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Can Jorge Polanco's Power Survive a New Baseball?

In the long run, Jorge Polanco is no championship-caliber fielding shortstop. The Twins probably won’t have to move him off that position for 2020, but if they want to be an elite team, they’ll eventually need a stronger-armed, rangier player at that position. Polanco’s place on the roster seems set for several more years, though, thanks to the long-term extension he signed prior to the 2019 campaign.
Image courtesy of © David Berding-USA TODAY Sports
That deal locked in his salary, but his value to the team as it reaches the meat of its contention window remains unknown. The key to solving for that variable, especially if and when he moves off shortstop, is answering the question: Is his power real?

Polanco has demonstrated some measure of meaningful pop, on and off, ever since the second half of 2017. However, for most of that span, the ball has also been juiced, and that has helped players who would otherwise be slightly underpowered even more than it’s helped others. After his stellar finish in the Twins’ push to the Wild Card Game in 2017, Polanco was suspended for the first half of 2018 after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, and when he returned, he didn’t tap into the same power (especially the same over-the-fence power) he’d shown in the latter third of 2017.

If those two seasons represented inconsistent progress, though, Polanco’s 2019 was a full-fledged breakout. The thing is, the ball was juiced more than ever this year, and it’s not clear that the same will be true come 2020. For that matter, we have to tackle the questions attached to the way Polanco’s power slumped as the season progressed.

Attached Image: Polanco Power.JPG


In the first two months of 2019, his expected slugging average (according to Statcast) was a robust .527. In June and July, that figure fell to .436, and in August and September, it was a paltry .393. If that decline was all about Polanco playing while banged up, or the normal grind of the season, it’s not overwhelmingly worrisome. If, however, it showed that teams had either spotted the holes in his swing or started playing matchups to minimize his chance to access his power, it’s a bit more troubling. Note, too, that the early- and late-season slices also show a big gap between actual slugging average and expected slugging. The quality of Polanco’s contact wasn’t quite commensurate with his results.

Slicing and dicing his production even further, something important pops out right away: all of Polanco’s power comes when he bats left-handed. His left-handed swing generates natural lift. He has a hole in his swing, down and in, and his power is limited on inside pitches, but his power gains in 2019 (in terms of average exit velocity and in frequencies of the highest-value types of batted balls) came almost exclusively on pitches from the center of the zone up, and from the middle of the plate away, when he was batting against right-handers.

As a righty, facing lefties, Polanco remains what he’s always been. He has great contact skills, but the plane of his swing from that side is flat. He’s more aggressive and more reliant on his speed, as well as on using the whole field. That makes him more likely to age well from the left side of the plate, but definitely exposes him to some matchup vulnerabilities.

More importantly, the fact that the unimposing Polanco both fails to consistently generate hard contact and relies on power generated on outside offerings, suggests that he might not find even double-digit home runs if the juice is suddenly taken out of the baseball.

Traditionally, there’s been an expectation that power develops late, and that a player finds more pop as he reaches his mid- and late 20s. That’s hard to count on in Polanco’s case, though. Firstly, with Statcast data, we have an easier time identifying the best candidates for power boosts, and Polanco doesn’t seem like one of them, given his batted-ball profile. He’s not blessed with the bat speed to generate exceptionally hard contact, such that he might do so more consistently with age and polish.

Secondly, as the game has evolved to favor youth (and as sports science has advanced to prepare bodies for the highest level of competition at earlier ages), we see players make those jumps sooner. Indeed, given that Polanco has already solved his launch-angle problem from the left side, he might already have made the biggest advancement of which he’s capable.

None of this means Polanco can’t make adjustments and continue to hit for power, even as teams try to find ways to neutralize the power he’s developed, and even if the ball does lose its juice. We’ve seen Didi Gregorius, another lithe and relatively unmuscled shortstop, sustain consistent power production despite unimpressive Statcast batted-ball data in the aggregate. Some of that is attributable to Gregorius having played his home games at Yankee Stadium, but some of it lies in his ability to punish mistakes, and to shift between looking for a pitch to drive in the air and looking for something he can punch through the infield.

Polanco already makes that transition fluidly, based on situations, and he’s a better runner than Gregorius, which allows him to sustain a higher BABIP. His offensive profile isn’t wholly dependent on power. If he wants to be the Twins’ third baseman or left fielder of the future, though, he’ll need to continue adapting, and find ways to hit the ball hard more consistently.

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21 Comments

I'm not looking for power out of SS. Call me old fashioned I guess. Give me solid defense, speed, and a good OBP and i'm happy.

 

We also have no clue what 2020 balls will be. It's not like they are going to come out and tell everyone they "nerfed them" back to 2018 balls.

 

Also, the elephant in the room is the PED suspension that Polanco already has under his belt.

    • mikelink45, tarheeltwinsfan, Platoon and 1 other like this

I think he's built like a 10-14 HR/year player.

 

But I also thought that of Mauer, who once hit 28 and sometimes hit 6.

 

What do I know. This stuff is hard to predict. It's what makes it a great game.

