(Photo by Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire)
We’re not really falling for this again, are we? He’s done this to us too many times. We said it last time, and we meant it, we really learned our lesson. Classic Gregory Polanco, he just assumes that because he lights up our phone late at night with those sweet little stat-lines that we are going to want him back. That we’ll just welcome him back with open arms, that we’ll just put ourselves out there and trade for him again. No way. We’re stronger than that. But… maybe one little peek won’t hurt right? Just a low-ball offer to get him back.
Next thing you know, you’re completely head over heels for Polanco again. Because how could you not be? Just look at him. Look at this swing. It looks so effortless, and he drills it to the deepest part of the park. You know you want him back.
Wait, but, he’s always been physically impressive. I mean, that’s what made us drool all over him in the first place. When he came up through the Pirates system, we all couldn’t stop talking about the torque in his swing, his powerful legs on the basepaths, those strong arms of his. We never worried about his physical tools. Sure, he battled through injuries in the past, but even when he was “healthy,” he was never the man we really needed in our lineup day in and day out.
I’m here to tell you this is different. Yes, Polanco is supposedly fully healthy so far, and not battling any of the various injuries that have plagued him throughout his career. It’d be easy enough to chalk it up to that, assume he’ll get hurt sometime soon or that this is just a hot streak, and move on. The truth isn’t that simple though, because he has made a real change, and it’s not one you can see. It’s something inside Polanco that’s changed, and that has made him a much different hitter. He’s completely changed his approach at the plate, and that’s going to make a world of difference.
Over his three full(ish) seasons in the majors, Polanco has been an aggressive hitter but not exactly a smart one, with a Swing rate routinely in the high 40s and an O-Swing rate above 30%. He’s always made great contact, never posting a whiff rate above 9%, but he wasn’t always making quality contact, only breaking 35% hard hit rate once. He swung at a lot, hit a lot, but just wasn’t making productive contact. So far this year though, he seems to have realized that he should really only swing at pitches he likes, and it’s shown so far.
Above we have a tale of two Polancos. I know it’s a small sample size so far this season, but take a close look at the difference in swing rate on the sliders and change-ups, two pitches he’s whiffed a lot on in his career. He’s decided to stop swinging at those pitches as much as he’s used to, and we are seeing a requisite rise in the percentage of those pitches that end up as balls. Overall, Polanco has dropped his O-Swing rate by a full 10 percentage points over last year, while maintaining his Z-Swing rate. What it looks like to me is a hitter who is finally willing to lay off the pitches he can’t do anything with and swing only at pitches he can do something with. In fact, he’s patient to the point where he’s drawing walks at an absolutely absurd rate, so far posting a 20.5% BB rate which is obviously unsustainable, but it’s a great sign that this is a conscious change in his approach.
Again, it’s very early in the season and these are incredibly small sample sizes. He’s only seen a combined 48 change-ups and sliders. Pitchers will inevitably start throwing these pitches for strikes, especially sliders, a pitch that Polanco has had a really rough time against in his career. He’s slugging just .328 against the slider, and once pitchers realize that he’s going to stop chasing those out of the zone, they’ll start throwing them over the plate and daring him to do something with it. If he can’t adjust, I could see him struggling to keep his patient approach and start swinging at anything that looks decent, like he’s done for most of his career. But if he can hit those well enough, or at least fight them off and make pitchers throw him something else, then this hot start to the season may not be a total mirage.
I know we said we were better off without him, that we deserved better than the Gregory Polanco we’ve had in the past. But what if he’s really changed? I think he has, and if he can keep it up, then this is the Polanco we truly wanted all along. I’d be looking to get him in any league where his owner is skeptical of his hot start and thinks now is a great time to sell him. And if you have him already, hold tight and keep letting him light up your phone with those sweet sweet highlights.