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  • Has Jorge Polanco Returned to Form?

    Cody Christie

    Back in 2019, Jorge Polanco started the season on fire and ended up being named the starting shortstop at the All-Star Game. Since that point, things haven’t gone as smoothly, but there are signs that Polanco is back to his old form.

    Image courtesy of © Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

    Polanco is supposed to be one of the core members of the current Twins roster as he is under team control through the 2025 season. It was certainly looking like Minnesota got a hometown discount during his first season of his contract extension, but now the team might be wondering about Polanco’s future. Let’s examine what’s changed and how Polanco can get back to being an above average player.

    2020 Campaign: Plenty of Bad

    There were plenty of battles during the 2020 season and Polanco was trying to comeback from offseason ankle surgery. For the year, he hit .258/.304/.658, which was a 183 point drop in his OPS from 2019. His biggest issue seemed to be batting from the left-side where he had a .606 OPS and a 30 to 12 strikeout to walk ratio. These totals certainly aren’t great, but there might have been some more hidden issues at play.

    His Statcast numbers also showcased some of his offensive struggles. According to barrel%, Polanco ranked in the 8th percentile while his xwOBA, xSLG, and hard hit% were all in the 29th percentile or lower. By season’s end, he needed another ankle surgery and fans were left to wonder if this would be a chronic injury moving forward.

    2021 Campaign: Bad to Better?

    The start of a new season gives hope to all teams and players, but Polanco’s struggles continued through the team’s first 15 games this year. He went 9-for-57 (.158 BA) while getting on base less than 24% of the time. He also struck out in over 19% of his at-bats and only drew four walks. His power seemed to be all but gone as his .445 OPS was over 320 points lower than his career mark. Things didn’t seem like the could get much worse, but then something clicked.

    While the Twins have struggled lately, it’s looking more like Polanco has returned to his All-Star level form. Since April 20, Polanco has hit .333/.391/.596 (.987) with seven extra-base hits in 16 games. His Statcast data also shows his improvement as his xwOBA, xBA, and xSLG are all in the 60th percentile or higher even including his slow start.

    His biggest area that still needs improvement is his numbers as a left-handed batter. For his career, he has hit .279/.349/.435 (.784) when facing righties. So far in 2021, his OPS as a lefty is nearly 140 points lower than his career mark. Some of this might be from his cold start, some of it might be associated with his comeback from injury, and some might be due to the smaller sample size this early in the year.

    The Twins don’t need Polanco to carry the offensive load, but they do need him to be more of a threat than he was in the season’s early games. Hopefully, his ankles are healthy and he can continue to improve his offensive numbers.

    Can Polanco keep up his recent improvements? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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    If Polanco has his wheels beneath him, he will be a good player. Bad ankles led to some habits which changed his swing and lately we have seen him return to a healthy base in his at bats. Jorge is the least of the Twins problems; he looks to be back to form.

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    Let us forget, for a moment, what Polanco has been in the past. Not completely, we just don't need to repeat poor usage of options, or dredge up the death of his grandfather or his suspension.  When Polanco has been healthy, he's been damn good. 

    It's been well documented that his first ankle surgery didn't work. Period. He struggled throughout 2020 just being a "gamer". He has been very open that...while the second surgery seems to have been successful...he learned a lot of bad habits while being injured. And he is only now starting to overcome those habits and starting to feel comfortable again from the left side. 

    He is the least of the Twins problems right now. And he may or may not replicate his 2019 HR power production.  But even still, yes or no, his value as a quality hitter and producer isn't and shouldn't be based simply on HR numbers. He's just too good of a productive hitter, potentially and based on what we've seen before, to not be encouraged by what we've seen recently as he gets comfortable again.

    But, even still, he's the least of the current problem. Still, jts encouraging to see him looking like his old self again.

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    I think people have been wanting Polonco to be more than he is.  Other than last year, and the start of this year he has been a good player.  We have been wanting him to be a great to MVP level player.  He is not that, but who should he be replaced with?  I bet you will be hard pressed to find too many second basemen to say you would want playing over him on both sides of the ball.  He has improved the overall defense being at 2nd and has been doing find on offense.  

    If you do not look for him to be more than he is you will not be too disappointed.   

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    On 5/13/2021 at 12:10 PM, jun said:

    I am not sure. He is what he is. He is not a clutch player. That would typically mean he seldom does his job in crucial situation.

    I'm always fascinated how players develop these reputations and why people believe them. We have numbers to verify/disprove these narratives so let's use them.

    Polanco's career tOPS+ with RISP is 136, which means he's 36% better with RISP than he is overall.

    Polanco's 2021 tOPS+ with RISP is 126.

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