Gregory Polanco will be of utmost importance if the Pirates want to compete for a World Series at the end of this season. This is obvious, but no other player on the team has a higher potential compared to the level he is playing at right now than Polanco. Not Andrew McCutchen, nor Starling Marte, both of whom are great, but both of whom are already playing close to their potential. Polanco can get to their level, and it’s a good thing the Pirates are sticking with him over the final stretch of games this season.
For a while this year, Polanco struggled. He batted .226 in May and .200 in June, and the Pirates began exploring external options to help solve a lack of production in right field. As we all know, the Pirates didn’t add a right fielder at the deadline (unless you count Michael Morse, who may still spell Polanco against lefties occasionally), as they’ve chosen to ride out the season with Polanco as their primary right fielder. They don’t have someone like Travis Snider who can come off the bench this season, so Polanco has to deliver.
Gregory’s shown improvement recently, in more ways than one. On the surface, his line in July of .273/.363/.424 is a huge improvement over his June line of .200/.281/.259. While he still strikes out a good amount, he walked more times (14) in July than in any other month this season. Post-All-Star break, Polanco is batting .281/.343/.353, a great improvement over his .237/.315/.338 pre-All-Star break line. Yes, Polanco is making contact more often, but there are a few areas in particular that he’s shown improvement.
First, Polanco is walking more. Prior to July, Polanco was taking walks at a 9.3% clip. Since the start of July, Polanco is walking at a 15.1% clip. As a frequent leadoff man for the Pirates, walking is of fundamental importance, especially considering Polanco is second on the team in stolen bases with 18, so getting on base and putting his speed to use is key.
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What has led to Polanco walking more? He did see more pitches in July, but not by a lot. He saw 3.95 pitches per plate appearance in June, and that increased slightly to 4.02 in July. He also didn’t increase his strikeouts comparatively to his walks, as evidenced by his increase in BB/K ratio from 0.56 in June to 0.74 in July. It’s these little improvements that have led to Polanco being a more productive leadoff hitter.
Secondly, he’s hitting for more power. No, this power hasn’t exactly translated to home runs just yet, but it will eventually. Since the start of July, 11.3% of Polanco’s at-bats have gone for extra bases. Before that point, only 7% of his at-bats ended in extra base hits. Polanco added muscle over the offseason in the hopes that he would add much-desired power to his repetoire. This power will come, and he’s improving ever-so-slightly in this regard as the season goes on.
Lastly, Polanco is becoming more consistent at the dish. Since July 6th, Polanco has not gone two games in a row without a hit. Surprising, right? In fact, since that date, he’s only been held hitless four times in 23 games, and he’s been on base in all but one of those games. In June, he was held hitless in 13 of 26 games that he played in. That’s half of his games for those doing the math. He’s not getting his hits in big bunches right now. Instead, he’s finding ways to contribute on a daily basis.
Gregory Polanco is still a work in progress. He’s only 23 years old, and only has a little over a year’s worth of at-bats. But he is improving, especially this summer. He’s becoming more consistent, and is taking more walks while seeing more pitches. He’s still the future in right field for the Pirates, and he could be a key contributor for the team down the stretch.