Pirates Spotlight: Polanco Might Need Alonso Lessons

We’d forgive you if you have a bit of Pirates-prospect fatigue. Lo those many years ago it was Cutch, then it was Marte and Polanco, to go with Cole and lately Taillon and Glasnow. You heard about them for years before they actually arrived on The Confluence, because they were part of the great Pirates Revival that apparently died last year.

Some of it has worked. Some of it hasn’t. Right now, Polanco seems to be sliding into the latter category.

It’s hard to believe this is only Polanco’s third full season in the majors. He came up basically halfway through the 2014 season and has been a fixture in right for the Bucs since. And the problem Polanco has found in the majors is basically the one he had in the minors. He doesn’t really have any power.

Polanco only managed a noticeable home run number in high-A, with 16 homers. He had 12 between there and double-A the next season, 2013. He had seven in 2014 before his call-up. It’s not automatic that a team needs their right-fielder to hit for power. It’s just a really good idea if you’re not getting it from everywhere else (like the Cubs last year, if you can remember that at all).

Last year Polanco popped for 22 homers and perhaps that’s when Pirates fans thought he turned a corner. Halfway through this season, it appears that might have been a result of just well placed fly balls. Polanco’s home run-per-fly-ball rate spiked to 14.4% last year, after being 5.5% the year before and sinking back to 8.6% this year. He has a career 9.7%. And looking at his spray charts from last year, you can certainly see where he found some soft spots at home to get some homers:

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That’s four he snuck down the short left-field line, and another eight that he pulled pretty heavily. Good spots in PNC Park for sure. He’s not getting the same this year.

And looking at his launch angle, it’s no wonder:

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For power you want to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 degrees. As you can see Polanco spends most of his time below 20 percent. And this has been his problem this year. Polanco has seen his ground-ball rate rise, his line-drive rate plummet, and his hard-contact simply crash out of site. None of this is what you want.

Basically, pitchers have figured out you can bury fastballs inside on Polanco and he isn’t going to do much with it. Here’s where they have been slotting fastballs and sinkers this year:


And here’s the power he puts on fastballs:

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Let him get his arms out extended, you have problems. If you don’t, you’re safe. He’s also has problems laying off sliders, as you might imagine someone who is trying to catch up to the fastball all the time.

There’s still time for Polanco. If you can believe it, he’s only 25 and his prime should be ahead of him. Still, with McCutchen surely headed for the exit door in the winter, and no one sure of what the Pirates will get from Marte once he returns from his PED suspension, the Pirates need more from Gregory. He looks to be the next candidate to retool his swing over the winter to get more lift.

Polanco’s other problem is he hasn’t been all that good in right field, which is why the Pirates ideally wanted to move him to left and have Marte man center. Then again, PNC’s left field is just another center. Long way to travel here.

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