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Jorge Polanco, The Forgotten Twin

Winter is a great time to dig through layers of statistics and find gems to add to your collection. Overlooked players with hidden 2nd half breakouts get sifted to the surface through research, so let’s grab some tools and uncover value.

One of my favorite tools for revealing a player’s value is the blind comparison. The table below shows the 2nd halves of three players: two consensus top-50 dynasty league players and one who is barely more than a blip on the radar screen.

 AgePAAVGRHRRBISBOPS
Player A252840.30045123570.916
Player B263210.28543103880.857
Player C242570.29331104370.870

All three brought solid 5-category production to fantasy owners down the stretch last year, but the slight advantage goes to Player A due to the edge in power. So let’s pull the curtain and reveal the treasures behind the stats:

Player A: Jose Ramirez
Player B: Christian Yelich
Player C: Jorge Polanco

I know those first two names, but who’s that third guy again? The guy who slashed an uninspiring .256/.313/.410 with 13 HR and 13 SB last year? Don’t lie, half of you had to look up what team he plays for…yep, Twins SS Jorge Polanco, a key cog to Minnesota’s 2017 playoff push.

It seems that throughout Polanco’s career, he’s been overshadowed by higher profile players. As a prospect, he was routinely buried in the stacked Minnesota system behind names like Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, and Max Kepler. Even his notable 2017 2nd half was hidden behind his more well-known teammate’s post-break onslaught.

But let’s give Polanco his due here. The switch-hitter’s 2nd half wRC+ of 128 was equaled by studs Yelich and Paul Goldschmidt(!). He’s no Goldy, but that’s impressive company nonetheless. How did Polanco turn the corner into a fantasy asset?

Polanco has always had a solid hitting approach with a plus hit tool, but he really improved on those skills in 2017:

Jorge Polanco Underlying Metrics 2016-2017

 O-Swing%Z-Swing%Swing%BB%K%Contact%Hard%
201633.5%55.0%42.7%6.3%17.0%84.0%23.5%
201726.9%61.0%43.1%7.5%14.3%86.5%27.7%

He sharpened his batting eye by swinging at more strikes and laying off more balls while maintaining his patient approach. Swinging at better pitches yielded significant benefits in BB%, K%, and hard hit and contact rates. In fact, his ample contact rate  finished in the top-15 among all qualified MLB hitters in 2017, as did his swinging-strike rate (5.8%).

The underlying skills are there for a sustainable .280 batting average, so why did he hit just .256 for the year? As his BABIP and HR/FB% went, so went his stats:

  • Pre-All Star break  – .250 BABIP, 3.2% HR/FB, .224 avg.
  • Post-All Star break- .313 BABIP, 12.5% HR/FB, .293 avg.

Those 2nd half BABIP and HR/FB rates were favorable yet reasonable, so his breakout didn’t lay foundation on luck’s quicksand.

Polanco’s one below-average tool is his power, but he learned to offset it by hitting more fly balls (42.8%) and pulling the ball more. While this approach prevents him from being a .300 hitter, it gives Polanco a much more balanced fantasy profile. Mid-teen home run totals should be commonplace if he maintains that FB%, with potential to reach 20 HR if the 24-year-old adds more strength.

An above-average runner, Polanco went 13 for 18 in SB attempts last year and has a couple totals in the high-teens from his minor league days. Minnesota isn’t afraid to run, so expect Polanco to maintain useful SB totals despite a less than sterling success rate.

So we’re looking at a SS who won’t hurt you in power/speed/average and plays in an offense that ranked 2nd in MLB for runs scored post-All Star break. Steamer’s projection of .273/71/15/72/13 feels about right, but there’s a non-zero chance Polanco can go .290/20/20. Even better, Polanco is currently ranking behind the likes of Andrelton Simmons, Tim Anderson, Addison Russell and Paul DeJong. I’d prefer Polanco’s statistical balance over all of them, so count me as a buyer at this dirt-cheap price.

Don’t forget his name on draft day- he can help boost your team to a title you’ll always remember.

The Author

Tom Werner

Tom Werner

Tom has been playing fantasy sports since 2000 when his Boy Scout troop started a fantasy football league. He's been addicted ever since, as it combines his love of statistics, competition, and sports. Fantasy baseball emerged as his favorite; Tom's in three dynasty baseball leagues and wants to help you win yours (except you Charles).

3 Comments

  1. Phil Chiaracane
    January 19, 2018 at 6:16 am

    Nicely done! Always find the blind comparisons informative and compelling….gonna add Polanco to my late roud queue now!! 🙂

    • January 21, 2018 at 1:34 pm

      Thanks Phil! FYI, BP posted a free article titled ‘Rubbing Mud: The Hit Tool Indicator’ by Matthew Trueblood on Friday that had a decent section devoted to Polanco. It’s a good read, so here’s the link if you want to check it out too! The Hit Tool Indicator

  2. Nick Doran
    January 20, 2018 at 8:02 pm

    I agree Polanco makes for an undervalued asset in drafts this spring. He’s still just 24 years old with lots of improvement yet to come.

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