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  • A Heartfelt Apology to Jorge Polanco


    Nick Nelson

    Watching him flail away and fail to produce, month after month, my confidence in Jorge Polanco as a hitter totally eroded. I wasn't too shy about it. 

    I'm happy to say that Polanco has proven me, and his other skeptics, very wrong. 

    Sorry for doubting you, Jorge.

    Image courtesy of Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

    May 5th was a bad day. I attended the Twins game at Target Field and watched a lifeless team sink to 11-18 with a 3-1 loss against the last-place Rangers. Polanco and Max Kepler went a combined 0-for-8 with six strikeouts. I came home grumpy, and lamented that the Twins had seemingly founded their team-building strategy upon faulty cornerstones. In my frustration, I may or may not have fired out a tweet labeling Polanco and a couple other laggards "garbage."  That same night, I declared I had seen enough, and wrote off the 2021 Twins as contenders.

    Sadly I was not wrong on the latter assertion, but the unkind assessment of Polanco looks downright silly in the wake of his dramatic and remarkable turnaround.

    In my defense, there was plenty of validity in the expression of doubt. Polanco became a heightened subject of my scrutiny, in part because his swing looked so blatantly bad and in part because his manager seemed oddly unconcerned.

    In mid-April, I wrote an article here wondering when Rocco Baldelli's faith in Polanco's bat would be shaken, noting the mounting evidence of his diminished offensive ability. At that point, Polanco owned a .358 OPS and had slashed .260/.313/.393 over his previous 164 games – good for a .303 wOBA that was nearly identical to Andrelton Simmons over the same time period. 

    Given this evidence, there was just no real reason to believe in Polanco. I didn't doubt that his poor production was more a reflection of ongoing health issues than his true talent, but there were no signs of improvement on that front. Even after a second consecutive offseason ankle surgery, he was still unable to put his lower half into his left-handed swing, and thus, his numbers against right-handed pitchers remained abysmal. 

    What's happened since is a good reminder that the body can sometimes take a long time to get right, and patience is generally a good policy. 

    Since my aforementioned cranky tweet on May 5th, Polanco has slashed .290/.351/.533 with 20 home runs in 86 games, and lately he's turned into a walk-off machine. His Statcast metrics look radically different from the ones I shared in April. He's hitting for as much power as anyone in the league.

    Polanco is not just playing at an All-Star level; he'd be right in the MVP conversation if the Twins weren't so bad.

    Most importantly, Polanco has re-established himself as a high-quality building block and a key fixture in the club's contention hopes going forward. 

    Hard to remember another time when I've been this delighted to be this wrong. Sorry again, Jorge. 

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    Last offseason my replies to posts concerning Jorge Polanco were punctuated by pleas to remember that he was the starting shortstop for the American League in 2019. I too suffered watching him struggle in the field and at the plate as he played through a bad ankle because the Twins had nobody else to put in his place. When he had yet another surgery this offseason I hoped that he might return to his former place as a strong MLB middle infielder. It was difficult, sometimes painful, to watch as he had to eliminate all of those "ticks" and "spins" which he had developed to ease his pain. Polanco is a player though and we have seen him rise from a very tough position. Going forward, I agree with those who want to see him at 2B instead of SS. Jorge has his faults but he plays with passion and I think that showed when he was first brought up as a very young and inexperienced player. Nick is right to write about how it can be easy to forget how dramatic an injury can curtail a professional athlete's skills. We can all enjoy what Jorge Polanco is bringing to the field every night right now. It is one of the beautiful thing about sports - watching a finely tuned athlete redeem themselves after their bodies have healed and once again respond to instinct and muscle memory. Let us hope that Byron Buxton too can make it all the way back and complete his journey from prospect to sometime, oft-injured star to an consistent every day player of all star caliber defense and offense.

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    I've never understood harsh Polanco criticism - year after year, there are people who write terrible things about this guy, when all he's done is mash for his whole career. "He can't hit, has no business switch hitting, has a terrible glove and arm".....blah blah blah.

    Like what the heck? This guy's our best, most consistent player and has been a rock in the lineup for years now. At the very least he's solid. At best, he's the team's star.

    We've all been traumatized by the rollercoaster careers of our young core. Buxton, Sano, Kepler, Garver  - all of them have, at one point or another, gone into very lengthy tailspins that have led fans to doubt their ability and value. We're conditioned to believe that all Twins players have some sort of deep, dark weakness that will eventually be exposed.

    Polanco doesn't fit into that category. Neither does Luis Arraez. Keep those two guys healthy, get a full year of Buxton in the lineup and spend money on pitching and this team has a chance at getting back to respectability in 2022. And on that team Polanco should be batting at the top of the lineup where he belongs.

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    I was right there with you Nick.  He really looked bad.  I was building all kinds of trade scenarios for him even up to the deadline.  Honestly at the time it felt like we had given him enough patience but now I can see that wasn't the case.  Baseball is a game of ups and downs I guess that is what makes it frustrating but also fun.  In this case I am just glad the Twins were more patient than I was.

