waiting out these struggles.

"I have a heck of a lot of patience," Manuel said.

The problem is, it is virtually impossible to take Rollins out of the leadoff spot while also hitting Ryan Howard fourth and breaking up the three lefty power hitters. There seem to be three options 1) Bat Rollins second, which I don't think would accomplish a heck of a lot, 2) Bat Howard fifth, or 3) Bat Utley, Ibanez and Howard in a row.

If I had to make a line-up that took Rollins out of the top of the order, I'd probably go with option 2. Below is a sample line-up, but I still don't think I like it any better than the one Manuel is currently using.

  1. Shane Victorino CF
  2. Chase Utley 2B
  3. Jayson Werth RF
  4. Raul Ibanez LF
  5. Ryan Howard 1B
  6. Pedro Feliz 3B
  7. Jimmy Rollins SS
  8. Carlos Ruiz C
  9. Pitcher