Going Deep: What Does Jorge Polanco Have to Do to Make You Love Him?

As I write this, Jorge Polanco has a slashline of .392/.452/.716 on the season, including a .405/.469/.738 slashline over the past two weeks, and he’s currently ranked third on ESPN’s player rater among all shortstops.

Also, as I write this, Jorge Polanco is currently available in 44% of leagues, per FantasyPros, including 50% of Yahoo leagues and 33% of ESPN leagues.

The ownership levels of Polanco at this point are, I guess, understandable, because people are skeptical of his hot start. But they need to be higher, he needs to be 100% owned, because he has improved his game and is a very good shortstop now.

I’m not sure if it’s the 80-game PED suspension he had last year, or just the fact that he’s never put up absurd video game numbers, but Polanco deserves your attention. I’ve always believed that players who provide good numbers in every category but never have those attention-grabbing three-home-run games or whatever often go overlooked, guys like Dustin Pedroia used to be. Polanco seems to be one of those guys.

But here’s the thing—he’s been good for awhile, and now he’s hitting the ball better than ever before, and while there is definitely some regression coming (I’m not about to tell you that he’s going to hit nearly .400 all season), he’s still looking like he’s going to put up really good numbers.

Back in the second-half of 2017, Polanco changed his game up, and it was working wonders, slashing .293/.359/.511 during that time. Then came an 80-game suspension for PED use, and everyone pretty much forgot about him (understandably).

Still, he came back last year and looked solid, slashing .288/.345/.427. Nothing crazy, but a nice season, especially after missing half a year. But if you take all those games together, plus so far this year (which totals 674 plate appearances), Polanco has slashed .303/.364/.494 since changing his approach at the plate in the second-half of 2017.

So what’s up with the crazy year he’s had so far in 2019? Is it all luck? Or is there some legitimacy to what he’s doing. Part of it is luck, of course. Like I said, he’s not going to hit almost .400 all year, nor is his .424 BABIP going to stick. But if you look at what he’s doing at the plate so far this season, you’ll see someone who’s made improvements that could lead to sustained success.

So far this year, Polanco’s been reducing his groundballs and increasing his fly balls:

And the fly balls he’s been hitting haven’t just been any old fly balls, they’ve been really well-hit balls. Check out his launch angle chart so far:

He’s focusing a lot of his balls right where you want him to for power, and his statcast profile is bearing this out so far. This year, he’s sporting an 11.1% barrel rate, good for a career-best by a longshot (last year was his previous career-best at 3.7%). He’s also increased his average exit velocity to a career-best 88 MPH and his statcast hard-hit rate (percentage of balls hit at least 95 MPH) is at a career-best 44.4% (his previous career-best was last year at 27.9%).

You can see how dramatically his hard-hit rate has jumped up compared with the rest of his career:

The hard-hit rate over on Fangraphs from Baseball Info Solutions bears this out too, with a noticeable decrease in soft-hit rate.

When you look at how much harder he’s hitting the ball in conjunction with his increases barrel rate and launch angle, you can see why he’s hitting the ball so well. His quality of contact has increased dramatically, and obviously that’s going to produce great results.

But like I said, there is regression coming, without a doubt. The question is, just how much regression is in store for Polanco? If you take a look at his expected stats, you’ll see it might not be as bad as you might think.

AVG SLG wOBA
Actual .392 .716 .484
Expected .322 .614 .422

No, that’s not what I’m suggesting you expect going forward from him. Rather, what I’m suggesting is that Polanco is hitting better than he ever has in his career so far, and I think this makes sense for him. He’s gradually gotten better as he’s gotten older, with the PED suspension serving as an unfortunate hiccup in the midst of his development.

But now, he’s killing the ball, and while he will slow down, you should absolutely be riding the hot streak while it lasts. And even when the hot streak is over, I expect that Polanco will still have himself a very solid year, probably even the best season of his career to date.

He should provide you with a very good average, good power, and some solid speed. He’s been quietly doing it for years now, he’s just not so quiet anymore, and you should grab him now if he’s available in your league.

Ben Palmer

Lifelong Orioles fan (which can be....painful at times) and a Ravens/Wizards/Terps fan. I also listen to way too much music and watch way too many movies.

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Comments


Barrett

Thanks for this, Ben. I’ve been trying to inform the masses that JP has been a top 25 bat since August 2017 (that’s straight from fangraphs), but everyone just wants to keep doubting.

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