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When Will Rocco's Faith in Jorge Polanco's Bat Be Shaken?


They say first impressions last. That would seem to be the only explanation for Rocco Baldelli's enduring and unwavering faith in Jorge Polanco as an exceptional hitter, despite mounting evidence that says otherwise.

 

At what point will the ever-analytical manager just accept the data?Look, I understand why Baldelli would have built up some confidence in Polanco's offensive abilities. During Rocco's first few months as manager of the Twins, Jorge was a monster. Through the end of May in 2019, he was slashing .338/.409/.590, which consequentially earned him a starting nod on the All-Star team.

 

That's absolutely the kind of guy you want near the top of your lineup.

 

Since then, however, Polanco has been a completely average hitter. Even that description might be generous. In 164 games since June 1st, 2019, he has a .260/.313/.393 slash line and .303 wOBA. In his career prior to 2019, he slashed .272/.329/.420 with a .323 wOBA, which is better of course but still not by any means exceptional.

 

Not the kind of guy you want near the top of your lineup.

 

And yet.

 

Here's the number of times Rocco Baldelli, in 232 regular-season games at the helm, has ever batted Jorge Polanco anywhere below fourth in the lineup: seven. They all came at the end of last year, when a blatantly-hobbled Polanco finally hit sixth (3x), seventh (3x) and eighth (1x) in Baldelli's lineups in the final weeks. Jorge also batted seventh in both playoff games, and went 1-for-7 with a single.

 

It appeared perhaps Baldelli's long-standing faith in Polanco as a hitter was wavering. But this year, following another offseason ankle surgery, the confidence is apparently restored. Polanco's batted second (5x), first (2x), fourth (2x) or third (1x) in every game so far, and has yet to sit one out. (Granted he was scheduled to do so on Monday before the postponement.) As a result of hitting so frequently and highly in a very productive offense, Polanco entered this week leading the American League in at-bats.

 

Meanwhile, he has shown no signs of rebounding from a dismal 2020 campaign. Polanco looks terrible at the plate. He's slashing a miserable .119/.191/.167 and the advanced metrics back up the brutal results.

 

Download attachment: polancostatcast.png

An accumulating preponderance of evidence suggests that Polanco is a mediocre hitter who belongs near the bottom of the Twins lineup, much like Andrelton Simmons (who, by the way .268/.334/.348 with a .301 wOBA since 6/1/2019 – almost identical to Polanco).

 

A couple of things bear noting here. One is that Baldelli had Polanco lined up to bat fifth on Tuesday before Nelson Cruz pulled out pre-game due to illness. That's still a pretty critical spot, hitting behind Cruz and Mitch Garver against a lefty, but it's further down than a healthy Polanco has ever batted under Baldelli. So maybe we're seeing some slight signs of diminishing faith.

 

There's also the fact that injuries and poor performance have led to a lack of competition for Polanco at these key spots. But Josh Donaldson is about to return from the Injured List, and I believe Baldelli will soon start finding it hard to place Luis Arraez at the bottom of the order even against left-handers.

 

In the near future, one longstanding pattern is going to have to snap: either Polanco will prove he's a far better hitter than he's shown over the past season's worth of games, or Baldelli will need to stop operating as if he is.

 

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You have your weakest hitters getting the least at bats.

 

I'm sorry, but Arraez thrives a bit more at the top of the order than the bottom.

 

With Donaldson back, I would make Polanco the reserve, for now.

 

Something has to be done with Sano. We can't always wait for him to start tearing the ball. Exept we don't have a ready replacement yet, do we?

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Polanco is an average hitter? Gasp! He's going to just hit .260? Horror! Did I miss something? Did I miss the MLB.com article that said "Twins Success in 2021 Rides on Jorge Polanco's bat"????

 

The fact is that if Polanco hits .260 with 15 HR and 62 RBI that's just fine - after all, we've got Buxton, Cruz, Donaldson, Sano, Garver, Kepler, and Arraez who are all supposed to be mashing around him.

 

Polanco's not the problem. Never was, never will be. Because he can hit and will get out of slumps.

 

The problem is Sano and Garver, who literally cannot hit the ball and take MONTHS to come around. It's unacceptable to have 4 and 5 hitters going 0-32 in a 3-game series with 25 strikeouts. It's a killer. I'm increasingly worried about Kepler also.

 

I'm happier to see Garlick up at the plate than Sano, Garver, or Kepler at this point.

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Arraez should be at the top, no matter how well or poorly Polanco or anyone else is hitting.

Polanco and Sano should be "rested" frequently while we determine if "others" could do better.  (Arraez is my starting 2B-man going forward as long as Donaldson is in the lineup).

When the team is 2 for 26 with RISP during the losing streak it's NOT just Polanco.  But he is a large part of it, with Sano head and shoulders above everybody else for futility.  

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Polanco is an average hitter? Gasp! He's going to just hit .260? Horror! Did I miss something? Did I miss the MLB.com article that said "Twins Success in 2021 Rides on Jorge Polanco's bat"????

I think what you missed is that the article is merely suggesting Polanco should bat lower in the order, not in the top four. It is not suggesting that everything rides on his bat.

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Polanco will come out of his slump and still get his share of walks but I agree with you that he should hit at the bottom of the line up until he does. Sano' is more of a concern and should sit more often and bat 9th when he doesn't until he comes around. I think he needs to be shaken up a bit.

