Report from The Fort: Underestimating Jorge Polanco
Image courtesy of © Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY SportsEvery thrust is countered by a parry. For every style change, there is an answer. The Man in Black is winning this duel, and so there is no point in not admitting it.
“You are better than I am,” concedes Inigo Montoya.
“Then why are you smiling,” asks the Man in Black, quizzically.
“Because I know something you don’t know,” replies Montoya, slyly.
“I am not left-handed.”
You knew something was wrong with Jorge Polanco. Why was he swinging with only his arms? Why was he trying to slap the ball the other way? Where was the guy who hit 22 home runs the year before? Now he’s Ben Revere – with less power?
Something was, indeed, wrong. The right ankle on which he had surgery following the 2019 season hadn’t healed, or at least the surgery had not taken care of the problem that slowed him over the latter half of the season. “After the first surgery, I did my rehab stuff and we got into the season and I felt, right away, during the season, that I wasn't feeling good on my ankle in games,” Polanco revealed last week. “I knew it, and when I went to see the doctor again a couple of months before the season was over, he said they'd require a second surgery."
A couple months before the season was over? Uh, the 2020 season was only two months long. Meaning Polanco knew for most of the season that he would require surgery. Until then, he would have to deal with it impacting one very specific aspect of his game.
“It didn't feel good, hitting left-handed”, Polanco says. “I think that was one of my problems last year - that I couldn't get good at-bats hitting left-handed. But this year, it's feeling pretty good."
Polanco is a switch-hitter, but like Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride, he has a dominant side at the plate. Unlike Inigo Montoya, it’s his left side:
It’s not been close. From 2017-2019, Polanco’s OPS averaged 150 points higher on the left than the right. Better batting average, better patience, and a boatload more power.
But last year, while you focused on overall numbers that scared you into thinking his early performance in 2019 was a fluke, there was a positive trend. Polanco actually hit better right-handed then he did the year before. In fact, you see a pretty clear trend in Polanco’s OPS over his career on both sides of the plate: it keeps going up. except for the injury-marred at-bats from the left side last year.
That overall trend makes further sense because Polanco enters the season as a 27-year-old. He’s on the right side of the aging curve.
You might think it’s always a convenient narrative to blame an unproductive year on an injury. You’re right, but his manager has also noticed a difference. “His right-handed swing felt fine. His left-handed swing did not”, says Twins manager Rocco Baldelli about Polanco last year. And Baldelli also notices a difference in camp this year, too. “Right now we don't have to worry about any of that.”
But let’s step out of the fairy tale for a moment. Polanco’s first half of 2019 was certainly a bit surprising, and some regression could be expected. However, the data supports a compelling narrative: that Polanco is a player trending upwards who was anklecapped (Is that a word? We’re going with it.) by an injury that affected 75% of his at-bats in a shortened season.
Of course, there could be another surprise still to come. You’ll recall that the Man in Black revealed a little later that he was also not left-handed, defeated Montoya, and continued his quest to save Princess Buttercup from the inconceivably ruthless Vizinni.
Still, the underestimated Montoya, after preparing for 20 years, ultimately had his day. Polanco may not get his revenge against the six-fingered man, but maybe he’ll rebound from a injured 2020 to once again be a productive major leaguer, as you dare to hope.
Or maybe he’ll be much more than that - as you wish. Don’t rule out him living happily ever after.
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