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    More than a few years ago, I went to a low A-ball game in Cedar Rapids to see Byron Buxton play.  Jose Berrios started.   But the player who made the biggest impression was Jorge Polanco.   He is one of the proven cornerstones of this franchise going forward.  Who else?  Mitch Garver and uh uh uh uh    

     

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    I think people forget he had two ankle surgeries over the last two off seasons.  This leads to many issues when hitting.  You use your whole body to hit, not just hands and arms.  If you lower body is not right, it will throw everything off.  The power and the contact.  We are dealing with the fraction of inches on a swing being the difference between a hit and an out.  

    He has showed in his career when he is healthy he can hit.  Also, as teams adjusted to his offense, I am sure it too time to adjust to them.  Baseball is also a game of continued adjustments. 

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    3 hours ago, MABB1959 said:

    Why?  We want good players.  Who would you want instead?

    Someone cheaper.....come on, get on board. Pohlad needs to feel like a hero....but he needs to do it cheaply.

    Trade Berrios, trade Cruz, trade Eddie Rosario, trade Polanco, trade Buxton......let the young guys play. That's the Twins way.

    I still can't believe they signed a guy like Donaldson [and his $$ of course]. Did the FO catch Pohlad on drugs???

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    6 hours ago, bighat said:

    I've never understood harsh Polanco criticism - year after year, there are people who write terrible things about this guy, when all he's done is mash for his whole career. "He can't hit, has no business switch hitting, has a terrible glove and arm".....blah blah blah.

    Like what the heck? This guy's our best, most consistent player and has been a rock in the lineup for years now. At the very least he's solid. At best, he's the team's star.

    We've all been traumatized by the rollercoaster careers of our young core. Buxton, Sano, Kepler, Garver  - all of them have, at one point or another, gone into very lengthy tailspins that have led fans to doubt their ability and value. We're conditioned to believe that all Twins players have some sort of deep, dark weakness that will eventually be exposed.

    Polanco doesn't fit into that category. Neither does Luis Arraez. Keep those two guys healthy, get a full year of Buxton in the lineup and spend money on pitching and this team has a chance at getting back to respectability in 2022. And on that team Polanco should be batting at the top of the lineup where he belongs.

    One of the things I think TD does best is provide accurate criticism when it is deserved, as well as walk back on that criticism like Nick did in this piece. I like the accountability most of the writers on this site have for the opinions they push.

    Polanco was awful at the start of this season, and now he has put himself in position to get some MVP votes. It is because he has this level in him that the criticism gets thrown his way when he is bad.

    I like your last paragraph a lot; Polanco, Arraez, and Buxton look like a formidable front to any lineup. I hope 2022 results in 150 games from each.

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    23 minutes ago, FritzDahmus said:

    Someone cheaper.....come on, get on board. Pohlad needs to feel like a hero....but he needs to do it cheaply.

    Trade Berrios, trade Cruz, trade Eddie Rosario, trade Polanco, trade Buxton......let the young guys play. That's the Twins way.

    I still can't believe they signed a guy like Donaldson [and his $$ of course]. Did the FO catch Pohlad on drugs???


    They didn’t trade Rosario, they non-tendered him and let him walk. And who cares? He has been terrible this year and was on a downward trend the past few years. It was smart allocation of resources.

    I also give credit to Polanco, because as he was struggling he never shied away from interviews, often in English and without an interpreter. That is character.

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    Wrote about Polanco's 2020 season and how there was a definite change in his swing last year. 

    All of the changes resulted in a longer swing in 2020. This was before we found out that he was playing hurt. 

    And this year he acknowledged that the injury was causing him to alter his swing, which makes sense:

    Quote

    “When you have pain in some part of the body, you’re always trying to compensate with another part of the body, so that makes you do stuff you don’t usually do,” Polanco said on May 4.

    His swing got longer because he was likely trying to muscle up more, but the change also made his swing worse. This year's swing looks so much more like his 2019 cut:

    The output now is very similar to the 2019 juiced ball era:

    Polanco vs RHP

    2019: 40% pull rate / .441 pull-side BA / 334 ft pull-side FB distance

    2020: 38% pull rate / .229 pull-side BA / 307 ft pull-side FB distance

    2021: 57% pull rate / ,417 pull-side BA / 343 ft pull-side FB distance

    The one other notable change in-season this year is that he opened his stance more and backed away from the plate, given him much better barrel coverage throughout the entire zone:

    He's a switch-hitter, obviously, but because he faces more right-handed pitchers, his left-side swing really has to carry him through the season. His performance from the right-side has been almost the same over the last three years so finding his swing from the left-side was much needed.

