Jump to content

Providing independent coverage of the Minnesota Twins.
Subscribe to Twins Daily Email

The Forums

MLB.com Top 30 Twins Prospects

Twins Minor League Talk Today, 12:05 AM
MLB redesigned their prospect ranking pages and released the Twins top 30 today. 
Full topic ›

Zack Littell on Throwing Multiple Sliders

Minnesota Twins Talk Yesterday, 11:07 PM
https://blogs.fangra...is-two-sliders/ Interesting piece over at FanGraphs where Zack Littell discusses the two different sliders he used...
Full topic ›

Thorpe leaving camp for a spell

Minnesota Twins Talk Yesterday, 07:28 PM
  "To who this may concern! I’ve left camp for a week or 2 for personal matters. I’m healthy and excited for this year. I’ll be bac...
Full topic ›

YouTube TV Drops Fox Sports Regional Networks

Minnesota Twins Talk Yesterday, 07:16 PM
Does MLB and its TV affiliates (mostly Fox Sports channels) realize how idiotic they are being by not being available to be watched on ma...
Full topic ›

Nick Gordon News?

Minnesota Twins Talk Yesterday, 03:29 PM
Trying to find any news on Gordon that explains his complete absence from any grapefruit action to this point. The obvious suspicion is t...
Full topic ›

Recent Blogs


How Jorge Polanco Can Develop into a Better Defensive Shortstop

It's easy to guess that Jorge Polanco's erratic arm would force him to position himself differently at shortstop, but with modern databases, we don't have to guess. It's true, and it's crucial to understanding how Polanco can be a better shortstop.
Image courtesy of © Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
In the latest Gleeman and the Geek, John posited that Jorge Polanco’s arm might be a compound problem for him as a defender if his lack of confidence in making long throws led him to play a step shallower than stronger-armed shortstops. Despite his good sprint speed, and despite hands deft enough to generate one of the highest contact rates in the majors when at bat, Polanco is a poor defensive shortstop. His range is deficient, but in particular, he has a weak and erratic arm. Thirteen of Polanco’s 22 errors in 2019 came on throws. Since the start of 2018, Baseball Info Solutions counts Polanco as four plays to the good when it comes to positioning-adjusted range and playing balls in the air, but 13 plays to the bad on throws alone. However, we have tools that can tell us for certain whether Polanco is also giving away range because of that arm.

According to Baseball Savant, 25 shortstops played in a shifted infield with a right-handed batter at the plate at least 200 times in 2019. (That makes for convoluted reading, but those qualifiers help ensure that we’re comparing apples to apples.) Of them, Polanco played the second-shallowest, an average of just 142 feet from home plate. Perhaps, however, that had something to do with the dramatic way the Twins deployed shifts against right-handers last year, with Polanco so far into the hole that it only made sense for him to pinch down, toward a traditional third baseman’s starting spot. The same database showed 28 shortstops as playing at least 100 times in what it coded as “Strategic” alignments against righties—what previous generations would have called shaded, but not shifted. Among those 28, Polanco played fourth-shallowest. Finally, among 31 shortstops who played at least 1,000 plate appearances against right-handed batters in “Standard” alignments, Polanco played seventh-shallowest.

The last list provides the cleanest data. The guys who play deepest, on average, are ones like Nick Ahmed, Javier Báez, Francisco Lindor, and Fernando Tatis, Jr. — the shortstops renowned throughout the league for their cannon-strength arms. Polanco isn’t hedging as much as some of the game’s most inexperienced and undertooled shortstops, but he’s definitely striving to cut batted balls off a half-step sooner, when he’s able, in order to shorten the throw across the diamond. Yes, his arm is costing the Twins outs, not only when he’s unable to turn a double play or throws away a routine groundout, but by making it harder for him to create angles and give ground in order to make tough, ranging plays.

As has been enthusiastically and repeatedly mentioned since the signing of Josh Donaldson, the Twins are aware of this problem. Their frequent and drastic shifting in 2019 was, in part, an attempt to hide Polanco. Donaldson makes that easier, because he can cover dramatically more ground (including and especially in the hole between third base and shortstop) than could any of the team’s previous options. In the long run, the solution to this problem is to successfully develop Royce Lewis or Keoni Cavaco as a shortstop. Given Lewis’s documented struggles with mechanics both at the plate and at shortstop, however, and given that Cavaco played more third base than short in high school, neither fix is a sure bet.

