2015 Pittsburgh Pirates Gradeout: Gregory Polanco
The offseason is unfortunately here and so we are simultaneously tasked with reflecting on the 2015 season and looking forward to next spring. As part of Rumbunter’s off-season coverage, we will be grading out virtually every member of the Pittsburgh Pirates who spent substantial time on the team’s 25-man roster over the past season. We will look at their seasons as a whole, show you their relevant stats, and assign a final grade to each player. Today’s entry: Gregory Polanco
Any uncertainty surrounding the Pittsburgh Pirates’ commitment to Gregory Polanco fell away completely when Travis Snider was traded during the 2014-2015 offseason.
Polanco would go on to play 153 games in right field and ended with the most plate appearances of any Pirate not named Andrew McCutchen. Going into 2015, Polanco carried two primary objectives. First, provide good defense while also taking strides at the plate. Second, he had to show that he could hang for a full 162 in the majors. The Pirates had no real backup plan beyond the occasional Josh Harrison or Sean Rodriguez cameo. The front office and skipper Clint Hurdle needed to see what they had in El Coffee.
When taking that into consideration, Polanco’s response – though not overwhelming – was wonderfully positive for the Pirates.
We mentioned Polanco’s bountiful plate appearances – 652, by the way – and that’s for good reason. Each and every one of those plate appearances was needed coming off of a challenging debut season.
It’s only when looking at Polanco’s year-to-year lines that one can truly appreciate the leap he took:
Certainly, there were times when he looked absolutely lost at the plate. Polanco came out of the first month of the season hitting .278 while slugging over .400, but he also carried a 27.8% strikeout rate. Polanco would rally to end the year having struck out at an 18.6% clip, as well as draw walks at an 8.4% rate. Both were easily in the top three of Pirates hitters. Edit: I would like to add some info to clarify. The 18.6% strikeout rate was the third lowest on the team, but as reader BuccoMike points out, that’s not so great for a leadoff hitter. That’s absolutely true, but to me the 18.6% number is noteworthy as a sign of progress. Despite having twice as many at-bats than his rookie year, Polanco still managed to lower the rate by about 3%, which is considerable.
In 2014 the knock on Polanco was that he faded later in the year. Did he do the same in 2015?
The batting lines in May, June and September easily jump out at the reader, but it’s no coincidence that those were his unluckiest months. His .BABIP (Bating average on balls in play) for those months showed an enormous deal of bad luck. Or was it? Polanco did end up with the lowest line drive percentage (19.1%) of any Pirate with at least 300 plate appearances, despite being in the middle of the Pirates’ pack in terms of hard-hit balls (29.9%).
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It’s fair to wonder if the book on Polanco got bigger as more opponents compiled more data on him, or if he still had more learning to drive major league pitching. When the dust settled, Polanco did a little bit of both run production and run creation once he settled in to the top of the batting order. Second on the team in runs and stolen bases, Polanco also notched 35 doubles. With his speed, it’s not unfathomable that Polanco could end up with a few 50-double seasons, provided he find a few more gaps. As he continues to learn how to square the ball up and find more gaps, more doubles will follow.
Defensively, Gregory Polanco had some lapses and mental mistakes, like most of the Pittsburgh Pirates. For many, this particular gaffe comes to mind:
(For the record, that was a baseball player making a legitimate mistake. Those things happen in the heart of battle)
Despite any perceived weakness defensively – fair or not – Polanco showed flashes of defensive brilliance.
Polanco would wind up second in all of baseball with 13 outfield assists, second to corner outfield mate Starling Marte. Overall, Polanco was a plus defender who saved 12 runs above average as per Baseball Reference. Combined with his speed and base stealing ability, and it’s easy to see the tools start to pile up for Polanco.
What type of grade did those tools help Gregory Polanco earn for 2015?
You’ve heard our take. Now it’s your turn. Sound off in the comments below, OR let us know on twitter.
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