Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Gregory Polanco is having a really bad 2020, but there’s more than meets the eye with his season so far, and deserves a deeper look.
So far, 2020 hasn’t been kind to Gregory Polanco. The outfielder only batting for a .146/.199/.331 line with 6 long balls, a 37 wRC+ and .225 wOBA. Not the production the Pittsburgh Pirates had hoped for this season.
He’s striking out at an alarming rate of 40.1% of the time, and combating that with a walk rate of just 6.3%. There’s no sugar coating that this isn’t good. These look like batting stats for a pitcher, not a corner outfielder.
But when you look under the hood at Polanco’s batted ball tendencies, you’re going to find something extremely odd. Polanco is somehow ninth in exit velocity. He currently holds a 93.6 MPH exit velo. That’s well above sluggers like Jose Abreu (92.4 MPH), Freddie Freeman (92.3 MPH) and Nelson Cruz (91.7 MPH).
He’s also consistently making hard contact. His 54.7% hard hit rate is 11th in all of baseball. That outdoes both Matt Chapman and Juan Soto who have a 51.7% and 51% hard hit rate each. What’s even more impressive is how well Polanco avoids soft contact. Polanco’s 8.8% soft contact rate would rank within the top 15 of the lowest soft contact rates in all of baseball.
Contact rates have been recorded since 2002. Since then, a player has recorded a hard hit rate above 45%, and a batting average on balls in play below .250 just six times. Six times in 18 years. Once every three years. Why is Polanco’s batting average on balls in play a lowly .136, despite him consistently crushing the baseball?
Well it’s not because Polanco is hammering the ball into the ground. He currently has a ground ball rate of just 38% compared to the league average rate of 43%. However he does hit a ton of fly balls with a 43% rate, compared to the 36% league average mark.
But there are two big factors that are plaguing Polanco here. Polanco has a contact rate of just 56.7%. His career average before 2020 was 80%, and the league average rate is 74%.When he is making contact he’s getting the most favorable result the least amount of time. Last year, batters had a .686 batting average and .916 slugging percentage with a 331 wRC+ when they connected to line drives. When a batter hits a flyball, they had a .254 average, and .788 slugging with a 151 wRC+. Ground balls resulted in a .236 average, .258 slugging and 26 wRC+.
Polanco’s line drive rate is just 19%. The league average rate is 22%. This, and the fact he is only making contact 56.7% of the time is what is killing Polanco. Polanco might be absolutely demolishing the ball when he is making contact, but he’s making contact nearly 20% below the average. Though he is avoiding ground balls, he isn’t close to the league average line drive rate, which is the best possible batted ball result you can get.
Polanco’s 2020 season has so far been an all or nothing year. He’s striking out at an astounding rate, and going for the long ball most of the time. 6 of his 19 hits have left the park. Sure he rips the cover off the ball, but a lack of consistently making contact and when he does make contact, he rarely hits for the best possible outcome are really killing Polanco.