I alleged, behind closed doors, that I would cook up something pertaining to batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and the new shift data FanGraphs now hosts on its leaderboards. But, alas, such allegations — that I, uh, made, against myself — were false. There are more pressing matters to which I must attend.
Such as Gregory Polanco. Polanco, of the consensus top-100 prospect rankings in 2013 and 2014 prior to his debut. Polanco, of the pleasantly solid production that still, almost 1,000 plate appearances later, somehow, somewhat inexplicably, disappoints us.
If you don’t own Polanco, you may not know his weighted runs created (wRC+) currently ranks 8th among all National League outfielders. Better, his wRC+ isn’t elevated by an unsustainable BABIP or home runs per fly ball (HR/FB), like the seven hitters who rank ahead of him (except Bryce Harper, who is superhuman bordering on not human at all). One could argue, with nonzero persuasiveness, that Polanco is the (second-) best pure-hitting NL outfielder in the game at this exact moment. It’s a very specific subset of hitters, yes, but if you bestowed that title on me, I’d be pretty jazzed.
To attest: Polanco’s 33.3% walk rate (BB%) in the six days since Opening Day is his 3rd-best 6-game moving walk rate of his career. Of the two 6-game walk rates that ranked better, he simultaneously struck out more than 28% of the time. His strikeout rate (K%) currently stands at 14.8% — barely half that of the other two instances.
All the while, Polanco has slugged to the tune of a .188 isolated power (ISO). In every other instance that Polanco achieved these stellar walk rates for brief periods of time, he hit for basically zero power. Right now, he’s slugging like Kyle Seager. We’ve seen glimpses of this before from Polanco, but not with this much efficacy.
Polanco also has a few 6-game stretches in his career during which he made only medium or hard contact — in other words, a soft contact rate (Soft%) of 0%. But none of them, except for right now, featured a ground ball rate (GB%) lower than 10%. He is hitting balls hard, and he is hitting them in the air, with authority. And — maybe you guessed it — he never achieved this feat while demonstrating the same kind of plate discipline efficacy.
If I’m taking the long and winding road to my point, it’s this: it’s all coming together for Polanco, all at once. The plate discipline, the hard hits, the elevated balls in play — he has shown glimpses of these talents in equally small samples throughout his career, but never collectively.
Here’s a kid, a 24-year-old, who once hit for legitimate double-digit power, in 2014, and registered at least a league-average batting average, in 2015. (He always ran, so that wasn’t really a concern.) In my player caption (capsule?) on Polanco’s player page, I mentioned all of these things, and I reflected — I hoped — that everything would come together for him.
Now might be time. Maybe it’s 2016 where he puts up a 15-30-.250 line. If he can keep hitting the ball hard and suppress the infield flies — oh yeah, did I mention that he has has yet to pop up in 2016, too? — his speed and batted ball profile should support an above-average BABIP. That, and potentially improved plate discipline, could push his batting average closer to .280.
Which, coincidentally or not, sounds like a vintage Starling Marte line. Marte was drafted in the top-30 overall and was the 6th outfielder off the board this year, by the way. Fantasy owners gave Polanco respect this preseason, so there’s not a ton of room for profit, but he could make good on even a relatively bullish average draft position (ADP).
I don’t know to whom I should compare Polanco or who you should drop to add him. (Not like he’s available in any leagues, but you know what I mean — who I would trade, straight up, to acquire him.) I certainly like him more than Carlos Gonzalez and, perhaps, more than Lorenzo Cain and Carlos Gomez as well.
Then again, I’m trying not to get ahead of myself. Maybe it’s the contract extension that has him all amped. It was only 27 plate appearances, anyway — the smallest of sample sizes. And player performance ebbs and flows. It just hasn’t flowed quite this well for Polanco until now, and I can’t help but get a little bit excited about it.