Pollock and Absentee Regression

Absent all other information, we should always expect a player to be worse than the previous year. A.J. Pollock won’t be worse in 2017 by virtue of missing nearly all of 2016. That’s practically a guarantee. But what should we actually expect of him?

Yesterday, I ranked Pollock the 14th best outfielder. Those rankings are far from being set in stone. They’re titled “Way Too Early” for a reason. Last year, I ranked him eighth in January. As a commenter pointed out yesterday, other sites like Rotowire have Pollock listed as the sixth best outfielder. Why do I appear to be down on him?

My perception of Pollock is unchanged. I’m unconcerned about the elbow injury affecting his play, although a better understanding of the injury leads me to be slightly more wary of another recurrence. Last year, I gushed about his ability to hit for power, steal bases, and control the strike zone. I’m still excited about the profile.

Let’s rewind to last winter. While exclaiming Pollock’s virtues, I was careful to point out the areas in which he might regress. As an extreme ground ball hitter, his 20 home runs looked more like a ceiling than a floor. However, with his hard hit rate and pull tendencies, Pollock’s power resembles Domingo Santana – with less than half the strikeouts. In short, he makes his fly balls count.

The 39 stolen bases also smelled a touch fluky. Pollock’s best minor league campaign included 36 steals in 608 plate appearances. He was 23 at the time. Steal rates usually plummet precipitously in the majors and as a player ages. Pollock’s 39 swipes came at age 27. He’ll be 29 next year. There’s a silver lining here too. In just 46 plate appearances last season, Pollock stole four bases in four attempts. Perhaps 30 steals are possible.

It was also thought that his BABIP could decline by about 30 points. He posted a .338 BABIP in 2015 despite a slightly below league average line drive rate. The high ground ball rate and quality of fly ball contact help to explain his BABIP. Despite his pull tendencies, he’s not particularly shiftable in the infield. Check out the spray chart, there are enough dots around the second base hole to keep opposing infields honest. Outfielders could probably benefit from playing him a little deeper.


Now What?

We’ve been through this narrative before. One camp expected serious regression, another camp anticipated comparable or better production in 2015, a third group could be labelled as cautiously optimistic. We didn’t get an answer in 2016. Hopefully we’ll get one in 2017. We must have satisfaction.

If you’re partying in Camp Regression, then you’re now anticipating a double whammy. Per this point of view, he was lucky in 2015 and now he’s two years older and slower. You’re probably anticipating 12 home runs, 20 stolen bases, above average run production, and a .280 average. Still good but not a world beater in today’s power-happy league.

The Camp of the Unapologetically Bullish is looking at the home run surge and assigning a share to Pollock. They have every hope Pollock could have hammered 25-30 home runs while maintaining 30 or more steals, excellent run production, and a .300 average. Sure, he’s due for some small age-based decline, but a 25-30 season doesn’t feel like a stretch to these campers.

I belong to the Cautious Optimist Party. To me, 2015 Pollock played to his ceiling. There’s nothing stopping him from reaching his ceiling again, although it’s certainly wiser to expect his 50th percentile projection. I figured the usual negative regressive effects were roughly offset by positive effects. There were/are several “easy” adjustments he could make to become slightly better at the plate.

My expectation for a healthy Pollock is something like 15 home runs, 25-30 stolen bases, and a .280 average. He should spend the season batting third, sandwiched between Paul Goldschimdt and Jean Segura. That’s a formula for a 100 run, 100 RBI campaign. Let’s play it safe and pencil in 90 runs and 75 RBI. Incidentally, Steamer foresees 16 home runs, 24 stolen bases, and a flat .280 average with less run production.

After working through the details, I can only conclude that I did, in fact, rank Pollock too low as the 14th outfielder. Unless we seriously exaggerate his injury risk, the anticipated five category production should put him on par with Ryan Braun.

That said, the top 14 outfielders, including Pollock, are all very good. We have five category guys, multiple mid-lineup, 40 home run threats, and a couple speed leaders. With the exception of the top trio, there’s nothing wrong with taking them in absolutely any order.

You can follow me on twitter @BaseballATeam

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
6 years ago

Thanks for the article. I read one site and I am like it seems a bit high and this was “Way to early” rankings but he seemed extra low.