    • Dantes929, SwainZag, mikelink45 and 2 others like this

I've never been in love with the long ball. I don't want to see home runs hit off the handle no matter how strong or how much bat speed is created.I used to love watching Mauer hit and the 28 homers in 2009 was just a bonus.For those that thought he would continue with those numbers I pointed out that most of those 28 homers appeared to clear the fence by about 3 feet and most of them came in the metrodome. Rather than leap to all the other variables with Polanco or any other batter I would start with how many home runs he would have hit if the ball carried 20 fewer feet.That takes into account bat speed, launch angle, what field the ball was hit toward and hard hit balls from history and applies it to a non juiced ball.20 feet is totally arbitrary. I just think that if 20 of your homers are upper deck those will be retained. If 10 bounce off the topedge and go over the fence you will probably lose those.

    • mikelink45 and RichReese like this
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jorgenswest
Nov 26 2019 09:03 AM
If everyone is hitting fewer home runs will contact skills and plate discipline skills become more valuable?
    • DocBauer, Platoon and Melissa like this

Lewis will replace Polanco at SS soon enough and Polanco will make a really good 2B. Arraez? we will keep him in the line up as a super utility replacing Gonzalez or Adrianza. This will all work itself out so I am not concerned.

As for the OP on power, there are going to be a lot of power drops around the majors but Polanco's power will be enough for an up the middle defender on a team that will still have other power bats. The Manager will just have to be more strategic in how he sets up the lineup to produce runs.

 

    • DocBauer likes this
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Nash Walker
Nov 26 2019 11:34 AM
I agree that Polanco’s power with the new ball can be questioned. I have trouble with the “value to the team” aspect of this. Polanco was extremely valuable in 2019. He played almost every day when most of the team was banged up at one point or another. He led the team in WAR and Jeff Passan ranked him in his Top-10 for MVP. He’s clearly one of the best players on the team.
    • ashbury, Dantes929, KGB and 2 others like this

Give me On Base Percentage - the most important stat for measuring worth.Forget the power measurement.He is a SS.Tell me range, arm, speed, and whatever else matters now in the age of shifts.I am still a fan of the Ozzie's, Vizquels, Aparicios of the world. It is not power that will make him a valuable SS or force him to move. 

    • Platoon likes this

The answer on Sano and Polanco was obvious until this year. They are good enough for now but both will need to move across the diamond sooner than later. 

 

Now with the breakout of Arraez, 2B is no longer an obvious option. 

 

Polanco's arm is not going to do him any more favors at 3B and I'm not sure I like the idea of him in the OF. Eventually you'd like to see Kepler move to LF and Kirilloff take over in RF.

 

Honestly the decision that needs to be made is:

 

1) Who's future is valued more. Polanco or Arraez? Each are under contract through 2025.

 

2) Can Royce stay at SS in the majors. (I think Polanco sticks long enough to figure this answer out)

 

3) Is there a long term option at 3B in the system already, Blankenhorn, Javier? 

 

4) Does investing in a FA position player prevent from going after the SP you want?

    • mikelink45 likes this
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Battle ur tail off
Nov 26 2019 01:31 PM

 

I agree that Polanco’s power with the new ball can be questioned. I have trouble with the “value to the team” aspect of this. Polanco was extremely valuable in 2019. He played almost every day when most of the team was banged up at one point or another. He led the team in WAR and Jeff Passan ranked him in his Top-10 for MVP. He’s clearly one of the best players on the team.

 

I also have a problem with the value to the team aspect. This guy was a rock in the lineup. His OBP was really good, makes good contact and takes tough at bats. He also plays the hardest position on the diamond and didn't miss any time. On top of that, he isn't being paid as much as he is worth. To me, this guy is a starter for as long as he is a Twin. If they have to move him to 2b, fine, go ahead and do so. 

 

I'm also of the belief he is just entering his prime. He's 25 years old. Even if he loses a few points off his slugging percentage, he is still among the better hitting middle infielders in the game. 

    • mikelink45 and KGB like this

Has MLB ever acknowledged that the ball was juiced?

 

Has MLB ever acknowledged that the ball was juiced?

No way they will ever admit anything. Maybe they could blame Rawlings, only problem is that they own them. So no they will not comment. All the stat geeks will have an idea after a couple of weeks when they start measuring launch angles and bat speed compared to what they noticed last year.

I've never been in love with the long ball. I don't want to see home runs hit off the handle no matter how strong or how much bat speed is created. I used to love watching Mauer hit and the 28 homers in 2009 was just a bonus. For those that thought he would continue with those numbers I pointed out that most of those 28 homers appeared to clear the fence by about 3 feet and most of them came in the metrodome. Rather than leap to all the other variables with Polanco or any other batter I would start with how many home runs he would have hit if the ball carried 20 fewer feet. That takes into account bat speed, launch angle, what field the ball was hit toward and hard hit balls from history and applies it to a non juiced ball. 20 feet is totally arbitrary. I just think that if 20 of your homers are upper deck those will be retained. If 10 bounce off the top edge and go over the fence you will probably lose those.


