Jorge Polanco has proven to be a difficult player to assess in recent years. After a 2019 breakout, the Twins second baseman required ankle surgery and suffered through a brutal 2020 before requiring yet another surgical intervention. He also missed a few games here and there in 2021 and more recently 2022 with ongoing issues with the same ankle. The issue just never seems to fully improve.
What we’re left with is the constant worry that Polanco’s ankle is holding him back during any stretch in which he struggles. In 2021, he looked cooked through the end of May with no signs of life before turning his season around and finishing as arguably the Twins' player. Can we expect the same 2022?
Through the end of May this year Polanco has once again not been good. His wRC+ suggests he’s actually been 2% above the league average hitter, but this is during one of the most pitcher-friendly starts to a season in years. His .227/.324/.358 line through May is a massive disappointment. Unlike in recent years where he struggled early, however, there are a lot of positives the further you dig.
In 2021m Polanco was worth over 4 wins by Fangraphs measures, a threshold that indicates a very high-quality player. Polanco slashed .269/.323/.503, slugging 33 home runs down the stretch. As you can see, Statcast’s measures aren’t painting the picture of a major fall off from 2021.
Polanco’s .228 average is ugly, although underneath the hood his .277 expected batting average is better than his monster 2021 season. His .356 slugging percentage is far below his .498 expected slugging, which is also ten points higher than his 2021 mark. In short, Jorge Polanco has not been a very good hitter, but his results are lagging behind his process at the plate which appears to still be elite. So what could be going on with Jorge Polanco?
For starters, it’s fair to wonder whether we’re just watching some bad luck. Expected stats aren’t predictive, but Statcast suggests that if Polanco continues what he’s been doing he’s in for some major regression in a positive way.
It’s fair to consider however that the baseball MLB is using may be impacting him negatively. Polanco doesn’t have big-time raw power as his 33-homer 2021 suggests. With reports surfacing almost daily of players noticing different baseballs even on an inning to inning basis, Polanco could be a victim of MLB’s newest favorite game to play: Which baseball are we using today?
Statcast’s expected stats are based on how players impact the ball and what kinds of results that impact has historically led to. It’s possible that the historical significance of Polanco’s batted balls needs to be thrown out the window as MLB tries to encourage a move back to early 2000s style baseball. Polanco’s 20.2 degree launch angle is a career-high. Without Miguel Sano type power, it’s possible that Polanco’s increasing launch angle is going to lead to more lazy fly balls than balls over or off of the wall if the baseball is designed to kill offense.
At any rate, It’s difficult to say whether Polanco is in for a major rebound, although it may be safer to lean in that direction. He’s done all he can so far to repeat his star level performance in 2021, but it’s possible his actual results are out of his hands to a degree. Offense has seen an uptick across the MLB in recent weeks (difficult to imagine if you’re watching the Twins I know), and it’s hard to say whether it’s the weather, luck, or yet another baseball commissioned by the MLB. All Polanco can do is continue to grind out his plate appearances as he has been and hope the hits start falling.
Do you think Jorge Polanco is due for a rebound? Are his struggles more than just bad luck or a sabotaged baseball? Let us know below.