In the meantime, then, the Twins need to keep Polanco plugging on some of the small ways he can shore up his fielding, and (especially) improve the utility of his arm. Recall that he just revamped his throwing motion last year, but that was done on the fly, in-season. The dropdown in throwing motion implemented by third-base coach Tony Díaz did seem to help Polanco’s accuracy, but it cost him in terms of both timing and getting zip on his throws. Polanco needs to work this spring to develop a throwing motion that allows him to transition more fluidly from fielding the ball to throwing it, and that gives him a chance to fire the ball across with more urgency. That should be more easily done under the more flexible practice conditions of spring training. His footwork is another potential path to improvement: Too often, he receives relatively routine grounders in positions that force unnecessary stutter-steps, or doesn’t reach a ball because his first step is too hesitant.

If Polanco can make any of these small adjustments, the effect will compound in a positive direction. He’ll be able to play deeper and open up more options for the team’s defense against ground balls. If he can’t, the Twins will have to hope they can continue to outhit and mitigate the damage done by having him at short on an everyday basis.

MORE FROM TWINS DAILY
— Latest Twins coverage from our writers
— Recent Twins discussion in our forums
— Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email

  • Mike Frasier Law, mikelink45, nclahammer and 1 other like this

  • Share:
  • submit to reddit
Subscribe to Twins Daily Email

Subscribe to Twins Daily Email

19 Comments

This became a bigger issue when Mauer retired.He was an under rated defensive first baseman.Really good with throws in the dirt. It seems to me that Polanco does not set his feet even when he has time.Throws on the run and that hurts his accuracy.

    • Mike Frasier Law, PDX Twin, Platoon and 1 other like this
Photo
Doctor Gast
Jan 21 2020 06:23 AM

I`ve commented for awhile the need for the Twins to have a pure SS & put Polanco on 2nd. I like to go to Baseball Trade Values & in the past & set up trades for MN for SS. I got criticized by people, how could you want a SS when we have an all-star. I love Polanco & maybe now we that we have Donaldson, it`ll be the slack that Polanco needs to adjust better at SS

    • Platoon likes this

How Jorge Polanco Can Develop into a Better Defensive Shortstop

Executive summary of article: "Throw better. Use better footwork."

OK, but this has been the knock on him for a long time. I expect most of the ideas coaches have were tried, Good luck trying again this spring, I suppose, but I feel like I'm looking at a second baseman.

 

As long as the bat holds up, and I think it will, Polanco's an asset at short. Just not the superstar we want.

    • SQUIRREL, USAFChief, Twins33 and 5 others like this

One other prospect to consider (much more likely than Cavaco) would be Wander Javier.He either puts his name back near the top of Twins prospects this year, or he's basically done with the organization, moves on, and eventually is out of baseball all together.Sad, but that's the nature of the beast.He's got tremendous talent, but 2 completely lost years back to back put Javier squarely behind the 8-ball.Lewis may or may not be a SS.But there is little doubt he could be a REALLY good CF'er.With Donaldson holding down 3B for the next 3-years exclusively (more DH in years 4 & possibly 5) the Twins will have some decisions to make.Does Polanco figure it out and stay at short?Does Arraez become a better defensive 2B-man?What becomes of Javier?And finally, where does Royce Lewis end up?SS & CF seem to be the best spots to use his speed and athleticism, maybe he ends up at 3B. 

    • wabene likes this
Photo
LylesCrocodiles
Jan 21 2020 08:49 AM
Defensive positioning for SS 3B and 2B all require stronger arms at times. The 3B playing the normal SS spot and the 2B playing 75 feet past the infield dirt on shifts vs LH batters is pretty standard these days. Yes the SS has to have a strong arm overall but these shifts presents new challenges for these 3 infield spots. Ideally I think Polanco fits best at 2B. And I would be fine if Adrianza (or another defensive minded SS) would get more innings at SS and transition Polanco to 2B.

