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Article: Jorge Polanco Entering Rod Carew Territory

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#1 Cody Christie

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Posted 13 May 2019 - 06:52 PM

Over most of the last two decades, Minnesota has struggled to find consistency at the shortstop position. Jorge Polanco and his tremendous start might be the person to stop this revolving door. Maybe it’s the newfound security of his off-season extension. Maybe he’s trying to make-up for his suspension from last season.

Or maybe, just maybe, this is the player he was always going to be.Polanco is setting a record pace to start the season. Since the team moved to Minnesota, Rod Carew is the only middle infielder to post an OPS+ of 144 or more. Polanco entered play on Monday with a 165 OPS+. Polanco is on a record pace, so let’s see how the other top seasons stack up.

Honorable Mention
Brian Dozier (2016): 134 OPS+
Dozier’s 2016 campaign finished just outside the top-5 on this list but it seems fitting to include him as an honorable mention. He clubbed 42 home runs that season. He’s the only player not named Harmon Killebrew to pop more than 40 long-balls in one season. Unlike the other players on this list, Dozier didn’t hit for a high average. His 134 OPS+ was the highest total of his career. He finished 13th in the AL MVP voting, but five players in front of him had a lower WAR.

5. Chuck Knoblauch (1995): 136 OPS+
The Twins teams of the mid- and late-90’s were tough to watch but these are some of my first concrete baseball memories. During the strike-shortened 1995 season, Minnesota only won 56 games. Knoblauch finished with the second highest batting average of his career. His .911 OPS was aided by 34 doubles and eight triples. He had led the league with 45 doubles in 1994 but some of those balls went out of the park in 1995. He cracked double-digit home runs for the first time in his career. He finished 17th in the MVP voting but his 6.7 WAR ranked him fourth among position players.

4. Chuck Knoblauch (1996): 143 OPS+
Knoblauch’s 1996 campaign was clearly the best season of his career. He finished third in WAR trailing only Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez. He hit .341, a career high. In fact, he would never hit above .300 for the rest of his career. He led the AL with 14 triples, but he also had 13 home runs and 35 doubles. Minnesota was closer to .500 as the club finished 78-84. Clearly, the MVP voters paid little attention to the happenings in Minnesota. Knoblauch finished 16th in the MVP race. His 8.7 WAR was more than double that year’s MVP, Juan Gonzalez.

3. Rod Carew (1973): 144 OPS+
There were lots of firsts for Carew during the 1973 season. His first time leading the league in hits. His first time leading the league in triples. He would also finish in the top-5 for the AL MVP for the first time. All 24 first place votes went to Oakland’s Reggie Jackson, but a theme starts to emerge with Carew’s seasons. His WAR total was higher than the players between him and Jackson. Carew’s batting average was over 50 points higher than Jackson. Carew stole 41 bases during the season and the Twins finished 82-80.

2. Rod Carew (1974): 150 OPS+
For the first time in his career, Carew led all of baseball in hits. He would do this one other time during his MVP season. His .364 batting average was the second highest of his career and his .433 OBP was only 16 points behind the 1977 campaign. His 7.5 WAR was the third highest total of his career. He finished seventh in the MVP voting. However, only Fergie Jenkins had a higher WAR total out of the players ahead of him in the voting.

1. Rod Carew (1975): 157 OPS+
Carew’s best season for OPS+ wasn’t even the year he was named AL MVP (1977). For that season, he started all but five games at first base, so that season doesn’t qualify for this list. He posted a 178 OPS+ that year, a career high, and led the league in runs, hits, triples, batting average, OBP, OPS, and OPS+.

The 1975 campaign was his last season playing in the middle infield. He won his fourth consecutive batting title and his fifth batting title overall. That season marked on the second time he had led the league on OBP, which was assisted by a league high 18 intentional walks. He was hitting above .400 into the middle of June and flirted with getting back there in late July. He finished ninth in the MVP voting but his 7.9 WAR that season was higher than all but one player ahead of him in the voting.

Will Polanco be able to break the record? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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#2 Joe A. Preusser

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Posted 13 May 2019 - 07:46 PM

He certainly could. He has been a truly great hitter with the exception of the first half of of the year his grandfather died.

#3 Linus

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Posted 13 May 2019 - 09:09 PM

You cannot be serious. I love Jorge but to compare him to Carew? You need to seriously slow the roll
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#4 jkcarew

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Posted 13 May 2019 - 10:40 PM

Heading into his age 25 season, Polanco has a career best 110 OPS+. Heading into his age 25 season, Carew had a 134 and a (injury shortened) 152 under his belt. And Carew posted the 157 at age 29.

But, it’s worth pointing out that Carew and all of the others on your honorable mention list were second basemen. Short is more demanding...and playing at his current standard defensively, Polanco would not need to OPS as high as these others to be more valuable. So, for now, maybe we ponder whether 2019 Polanco can have the best year ever for a Twins shortstop? Seems like that could be realistic, as long as he remains healthy throughout the year.
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#5 Platoon

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Posted 14 May 2019 - 05:34 AM

Some notes. To me Polanco is a second baseman playing SS. With the shifting the import of defense at that position has been diminished, and the hitting aspect becomes even more important. You can't compare today's shortstops to those of ten years ago, defensively. Even I have the range to play the position with three guys spaced in 90'. I have always liked Polanco as a hitter, and think he will only get better. But to compare him to Sir Rodney at this stage for his career seems a little premature. Rod Carew was one of the best hitters in the history of MLB. I don't think Polanco even has a batting title tacked to his name yet?
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#6 goulik

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Posted 14 May 2019 - 06:45 AM

I agree with the criticism if the point of this post is to compare Polanco to Rod Carew but I think the main point is to look at a quarter season OPS and compare it to the greatest OPS's in Twins middle infield history. If Polanco can carry this all the way to the end of the season then we can start comparing him to other great hitters but for now I think this post is only about OPS and examining further on the question of "what do we have here?"

