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Jorge Polanco’s Defensive Transformation

Jorge Polanco made his first All-Star appearance this week and he was voted in as the American League’s starting shortstop. Polanco was able to earn this honor in a league that includes names like Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, and Xander Bogaerts. His offensive output as part of one of the league’s best line-ups likely helped him to be voted in, but his changes on the defensive side of the ball might end up being even more valuable to the Twins.
Image courtesy of © Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
Predestined for Second Base
Throughout his minor league career, there were questions about whether Polanco was going to be able to stick at shortstop. In fact, he played some second base in every season throughout his minor league career. If concerns were there, the Twins have ignored them at the big-league level as he has played all but 14 games at shortstop.

“When I got here [in 2017], some guys told me, ‘Yeah, his defense, he’s got to work on it, he’s got to improve. Maybe he’s second base when [Brian Dozier] leaves,” said Ehire Adrianza, who has backed up Polanco for the past two seasons. “But he works so hard, and he’s been getting better and better. You don’t hear anyone say [he’s not a shortstop] anymore.”

“I thought he was going to become an elite, All-Star-level second baseman,” said Jake Mauer, one of Polanco’s minor league managers. “It’s a testament to Jorge that he worked to make himself better and stayed at short. I’m really proud of him.”

Defensive Transformation
Polanco’s lone full season with the Twins came back in 2017. He logged almost 1120 innings at shortstop and posted a .964 fielding percentage. His other peripheral numbers didn’t stack up as well. He had a -12 Rtot (Total Zone Total Fielding Runs Above Average). He also posted a -1 Rdrs or defensive runs saves above average. The flaws present in his minor league career followed him to the MLB level.

This season, Polanco has been a different player on the defensive side of the ball. His Rtot has improved from -12 in 2017 to 4 in 2019. He’s also improved his Rdrs from -1 in 2017 to 7 in 2019. His fielding percentage is roughly the same, but the other defensive metrics show a remarkable improvement.

However, those aren’t the only areas in which he has improved.

SABR’s Defensive Index
Since 2013, SABR and Rawlings have teamed to use SABR’s Defensive Index to help chose the Gold Glove winners in both leagues. According to SABR, the SABR Defensive Index draws on and aggregates two types of existing defensive metrics: those derived from batted ball location-based data and those collected from play-by-play accounts.

Because of Polanco’s 2018 suspension, he didn’t have enough games to qualify for the leaderboards that season. In 2017, only four qualified AL shortstops finished with a lower SDI than Polanco's -3.8 SDI. This season, Polanco has seen a remarkable improvement as he is currently at a -0.5 SDI compared to his career high (or career low depending on how you look at it) back in 2017.

Since SABR started the Defensive Index, only one Twins shortstop has been able to finish with a non-negative SDI. During the 2014 campaign, Eduardo Escobar finished third in the AL with a 0.0 SDI. He was only 0.2 points away from second place. Polanco might not be in the running for a Gold Glove this year, but he could be on pace for Minnesota’s best shortstop season since SDI was introduced.

Stopping the Revolving Door
Polanco’s offensive production is tough to ignore, but this is a player that once was thought of as a second baseman at the big-league level. Minnesota signed him to a long-term deal in the off-season to help stop the team’s revolving door at shortstop.

Cristian Guzman was the Twins’ Opening Day shortstop for six seasons, from 1999-2004. Since then, no Twin has had more than two Opening Day starts at shortstop. That’s includes 11 different shortstops in 12-years from 2006-17.

Minnesota has top prospects like Royce Lewis and Wander Javier working their way towards Target Field. Neither player will be debuting in the imminent future. For now, Polanco doesn’t seem like he is in a position to give up one of the most important positions in baseball.

What have you thought about Polanco’s defensive improvements? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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21 Comments

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Brock Beauchamp
Jul 10 2019 09:21 PM

This kind of article is what makes me so proud to be a part of Twins Daily. It's the nuts-and-bolts of the site.

 

Stellar article, Cody.