I have no comment on this article in particular. I just want to say how happy I am to log on to quality articles by Nick, Cody and Matt this morning!

    • USNMCPO and Aerodeliria like this
Photo
stringer bell
Jan 21 2020 09:21 AM

This will be year 2 of Polanco throwing sidearm. I suspect he make incremental progress with his throwing. I was also reminded that he had ankle surgery in the offseason, and if he's fully recovered, he may make progress on his footwork, which would also positively impact his throwing. 

 

That said, Jorge is still stretched as a shortstop IMHO. With Arraez looking like his best position by far is second base, I think Polanco is the team's SS for the foreseeable future. Polanco is a good enough hitter to be a top 10 shortstop despite his defensive liabilities. I don't expect him to make many All-Star teams since there are a number of really good shortstops in the AL, but he is an asset even though he is stretched at the most important defensive position in the infield.

    • SwainZag and DocBauer like this
Photo
Aerodeliria
Jan 21 2020 10:04 AM
Side arming is fine but but how many shortstops live by the side arm? It doesn't seem like many to me (but this is anecdotal). This makes me think 2nd base as well, but it's getting crowded in the infield.

Nice article and a perplexing problem.I do not see an adequate SS solution and I find it fascinating that Gordon's name has stopped appearing in articles and comments.I think Arraez is more likely to be a better 2B than Polanco is a better SS.  

At this point as we look at Donaldson to help solve the range problem how do you feel about Sano catching those erratic throws at 1B?

 

 

 

Executive summary of article: "Throw better. Use better footwork."

OK, but this has been the knock on him for a long time. I expect most of the ideas coaches have were tried, Good luck trying again this spring, I suppose, but I feel like I'm looking at a second baseman.

 

As long as the bat holds up, and I think it will, Polanco's an asset at short. Just not the superstar we want.

Practice.

Arraez is likely to be Marwin Gonzales come 2021, opening 2nd for someone else.

    • wabene likes this
Photo
Parker Hageman
Jan 21 2020 11:39 AM

These are some really good thoughts on Polanco and I'm very interested in seeing how the Twins coaching staff attacks this. 

 

We had Billy Boyer in for our inaugural MN BAT Summit a couple weekends ago and we took the speakers out to dinner the night before. Boyer had some incredible insight into how the organization is attacking infield development and trying to expand the use of analytics into that sector of the game. 

 

The number one goal, he said, was get to as many balls as possible and get outs. They put a lot less stress on errors so long as a player is getting to more balls and trying to make plays (obviously reoccurring routine errors are addressed but if a player is doing everything they can to make the play, it's less important). 

 

One thing I found interesting is that we were discussing if an infield should keep from forcing plays, just pocket the ball on a play that has little likelihood for success. Sort of a discussion on Joe Maddon's Respect 90 bit. It seemed to me that Sano had a few errors trying to make plays that had little chance of getting an out and then gave the runner second base. Turns out, the Twins are training their infielders to fire the ball in almost all circumstances -- do everything you can to try to make the play. 

 

Another aspect of Polanco's arm slot change was to match his posture better. The Twins felt he would force the over-the-top action when his posture was better suited for a lower more natural slot. 

 

 

The Twins recently hired Tucker Frawley out of Yale (Boyer was a huge advocate for his addition) and Frawley has a lot of interesting charts on what the optimal release point should be based on the player's posture after fielding:

 

 

In reality, infielders shouldn't have one slot but should be able to make throws from all angles based on how they fielded the ball. 

 

 

I didn't ask Boyer specifically about Polanco but I am assuming the Twins will want to get Polanco better at using all the tools in the tool belt, so to speak. In general, Boyer talked about exchange time for middle infielders which can be better than velocity. He cited David Eckstein (calling it the Eckstein factor) as a player who had sub-optimal arm strength but was so good at getting the ball off that it made him that much better. 

 

The Twins have some smart, smart people in their organization and it can only help improve player development. 

