Ryne Sandberg's first project as the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies is a monumental one—fix Jimmy Rollins.
Having notched his first major league victory as the club's skipper, Sandberg can turn his attention to the future. The rest of the 2013 season becomes an evaluation period, where Sandberg can determine which members of the current roster has a spot in his plan for the future.
However, many players on this current roster are guaranteed a spot in Sandberg's future plans for a variety of reasons, perhaps none more important to get going in the right direction than Rollins, the clubhouse's vocal leader.
In a candid interview with David Murphy of the Philadelphia Daily News, Sandberg admitted that he would like to see the shortstop make some adjustments at the plate, as well as his belief that Rollins is willing to make the effort.
"We’ll see. That’ll be the challenge. I think that’ll be the betterment for himself and the team as we go forward. The other thing is that he gets a little bit pull happy at times. We’ve had conversations about the big hole that’s up the middle, how teams pitch him. A lot of teams, if they pitch him away, there is a big hole up the middle. So something like that, for him, will be a big deal."
But is this a fool's errand for Sandberg?
In what has been a lost season anyway, Rollins' bat never returned from the All-Star break. Since the unofficial second half of the season began, the Phillies shortstop is hitting just .214/.260/.316 with one home run.
And while the home runs are not a major concern of Sandberg, the lack of any production by Rollins is a major concern for the club moving forward.
To correct this problem, the new Phillies manager believes that Rollins must focus less on hitting flyballs (and by proxy, home runs) and make better contact, resulting in more line drives and groundballs.
Unfortunately, that is not a likely scenario. For his career, Rollins has averaged a line-drive rate of 21 percent. This season, he has hit a line-drive in 22.6 percent of his plate appearances, an increase of 3.6 percent over last season.
Rollins has not hit as many balls on the ground, however. 39.9 percent of his plate appearances this season have resulted in a groundball, compared to a career average of 41.5 percent.
Perhaps the most interesting statistical note is this: Rollins is averaging fewer flyballs in 2013 than he did in both 2011 and 2012. 37.4 percent of Rollins' at-bats have ended in a flyball this season, which is in line with his career average—37.5 percent.
At 34 years old, the truth may be that Rollins is just heading for a natural decline. A .283 batting average on balls in play would seemingly indicate that the shortstop has been a bit unlucky, but we are talking about a player whose career batting average on balls in play is .286.
Outside of a few, rare seasons, Rollins has always been the type of player whose true value is derived from stellar defense at a premium position. In the past, it was much easier to overlook a below average offensive season as a result.
Both now and in the future, it will be much harder to ignore as Rollins faces a natural offensive decline and his range at shortstop begins (continues?) to fade.
Having Rollins focus on his approach is a noble cause for Sandberg as the club's new manager. Rollins is one of this club's leader, and as impossible as it is to measure "intangibles" in this game, there is no arguing that the Phillies are in a much better place when Rollins is moving in the right direction.
But it's hard to have a veteran player change his ways, especially when there may not be that significant of an improvement to be had.
Rollins will be this club's shortstop for the next few seasons, but you almost have to wonder whether or not the Phillies would be better of evaluating a guy like Freddy Galvis at his natural position with 40-some-odd games left in a lost season.
Sandberg knows what Rollins can do, but with the way 2013 has gone, fixing him now would still leave him a miracle short of sainthood.
Follow Greg on Twitter, @Greg_Pinto.