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#7 Vanimal46

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Posted 14 May 2019 - 07:42 AM

Should have saved this one in the drafts folder...
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#8 luckylager

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Posted 14 May 2019 - 07:53 AM

 

Should have saved this one in the drafts folder...

 

Lord knows we can't tolerate any diversity of opinion or thought round here. 

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#9 spanman2

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Posted 14 May 2019 - 07:53 AM

However you slice it he is playing very solid ball...here is to Jorge keeping it up as best he can!He is certainly on a red hot pace.Twins have themselves a very good player under contract for years to come!Win Twins.  

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#10 JD Green

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Posted 14 May 2019 - 08:15 AM

After 40 games he might be entering it, so all he has to do now is sustain through the next 122 games, plus the next 4 years remaining on his contract after that. Only then is when we can start comparing him to Carew.

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#11 AceWrigley

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Posted 14 May 2019 - 08:58 AM

The article is about a 1-year comparison. If Rod Carew holds the 1-year OPS+ record for Twins middle infielders and Polanco is possibly challenging that record, seems like you have to compare him to Carew, don't you?

 

Comparing Polanco to Carew career wise is another question for another day. Was just thinking, anyone remember the 1969 infield of 1B-Killebrew, 2B-Carew, SS-Cardenas, 3B-Graig Nettles? Nice infield. Wish we would have kept Nettles.

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#12 Vanimal46

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Posted 14 May 2019 - 09:20 AM

Lord knows we can't tolerate any diversity of opinion or thought round here.


I'm sure the author's intention wasn't to enter the preposterous statement tournament... But when you compare a current player to a hall of famer, arguably the best player in franchise history, that's where it's going.
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#13 spycake

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Posted 14 May 2019 - 09:30 AM

 

He certainly could. He has been a truly great hitter with the exception of the first half of of the year his grandfather died.

Truly great? Polanco was truly great in August of 2017, with a 189 wRC+. But the rest of his MLB career has been pretty average, up until now.


#14 luckylager

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Posted 14 May 2019 - 09:39 AM

 

I'm sure the author's intention wasn't to enter the preposterous statement tournament... But when you compare a current player to a hall of famer, arguably the best player in franchise history, that's where it's going.

 

Well written article stating that Polanco is statistically entering territory rarely explored by a Twins infielder since Mr Carew.Hardly a preposterous statement. 

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#15 spycake

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Posted 14 May 2019 - 09:48 AM

What was Carew's best two month stretch by OPS+?

 

FWIW, it looks like Brian Dozier topped Carew's best seasonal wRC+ (can't find monthly OPS+, sorry) at 2B over several different two-month periods (and even one four-month period): May/June 2015, June/July 2016, August/September 2016, and August/September 2017. Knoblauch probably did likewise over his best stretches.

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#16 Vanimal46

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Posted 14 May 2019 - 09:56 AM

Well written article stating that Polanco is statistically entering territory rarely explored by a Twins infielder since Mr Carew. Hardly a preposterous statement.


25% through the season. Save it in drafts until the halfway point. Is that fair?

#17 spycake

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Posted 14 May 2019 - 10:08 AM

Polanco has a 166 wRC+ through 168 PA this season.

 

But he himself also had a 172 wRC+ over a 170 PA stretch in August/September 2017.

 

Which is encouraging, that he's been capable of this before. But should also give us pause to consider how likely he is to sustain this level for a whole season. His .293 ISO so far in 2019 would have been like Trout/Betts level in 2018 -- a power spike at age 25/26 wouldn't be unexpected, but spiking that much probably would be!

Edited by spycake, 14 May 2019 - 10:16 AM.

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#18 spycake

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Posted 14 May 2019 - 10:15 AM

Another honorable mention among partial seasons: through his first 175 PA of 2001, Christian Guzman had a .885 OPS, or roughly a 133 OPS+ or so. :)


#19 Doomtints

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Posted 14 May 2019 - 10:19 AM

Guzman was injured.

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#20 jkcarew

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Posted 14 May 2019 - 10:28 AM

 

Polanco has a 166 wRC+ through 168 PA this season.

 

But he himself also had a 172 wRC+ over a 170 PA stretch in August/September 2017.

 

Which is encouraging, that he's been capable of this before. But should also give us pause to consider how likely he is to sustain this level for a whole season. His .293 ISO so far in 2019 would have been like Trout/Betts level in 2018 -- a power spike at age 25/26 wouldn't be unexpected, but spiking that much probably would be!

Yep. And also agree with the "encouraging" comment. What we are seeing is exciting, and it's not unrealistic to think that Polanco is in the process of taking his offensive game to a new level. Not Trout-like or even Carew-like, but still something that could be very, very good. Carew himself took a significant step at his age 27 season.