    • raindog, Dman, DocBauer and 2 others like this
Photo
Parker Hageman
Jan 21 2020 11:40 AM

Oh, and Frawley just posted these graphics of Polanco:

 

    • USNMCPO likes this

 

I`ve commented for awhile the need for the Twins to have a pure SS & put Polanco on 2nd. I like to go to Baseball Trade Values & in the past & set up trades for MN for SS. I got criticized by people, how could you want a SS when we have an all-star. I love Polanco & maybe now we that we have Donaldson, it`ll be the slack that Polanco needs to adjust better at SS

 

In a perfect world, Polanco probably would be better suited for 2nd, but with the emergence of Arraez, moving him to 2nd just isn't an option right now.Now if Arraez comes out next year and isn't the hitter he was last year, it opens up a possibility, but if he comes out and hits .330 again you deal with Polanco and hope he can improve at SS.

    • Dman and wabene like this
Photo
LylesCrocodiles
Jan 21 2020 02:09 PM
I guess I’m a believer in versatility. And if Marwin is done playing MIF. And Donaldson is at least the starter at 3B for the next two years. Arraez seems to be a 2B or utility man. Why not use Adrianza as a SS defensive replacement? Best case Royce Lewis is the SS in 2021. And now you can start the transition for Polanco to be the regular 2B and a guy who can fill in at SS. Hopefully Lewis for a handful of years.
For the record, I don't believe, and have never believed, that Polanco will morph in to a stud, Gold Glove candidate at SS. And for purposes of my opinion, I don't want to discuss shifts or the change in the game with launch angles and relative lack of necessity for infield defense compared to years past.

I want to just talk about Polanco's defense in general.

I believe, still believe, and feel history absolutely backs me up on this...with the exception of a small percentage of wonderful, natural fielders...that any infield position, SS in this particular discussion, can be a LEARNED position with repition. In other words, a good athlete, with work and experience, can absolutely improve his skills and defensive acumen. Now, of course, you have to start with an athlete who has ability or any argument just gets tossed out the window.

Polanco is a very nice athlete. His range is nothing spectacular. His arm is nothing spectacular. All duly noted. And I fully appreciate various reports here and elsewhere that want to discuss his limitations. I am quite sure there are experts, including some right here on TD who are just more savvy, experienced, who see the Twins even more than I do, who will disagree, but I don't feel range is really his issue. Over the last couple of seasons I have seen him make some truly outstanding plays ranging either direction. But whether it be concentration, or related footwork issues, what has frustrated me is balls he gets to but seem to just miss or pop out of his glove. I love and appreciate the great plays. But what I want to see is just more consistency on the balls he gets to. Between coaching, footwork, and plain old experience and repetition I think he can really improve.

I also have to believe the same is true for his throws. Work on the fly or not, and every throw is not the same, a better comfort level with his motion should allow for growth and greater consistency.

He will never be a defensive star, but I ABSOLUTELY believe experience will make him a better fielder than he has been before.

In regard to playing deeper, or more shallow in regard to his arm strength, I guess the one question I have is what's more important? Getting to more balls overall, or getting the chance for a throw? From what Parker reported, it seems playing "shorter" and having more "throw out" opportunities is what the Twins are stressing.

"Polanco is a poor defensive shortstop. His range is deficient, but in particular, he has a weak and erratic arm."  

 

And mentioned, but understated is his inability to turn double plays, and his deficiencies in catching balls thrown to him for tag plays. While I know there was a regime change it still puzzles me how a player this defensively challenged ends up as a MLB SS on any team. Donaldson will help. But ask yourself this question: If your 3B is your best IF, what does it say about your IF defense?

 

I like Polanco and believe he would be a great second baseman. He will not be a good fielding SS ever. Playing SS in the big leagues is really hard which is why so many guys start there and end up elsewhere. The Twins simply need to address this as this is not a long term solution

 

Executive summary of article: "Throw better. Use better footwork."

OK, but this has been the knock on him for a long time. I expect most of the ideas coaches have were tried, Good luck trying again this spring, I suppose, but I feel like I'm looking at a second baseman.

 

As long as the bat holds up, and I think it will, Polanco's an asset at short. Just not the superstar we want.

Spot. On.

    • USAFChief likes this