    • lecroy24fan, diehardtwinsfan, wavedog and 7 others like this
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Kelly Vance
Jul 10 2019 09:59 PM

Jorge is just getting better and better. Glad the Twins signed him long term.Now, Eddie,Buck, Jose.....

    • lecroy24fan, DocBauer, tarheeltwinsfan and 2 others like this

Still not the level of SS that you really hope to have, but right not Polanco/Arraez looks like a really solid center of the infield and I am really pleased that Jorge really has worked on his fielding - his intensity is his greatest asset and he will continue to get better.  

 

with Lewis a couple years out and Javier - who knows - the position in Polanco's.Then comes the inevitable and positive challenge of multiple good players for the same position. 

 

Still not the level of SS that you really hope to have, but right not Polanco/Arraez looks like a really solid center of the infield and I am really pleased that Jorge really has worked on his fielding - his intensity is his greatest asset and he will continue to get better.  

 

 

Maybe not the defensive level, but the bat has been elite and the combo has been fantastic for the Twins, who sit quite solidly at #2 in all of baseball in WAA at SS, and that's mostly because of Polanco.

    • rdehring likes this

I'll take a good hitter who can play average defense any day of the week.

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Kelly Vance
Jul 11 2019 08:50 AM

 

Still not the level of SS that you really hope to have, but right not Polanco/Arraez looks like a really solid center of the infield and I am really pleased that Jorge really has worked on his fielding - his intensity is his greatest asset and he will continue to get better.  

 

with Lewis a couple years out and Javier - who knows - the position in Polanco's.Then comes the inevitable and positive challenge of multiple good players for the same position. 

Hard to please much, or what? He is the AL starting All Star SS.

 

 

 

    • Intramural Legend and DocBauer like this
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lecroy24fan
Jul 11 2019 09:20 AM

 

Still not the level of SS that you really hope to have, 

 

I'm just stunned that there are still people who don't think he's good enough to be an MLB SS. I see it on Twitter on a daily basis and, quite frankly, it needs to stop. Is he a gold glove SS? No. But he's average defensively at worst now. So far he's has 9 errors this year in 76 games when he had 13 in the 76 games he played last year. He's gone from 1 error every 5.8 games to 1 every 8.4 games. That's solid improvement. Yes between Mauer last year and Cron this year he gets help at 1B on poor throws but does everyone else that plays with them. 

 

Polanco should be the SS for years to come. It's good to see stability at the position.

    • DocBauer likes this
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yarnivek1972
Jul 11 2019 09:24 AM
The concern I have is that his errors switched from last year when he made primarily fielding errors to this year when most have been throwing.

No doubt a direct result of a different first baseman.

 

Hard to please much, or what? He is the AL starting All Star SS.

I understand and I love having him, but I still want him moving forward with his skills as fielder.I think he can still be much better. 

 

I'm just stunned that there are still people who don't think he's good enough to be an MLB SS. I see it on Twitter on a daily basis and, quite frankly, it needs to stop. Is he a gold glove SS? No. But he's average defensively at worst now. So far he's has 9 errors this year in 76 games when he had 13 in the 76 games he played last year. He's gone from 1 error every 5.8 games to 1 every 8.4 games. That's solid improvement. Yes between Mauer last year and Cron this year he gets help at 1B on poor throws but does everyone else that plays with them. 

 

Polanco should be the SS for years to come. It's good to see stability at the position.

I am happy we have him, but that does not mean I do not want him to improve his fielding even more and based on what we have read, he is going to continue to work on his skills.I love a really good fielding SS. 

Dozier's "advanced" middle infield defensive metrics were awesome when Pedro Florimon was standing next to him. They weren't so good otherwise. We have to be careful here, do Polanco's numbers look better due to Schoop?

 

We're also forgetting that the "advanced" defensive metrics cited in this article need three years of data to be trustworthy.

 

The 15-20 errors Polanco will commit this year, to me, says he still isn't a good defender.

 

Does his offense make up for his errors? So far, sure, at least usually. Later on, maybe not. Every bat gets cold.

 

Knoblauch was great out there except for his throwing errors, too, and the problem, as we all know, only got worse. Polanco's glove isn't the problem.