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Buxton, Cruz, Donaldson*, Arraez, and Simmons are the only bats I feel good about right now. You don't want to hit Simmons high in the order, but he's perfect in his role at the back. I'd put the other 4 in the first 4 spots in the lineup and then cross my fingers for the 5-8 spots. That's the real problem. We have 4 spots in the order that are far less than reliable right now. Part of the struggle is the argument that Polanco, Sano, and Kepler need to get their timing down so they can get going, but they're killing rallies in the mean time. Tomorrow is the cutoff for step 1 of service time stuff (I believe) so maybe we start seeing young guys in the near future if the veterans don't get going and the L's continue.

 

*Assuming he's returning close to 100% healthy

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Interesting article, Nick. Would prefer you didn't feel the need to write about this subject. Unfortunately, this kid just isn't getting it done like he and the Twins expect. Hopefully, the season is only a couple weeks long and this is an early season slump.

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Polanco is in the middle of his 5+ year contract. He is not going anywhere, and in any case the Twins should work with people and not just drop them off on the side of the highway. (Not that this article is suggesting anything like that, I am predicting where this discussion will go.)

 

Yes, he should be batting lower in the order and he should not be starting every game until he figures things out. I'm sure the Twins are working with him.

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I think a role switch when Donaldson returns make sense with Arraez the primary 2B and Polanco filling in. That doesn't mean that Arraez can't play a game here or there in left or third, but that he is the primary starter and Polanco is the tenth starter. 

 

Polanco has only driven about three balls hard that I've seen, his K and BB stats are not promising. I do expect he will come out of it some, but I do wonder if the first half of 2019 was an outlier. 

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Cave, Garver, Sano, Polanco, Rooker - too many in a slump at the same time - we have to find a way to pump some life into the lineup.   That is just too much automatic outs.  I would love to see them all come to life, but do not lump them in the lineup.  

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I think it's fair to raise questions about Polanco post PED production. Yes, he was banned in 2018, but he didn't sign an extension until the 2019 offseason (Feb). And his 2019 breakout pre-All Star was much better than the second half. Since then he's been replacement player level at best.... Could weaning off PEDs be an issue? That's got to be fair game when discussing his production imho.

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Polanco is a decent hitter but Baldelli needs to see the writing on the wall he is slumping. Sano either needs to bat 8th or 9th or sit him. Cant keep putting him out there in the critical part of the batting lineup. Other thing, why is buxton batting behind cruz which is one of slowest guys on the team. Please stop playing jake cave....hes a triple a player at best

1. Arraez

2. Buxton

3. Cruz

4. Donaldson

5. Kepler

6 Polanco

7 Garver/Jeffers

8 Sano

9 Simmons

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Sadly, you may be right that this is the best order, but Kepler in the 5 hole? I feel for the guy hitting #4. He won't see anything to hit. I would switch Cruz and Donaldson for that reason - Cruz is a better bad ball hitter and will take more walks. Plus Donaldson won't clog up the bases the way Cruz does, so better to have him on when Cruz hits than have Cruz on when Donaldson hits. Like the Arraez/Buxton combo as the 1 and 2.  We need a #5 guy bad so Kepler can hit 6 or 7 where he belongs. What happened to that Rosario guy? If I remember right, he could hit a little.   

I see what you are saying but cruz hits for better avg and would rather see him get more at bats than donaldson. IF sano could hit the ball i wouldnt mind seeing him bat 5th and kep 6th but isnt the case. Krilloff or rooker would be good to see in 5 hole also.

 

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The author laid it out perfectly. This, along with Colome, seem like the biggest talking point in the early season.

 

Polanco has hit like a bottom third of the order bat for nearly two years.

More than anything I hope Polanco turns it around. Until then, he needs to be dropped to the 9 spot and given more days off.

And that turnaround may not happen this season as his LHB swing looks like it needs to be completely rebuilt. He just looks terrible right now, regardless of the results.

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Polanco went 3 for 6 today, and I think we will see his average rise in the coming weeks. Hopefully he improves his left-handed swing and starts making more hard contact. I don't suspect we'll ever see power from him like in 2019, but I have some confidence that he will regress back to the mean.

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Despite his struggles, I believe Polanco IS a good hitter. But but man has he been struggling! Really disappointed as he had a nice spring,

 

Now, to be fair he hit when Molitor was the manager as well, so this isn't all about Rocco seeing him produce. His use of an illegal substance has been brought up. But IIRC it was one of MANY players who were guilty of a banned substance and not necessarily steroid related. I think that distinction has to be made as he hit before Rocco, and he's hit since came on board. I just think his timing has been completely out of whack for whatever reason. Maybe he's coming out of it now. But be should absolutely drop down otherwise until he figures stuff out. And a day or two off wouldn't be a bad idea either.

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I mean, yes, I’d drop Polanco in the order, specifically as it relates to Arraez’s position.

 

I was concerned with how many of these guys were swinging the bat this spring, and some of that has carried over.

 

On the other hand...(doesn’t include today’s 14 innings)...

 

Polanco’s BABiP: 147...he’s likely to turn back into 2018 Polanco at some point.

Garver’s BABiP: 143

Sano’s BABiP: 111...meanwhile, his SO% is exactly the same as 2019, BB% higher

Twins OPS is 3rd overall in the AL; they lead the AL in OBP (you read that correctly)

Twins team SO% is exactly league average and their BB% is better than league ave.

 

It warps the mind, but this is what baseball looks like now.

What the Twins haven’t done is make the big pitch, or the big play, or the big hit. That will probably turn at some point.

 

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