This explanation for Mauer no longer hitting HRs after 2009 never really washed with me. It’s almost saying that he never really fell of in regards to making contact and to me he did significantly compared to what he did in 2009. This is what happened in 2009. Here are all his HRs:
https://m.youtube.co...h?v=uC-aI6rDeTY

Early on, the first five or six, you can say that, but he hit to center or pulled 12 or 13 of those and he stopped doing that for good You can count on one hand the pulled long balls he’d hit over the course of three seasons He had a few monster shots that year and that hardly ever happened after that. Makes a guy wonder to be honest with you.

I’m not sure what Polanco is going to do, but I doubt he’s going to take out his 7 iron every at bat like Mauer did. Polanco sees a fat pitch and tries to turn on it whereas Mauer might spit on that same pitch or try to chip it into left. I think Polanco has 17, 18 home run power. As a matter of fact I bet about 150 guys hit 17 or more and Polanco should be around there perennially. Mauer was lucky if he’d get ten and I always felt that was strange.
I have more faith in Polanco continuing to hit and be a productive batter than I do Arraez who is a singles hitter. Neither is a good defender. I’d move Polanco to 2B where his awful throwing motion and footwork will be less of an issue and try Gordon or Adriana at SS until Lewis is ready. I’m not sure Gordon will be great defensively but Polanco is bad. Adrianza should improve with regular play. I’d also move Sano to 1B and put Gonzalez at 3B. The IF defense would go from suspect to solid.

I also have a problem with the value to the team aspect. This guy was a rock in the lineup. His OBP was really good, makes good contact and takes tough at bats. He also plays the hardest position on the diamond and didn't miss any time. On top of that, he isn't being paid as much as he is worth. To me, this guy is a starter for as long as he is a Twin. If they have to move him to 2b, fine, go ahead and do so.

I'm also of the belief he is just entering his prime. He's 25 years old. Even if he loses a few points off his slugging percentage, he is still among the better hitting middle infielders in the game.


Not so worried about Polanco. Way more concerned about Buxton
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Battle ur tail off
Nov 27 2019 10:18 AM

Yes, I agree. There should be about zero worry about Polanco at the plate. Just watching how he takes at bats is enough to tell me any dropoff probably won't be very significant. The guy can hit. 

Yes, I agree. There should be about zero worry about Polanco at the plate. Just watching how he takes at bats is enough to tell me any dropoff probably won't be very significant. The guy can hit.


He has good discipline and he’s durable. He and Arraez are guys I am not worried about
    • Twins33 likes this
Polanco is a good doubles hitter whether he hits home runs it not. I see Polanco as a 30-40 2Bs a season player depending on ABs. He also can be counted on for a solid average .270-.290. as far as HRs go I see a consistant 10-15 with 20 a possibility. Even without the HRs he provides value by being available and good OBP. With all the power on our team I would think OBP would be more important moving forward. That's why Arreaz is so valuable to us.
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sweetmusicviola16
Nov 27 2019 09:19 PM

It will be interesting to see how he responds in 2020 after his recent ankle surgery.

    • Sconnie likes this

 

I have more faith in Polanco continuing to hit and be a productive batter than I do Arraez who is a singles hitter. Neither is a good defender. I’d move Polanco to 2B where his awful throwing motion and footwork will be less of an issue and try Gordon or Adriana at SS until Lewis is ready. I’m not sure Gordon will be great defensively but Polanco is bad. Adrianza should improve with regular play. I’d also move Sano to 1B and put Gonzalez at 3B. The IF defense would go from suspect to solid.

I do not get rid of the OBP hero - Arraez, Polanco is still SS this next year and injuries, regression, trades will figure out the future when Lewis comes up and of course we all hope Lewis will do what we all dream (few ever do).Gordon is a conundrum, we once had Lewis dreams for him and now I see him taking Adrianza's place - Adrianza had his career year, he is getting older, which means he will slow down, and his time with the Twins is to be determined by Gordon and Lewis.Sano's arm plays well at 3B and he still has the reaction time there.People forget what a shot to 3B looks like, not everyone can play there.  

 

So 2020 - Sano, Polanco, Arraez and Cron(?), one of our rookies, Garver part time????

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tony&rodney
Nov 28 2019 11:46 AM

Polanco is not a championship SS? 

Hmmm?

Derek Jeter, he is not. However, Jorge Polanco is a player. He takes great at bats and makes most of the plays. Sure he misses Mauer at 1B, but he is young and improving in all facets of his game. Polanco is probably the least concern of Twin's management. I would prefer Greg Gagne at shortstop but he is retired. I'll take Polanco for my team any time.

    • Melissa likes this

Polanco led the team with 631 at bats last year!Over 60 more ABs than Rosario who was second. Polanco is probably the most reliable piece the Twins have. He has come up huge, doesn't have any real injury issues, plug him in the lineup every day. Seems like a great teammate who hustles out there. He's one of those guys that old school and new school fans can agree upon.

 

If his HR totals dip to 14 or 11 next year, I have no problem with that. The guy's absolute money and he might make 3-4 more All Star games before it's said and done.

    • Melissa and tony&rodney like this

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