Polanco Proving It for Good
Image courtesy of © Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY SportsPolanco has been on the radar since debuting in 2014 as a 20-year-old. He was a premature call-up then, needed by happenstance because of a bad big-league club and lackluster 40-man depth. Throughout his time in the minors though there was always one thing he could be counted on to do: hit. Legitimate questions as to whether his arm would allow him the ability to stick at shortstop remained, but the bat to ball skills, and eventual power development, were all plus traits. The production he’s generated at the top of the 2019 Twins lineup is just a reflection of what we’ve seen all along.
On the season Polanco is hitting a career best 41% of batted balls with a hard-hit speed. He’s also significantly sliced the ground ball rate all the way down to a career low 23.5%. Adding the percentage to balls in the air, his 49.7% fly ball rate is also a career high. Elevation has provided a moderate increase in his HR/FB ratio, and it’s the other extra-base hits that have followed suit. Compiling a total of 24 extra-base hits, he’s nearly matched the 77-game production from a year ago. Polanco isn’t selling out for power either as he’s still using the whole field at roughly a one-third clip across the three sectors.
In 2019, the name of the game for the Twins has been aggression. Swinging earlier, more often, and getting off their best hacks, it’s been a systemic change throughout the lineup. None of those principles have changed Polanco’s discipline. His whiff and chase rates are on par with career norms, and his contact rate sits right where it always has. On the league-leading average, he’s got just a .372 BABIP which also suggests that nothing is out of whack in that vein.
In short, Jorge Polanco is producing along the exact clip the numbers say he should be. A 5.5-degree launch angle adjustment has made the balls he’s putting in play more productive, and hard contact is giving those batted balls opportunity to be more valuable. Harder, higher, and farther is a trio of principles that is synonymous with success in today’s game and the Twins shortstop has embodied it.
While we’re here, we should probably take note that all this offensive production is happening while Polanco owns a positive DRS at short for the first time in his career. Range factors don’t view him favorably, but defensive metrics label him average at worst. The offense is sustainable, and the defense is allowing him to settle in.
None of this is to suggest that Minnesota will employ one of the hottest hitters in baseball all season. Over the course of a 162-game slate there will be slumps. Polanco will fall off for a time, but the important reality is that this is truly the player he’s capable of being, and a production level like what we’re seeing can be viewed as more of the expectation than the outlier.
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