Pittsburgh Pirates’ Gregory Polanco mixing hype with performance


There was a time when the words “Super Two” were nearly attached to each and every line of copy written about Gregory Polanco early in 2014. As we stand today, that seems like a lifetime ago.

The 2015 version of Polanco – the real Polanco – is on an August tear the likes of which is only found at the intersection of hype and performance. Cynics can say that for all of his advance praise, Polanco should have found his way sooner. In the span of a single breath, they will simultaneously tell you the Pittsburgh Pirates should have started 2014 with El Coffee in tow and that he wasn’t ready yet. He was a walking juxtaposition in the eyes of many.

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It is far too long overdue, but the day has finally arrived when Pirates fans can finally put to bed all of that nonsense. The jury is still out on whether he will fully live up to all of the hype that surrounded his MLB debut, but the present-day absolute shown by Polanco is thrilling in its own right.

What has gone on during Polanco’s red-hot August that would allow us to fully buy-in to the promise of the Pittsburgh Pirates “Dream Outfield?” Long considered to be the enigmatic piece of that puzzle behind electric Starling Marte and steady Andrew McCutchen, Polanco has come forward in a big way.

It is a tale of two Augusts, as his performance in last year’s dog days of summer coupled with a strong performance from Travis Snider conspired to send Polanco back down to Triple-A. This year, there is no threat of anyone over his shoulder, and a relaxed and acclimated Polanco is pushing through the wall that he hit last year.

How has he done it? Let’s compare last August to this August.

First, he has continued to maintain a very good strikeout percentage. Starting off with a 26.8% K-Rate through the first month of the season, Polanco has worked hard at plate discipline, and as such has seen his rate drop to 18.3%, good for middle-of-the-pack (6th lowest) among Pittsburgh Pirates regulars with at least 100 plate appearances. While some may view that as mediocre, when viewed against the MLB-wide average of around 20%, this is considerable for a second-year player.

The 2015 version of Polanco – the real Polanco – is on an August tear the likes of which is only found at the intersection of hype and performance.

Next, he is hitting it everywhere. In August of 2014, Polanco treated the opposite field like an unwanted acquaintance that showed up to his birthday party, utilizing it only 16.7% of the time as opposed to 29.9% thus far this month. Clint Hurdle highly values an all-fields approach, and Polanco has bought in. In doing so, Polanco has changed the way that pitchers pitch to him.

Last, he has avoided a prolonged slump. The 1-for-30 stretch in August of 2014 is widely acknowledged as the catalyst for his demotion. Yet in August of this year, Polanco has hit safely in 18 of 21 games, putting up a 33-for-93 stretch in the process. This has resulted in a .948 OPS (as of this writing). Some might say that the ability to pull himself out of slumps is the final piece of Polanco’s puzzle. Still, slumps will happen. He will likely have another 1-for-30 stretch in his career. Now he has the confidence to know that he can pull himself out of them as easily as he may fall into them.

There are still holes in his swing. He still struggles against left-handed pitching. He is still prone to mental blunders from time to time. The consistent power is still not there and the occasional base-running blunder can come out at any time.

Please save the cynicism, however. Polanco is showing us what happens when performance starts catching up to hype.

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