Placido’s Quiet Lumber

The sight of Detroit Tigers second baseman Placido Polanco whiffing at a pitch occurs about as often as a Halley’s Comet spotting. Since 2002, Polanco has put the bat on the ball 91.9% of the time, while the major league average has hovered around 80 percent. On pitches within the zone, Placido has connected on 96.2% of his hacks (86-88% MLB average over that time period). Not surprisingly, Polanco has just a 7.1% K rate during his major league career.

At first glance, the 34 year-old Dominican would appear to be having a typical Polanco season. He has posted the fourth-highest contact rate in the big leagues (92.9%), with the highest connect rate on pitches within the strike zone (98.1%). Polanco’s 7.9% K rate is ninth-lowest among qualified batters.

Yet, despite all of that contact, Polanco is in the midst of a lousy offensive campaign. His .308 wOBA converts to -5.7 park-adjusted Batting Runs. That places Polanco among out-machines like Seattle’s Jose Lopez and Chicago’s Chris Getz. Preseason projection systems such as ZiPS, Oliver and CHONE pegged Placido for a wOBA between .334 and .344.

So, what has caused Polanco’s forgettable 2009 season? The first thing that catches one’s eye is a .263 BABIP, leaps and bounds below his .321 mark in 2008. How much should we expect that figure to bounce back? To try and answer that question, let’s use a BABIP estimator from The Hardball Times. Derek Carty of THT developed a BABIP calculator, based on the great work that former Rotographs writer Peter Bendix (along with Chris Dutton) conducted this past winter.

In their study, Bendix and Dutton included many more variables into their BABIP estimator, going well beyond the “line drive percentage plus .120” formula that many had been using. The premise of the “LD +.120” idea is that line drives fall for hits way, way more than any other batted ball (74.1 percent of the time in the AL this year). But by including other factors such as hitter’s eye, speed score and pitches/PA, Bendix and Dutton produced a formula with a higher year-to-year correlation.

According to the BABIP estimator, Polanco “should” have a BABIP of .304 this season, compared to his actual .263 mark. If we adjust his batting line for the additional hits, Placido’s line should be closer to .297/.353/.427 than his actual .256/.312/.386 triple-slash (and that’s assuming all additional hits were singles).

Polanco is having some crummy luck on balls put in play this year, and he should bounce back close to established levels in the second half. But that’s not to say that there’s nothing to be concerned about.

Placido has seen his LD% dip from 23.9% in 2007 to 16 percent in 2009. While some of that could be scoring bias (line drives don’t exist in of themselves, and there’s a pretty sizable gap between different parks in terms of the number of line drives coded). But that is a large decrease. In place of those liners, Polanco has hit more flyballs (31.3 FB% in ’07, 38.2% this year). That’s not a particularly pleasant development for a player with limited pop. Also, Polanco has gradually expanded his zone. His Outside Swing% has climbed from 21.6% in 2006 to 26 percent this season (25% MLB average).

In all probability, Polanco will commence being the near-.300 hitter we have come to know over the years. In fact, ZiPS projects a .299/.345/.410 line for the rest of the ’09 campaign. There are some unhappy trends in his batted ball data (fewer liners, more flyballs), but it’s hard to say how much of that is Polanco and how much of that is based on the caprices of the official scorer (this is why people are so excited about Hit F/X; no more lumping batted balls into subjective categories). If you’re struggling to get production from the keystone spot, however, you could do worse than buying low on Placido.





A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

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Mariano
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Mariano

Wow, great read david