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lecroy24fan
Jul 11 2019 11:29 AM

 

I am happy we have him, but that does not mean I do not want him to improve his fielding even more and based on what we have read, he is going to continue to work on his skills.I love a really good fielding SS. 

 

I get that and I see no reason he won't continue to improve. Reminds me of when Plouffe was struggling defensively at 3B. He kept working on getting better and eventually he was a better than average 3B. 

    • mikelink45 and DocBauer like this

 

I'll take a good hitter who can play average defense any day of the week.

 

Then you should be a White Sox fan! This is how they have played for at least a generation now.

Someone more in the know should do a similar article with the development of Cody as a writer from a blogger to All Star Writer here at Twins Daily. Would be a good way to show others a development path too
    • lecroy24fan likes this
My point is that we don’t have to accept mediocrity in the field at SS. Get a strong defender at SS and let Polanco be the best all around second basemen in baseball because he would be elite at second base
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Brock Beauchamp
Jul 11 2019 07:46 PM

 

My point is that we don’t have to accept mediocrity in the field at SS. Get a strong defender at SS and let Polanco be the best all around second basemen in baseball because he would be elite at second base

I agree in general but I don't see it as a pressing matter. The way Polanco has improved this season, he can probably stick at short for another year or two (unless someone in the org steps up and displaces Jorge, which is possible... though Lewis isn't exactly stellar at the position himself).

Playing SS at the MLB level ain’t easy. But it doesn’t mean you give up trying to find that guy
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Brock Beauchamp
Jul 11 2019 08:11 PM

 

Playing SS at the MLB level ain’t easy. But it doesn’t mean you give up trying to find that guy

A team should never give up trying to improve pretty much anywhere but on the 25-man roster, moving Polanco to second base probably doesn't rank higher than #23 on the list of priorities.

    • snepp likes this

One of the main reasons I am optimistic about the future of this team is that its young core players appear to be determined to keep improving every aspect of their game. In fact, I can't point at anybody and say, "That guy's just coasting on his ability." 

 

Jorge Polanco may be the most striking example of a Twins player improving himself, but an article of this sort could be written on almost any of the Twins players. All of them appear eager to get better, and many of them are succeeding. 

Polanco was signed as an athletic SS with a questionable bat.

After his first couple of seasons the bat emerged to the point where he was a top of the order hitter who got slid down to being a #3 hitter for his team because the hit tool was just that good.

Somebody, somewhere, decided he couldn't play at SS at the ML level, even though he was signed as an athletic SS.

I have posted this over and over and over again. How many have looked at milb error numbers or early MLB error numbers for previous Gold Glove and All Star SS? With little exception, there was a learning curve involved.

Despite some weird handling of his options...and I give credit to Molitor for seeing what this kid could become...he was the starting AL SS in the All Star game just after his 26th birthday.

He continues to get better and better defensively and offensively.

But some would quibble he's not an "elite" SS? Or not yet defensively elite? I get it. But what else could you want at thjs point?
    • jokin and JLease like this

 

My point is that we don’t have to accept mediocrity in the field at SS. Get a strong defender at SS and let Polanco be the best all around second basemen in baseball because he would be elite at second base

 

first off, we don't actually know that Polanco would be a better defender at 2B than SS; it's been speculated a lot but he really hasn't played there enough for this to be fact.

 

second, we've got a guy in Schoop currently doing very well for us at 2B with a very interesting heir apparent in Arraez that's lead us to being 4th in WAA at 2B (80% of that is Schoop, btw). Neither of these guys can play SS full-time, so why would you preemptively move on from Schoop or bury Arraez as a utility guy to move Polanco over?

 

third, the idea of "get a superior defender at SS" is all well and good in a vacuum, but who is actually going to slot in there and how much do you have to pay to get them? How much offensive drop-off do you have to accept to get the superior defender? who is that superior defender?

 

I like Polanco just fine where he is. We have him on a long-term deal that's outstanding for the team for the value he brings. He's bringing elite overall play at SS and getting other good bats into play at 2B.

    • lecroy24fan likes this

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