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    5 hours ago, roger said:

    Love Polanco and Arraez.  Big problem for the Twins is that both are best when playing second base.  Twins are gonna have to figure out how to deal with that because both can/should be parts of winning Twins baseball.

    I agree that they both need to play, but I don't think this is that hard. Arraez is the 3rd Baseman next year for 80-100 games, plays second to give Polanco a rest for 20 games, DHs a few, plays LF for a few, and is on the Il at least once with his balky knee. He winds up playing in about 125 – 140 games. Donaldson simply isn't the same guy in the field much anymore because he can't really move, so he winds up DHing 100 games and playing 50-60 games at 3B next year. Frankly, I wouldn't be too surprised if he thought about retirement because of his physical ailments and the Twins worked out a settlement of his contract but I'm probably being a little optimistic there. With Donaldson as the primary DH though, it does make things a little interesting with respect to Sano, Kirilloff, Kepler, Larnach and Rooker. It also pretty much eliminates a Nelson Cruz revival, although I don't think that was a likely scenario anyway.

    Bottom line, next year I would really like to see the starting lineup with Polanco at 2B, Arraez at 3B, Donaldson (or Cruz) at DH, Sano at 1B, a new SS, Kirilloff in LF, Buxton in CF, Kepler and Miranda platooning in RF, with Miranda also backing up in the infield, a Garver/Jeffers catching combo, Gordon as the IF/OF utility player, and a fight to the death between Rooker, Laranach and maybe Astudillo for that last spot on the bench. Losers go to AAA as the 27th and 28th men to join Cave, Refsnyder and Contreras as players in waiting.

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    1 hour ago, h2oface said:

    All those predictive group think stats to site his failures, and how he is finished........ and it is his heart that wins out. Imagine that. The intangible is still the most important thing. 

    I would say the evidence suggests health is the most important thing. Although I guess his heart pumps blood to his ankle which helped him heal so you're kinda right? 

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    6 minutes ago, Nick Nelson said:

    I would say the evidence suggests health is the most important thing. Although I guess his heart pumps blood to his ankle which helped him heal so you're kinda right? 

    Using heart is a bit cliche, and I am guilty, as the heart never thinks, feels, or believes. But that is what is common practice to use in situations like this. Desire and heart. The will to be. The fire in the heart. It certainly helps that body parts can do what the brain tells them to do, that is for sure. Pain is a mother.

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    2 hours ago, LA VIkes Fan said:

    I agree that they both need to play, but I don't think this is that hard. Arraez is the 3rd Baseman next year for 80-100 games, plays second to give Polanco a rest for 20 games, DHs a few, plays LF for a few, and is on the Il at least once with his balky knee. He winds up playing in about 125 – 140 games. Donaldson simply isn't the same guy in the field much anymore because he can't really move, so he winds up DHing 100 games and playing 50-60 games at 3B next year. Frankly, I wouldn't be too surprised if he thought about retirement because of his physical ailments and the Twins worked out a settlement of his contract but I'm probably being a little optimistic there. With Donaldson as the primary DH though, it does make things a little interesting with respect to Sano, Kirilloff, Kepler, Larnach and Rooker. It also pretty much eliminates a Nelson Cruz revival, although I don't think that was a likely scenario anyway.

    Bottom line, next year I would really like to see the starting lineup with Polanco at 2B, Arraez at 3B, Donaldson (or Cruz) at DH, Sano at 1B, a new SS, Kirilloff in LF, Buxton in CF, Kepler and Miranda platooning in RF, with Miranda also backing up in the infield, a Garver/Jeffers catching combo, Gordon as the IF/OF utility player, and a fight to the death between Rooker, Laranach and maybe Astudillo for that last spot on the bench. Losers go to AAA as the 27th and 28th men to join Cave, Refsnyder and Contreras as players in waiting.

    Agree with much of what you are saying.  Am hopeful that Arraez sees zero innings in the outfield because of his knee.  Likewise, don’t want to see Miranda in the outfield and want Kirilloff to be the regular first baseman.

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    Polanco's situation adds weight to a growing suspicion (buttressed by Garver's and Gibson's cases) that the length of time needed to recover from illness or injury is underappreciated.  Whether it's failing to fully grasp the seriousness of the ailment, identifying its the secondary effects, or finding a "new normal" when there's no going back to what a player used to be, players, coaches and fans may find themselves disappointed when it seems to take forever to bounce back.

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    On 8/20/2021 at 8:46 AM, MABB1959 said:

    Why?  We want good players.  Who would you want instead?

    Yes trade him while his value is high this pitching staff is not competing next year so load up on prospects!!!

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    On 8/20/2021 at 8:12 AM, roger said:

    Love Polanco and Arraez.  Big problem for the Twins is that both are best when playing second base.  Twins are gonna have to figure out how to deal with that because both can/should be parts of winning Twins baseball.

    In the NL your least-skilled fielder should play LF if he has even a halfway decent arm. In the AL he should DH. I see Arraez as a DH.

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