Is A.J. Pollock A Top Pick?

When I wrote about Paul Goldschmidt earlier in the offseason, part of my analysis focused on when he would be available in the first round. I assumed Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Clayton Kershaw would absorb the first three picks, leaving Goldy as the consensus fourth overall selection. However, there are a handful of players I could justify taking ahead of Goldschmidt. His teammate, A.J. Pollock, is one of them.

A few commenters disagreed with my assessment of Pollock as an early first round pick. Let’s turn to the actual comments and my response:

Pollock comments

Here’s the thing, if we were to hold drafts today, then I agree with them both. Pollock’s perceived value places him outside of the top 10 players. However, after an entire offseason of analysis, people will notice that Pollock offers a few particularly endearing qualities.

With $40 of roto production, he was the second most productive outfielder last season. That’s $1 behind Harper and $5 ahead of Trout (also $3 ahead of Goldschmidt). He produced a monster 5×5 line. In addition to his 20 home runs, he ranked third in runs (111) and stolen bases (39), and sixth in batting average (.315). His 76 RBI were above average too.

The automatic reflex is to say “but…regression.” Where? It’s true that exceptional performers usually have nowhere to go but down. It will be very hard, but not impossible, for Pollock to improve upon his 2015 campaign. Odds are, we’ve seen the best he has to offer.

Trout declined this season while playing through a nagging wrist injury. He was still very good. Carlos Gomez fell off the side of a cliff with a handful of minor injuries. Michael Brantley battled injury all season. Andrew McCutchen and Adam Jones were worse without the obvious injuries (they may have still been playing hurt).

This general form of regression – call it Injury and Physical Decline – can affect any player. Pollock could be affected next season. But I highlight this for one important reason – his peripherals don’t look fluky.

He’s a high contact hitter with a 6.9 percent swinging strike rate and a 13.2 percent strikeout rate. He’s neither aggressive nor passive at the plate which allows him to post a low strikeout rate and respectable walk rate. He makes frequent hard contact with 85 percent of his balls in play listed as “hard” or “medium.” That helps him to produce a high .327 career BABIP. He hits just enough to the opposite field to be shift proof.

If there’s one area where statistical decline is most likely, it’s his power numbers. Pollock is a ground ball hitter with a tiny 29 percent fly ball rate. Those flies converted to home runs at a career best rate last season, but it’s not like his 13.2 percent HR/FB ratio is out of hand. He ranked 56th among qualified hitters in HR/FB. He was adjacent to Brian Dozier and Jay Bruce. His average fly ball went 293 feet – 60th best and farther than Dozier or Bruce (both 285 feet).

While his flies tend to have some oomph behind them, ESPN’s home run tracker lists nine of 20 as “just enough.” If you eyeball his spray chart, there are two squeakers down the left field line that really stand out. His four opposite field shots also barely left the yard.

Since he’s still in his physical prime, we shouldn’t assume that his modest oppo-pop will disappear entirely. In fact, another nearly 700 plate appearance season could easily be accompanied by 20 more home runs. Even if you’re worried he won’t crack 20 bombs again, he’s a relatively safe bet to reach 15 home runs.

Like Josh Donaldson, his value is bolstered by his teammates – particularly Goldschmidt. Hitting ahead of the top first baseman leads to those gaudy run totals. I do worry that the team could rein in his base stealing. He converted 39 of 46 attempts this season. If he’s caught a little more often, he’ll be doing more harm than good.

Ultimately, we probably won’t be seeing Pollock drafted among the top six players very often. It will happen because some crazy person will see 30/50 potential and pay for it. He’ll probably settle in somewhere between the eighth and 16th consensus pick.

Steamer foresees modest regression with a 78/14/64/26/.281 line. Personally, I think a healthy Pollock should easily produce a 105/15/65/30/.300 line. There’s upside for more, but I wouldn’t bank on it. And as we discusses earlier, nagging and/or serious injuries can affect anybody.

You can follow me on twitter @BaseballATeam

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7 years ago

I think he’ll be top 15 for sure though, there aren’t many candidates who can do 20-30.

7 years ago
Reply to  FeslenR

He is not much of a candidate himself. There is close to zero chance he hits 20 HR. His 2015 was more fluke than a good indication of what to expect in 2016. Career highs in everything…

7 years ago
Reply to  vince

Career highs in everything…well yeah no kidding, that’s obviously going to happen when a player had 243 games of experience over 3 seasons. Take a look at his 2014 numbers on a pro-rated basis and they look strikingly similar to his 2015 numbers.

7 years ago
Reply to  FeslenR

Michael Brantley comp anyone? Same age, similar batting profile, shows promise for several years, then a huge breakout season in which said player was simply in the zone for 6 straight months. You can do all the math you want, but I don’t need an abacus to figure that Pollock isn’t going to outperform Mike Trout again. CBS had Brantley at #48 overall for 2015 – and that seems like a reasonable projection for Pollock in ’16