Polanco Hits The Market

Two notable free agent second basemen were not tendered arbitration offers by their incumbent teams yesterday. Orlando Hudson stole most of the headlines, but Placido Polanco might be the more interesting of the duo, in part because a poor offensive season could lead to him being underrated by most observers.

Polanco turned 34 a few weeks back and posted his lowest batting average since 1999. Coincidentally, he also encountered a BABIP that falls well below his career norms. Outside of that, Polanco was the same batter as his 2008 self. His walk rate in 2008 was 5.7%; 5.5% in 2009. He posted 7.4% strikeouts in both seasons and ISO of .110 and .112. He hit 0.4% more homers per fly balls in 2009, as well. Literally the only difference between the seasons is a deflated average on balls in play. Regardless, his full season offensive run totals varied by nearly 11 runs.

With the glove, Polanco’s defense has always ranged from solid-to-spectacular. It’s a wee bit optimistic to expect a +10 season from him next year, but even with some age-based regression thrown in, he’s a plus defender at a premium defensive position. Combine that with his offensive skills and you’re looking at least a 3 win player with the potential for a little more.

Last off-season featured a rather drab free agent market for second basemen. Orlando Hudson and Felipe Lopez turned out to be the most worthwhile signings while Aaron Miles and Nick Punto were the lone recipients of multiple-year deals: both signed two-year contracts. In 2007, Luis Castillo and Kazuo Matsui signed the last deals of at least three seasons in length. I don’t know if he will, but Polanco seems like as good of option as anyone to break that streak.

Have an idea of how Polanco will perform in 2010? Let it be known by casting your Fan Projection ballot here.




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34 Responses to “Polanco Hits The Market”

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  1. lookatthosetwins says:

    3 WAR sounds about right. Probably got a little lucky with his UZR in 2009 compared to 2008, but unlucky with his BABIP. For a 2 year contract you should expect around 5-7 WAR of production, worth 20-30 mil. I doubt he’ll get anywhere near that much.

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    • Bryz says:

      I saw “worth 20-30 mil” and thought you meant that’s how big his contract was going to be. Fortunately, your next sentence helped clarify it for me.

      I see Polanco getting about $3-6 million per year.

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  2. Polanco and Adam Everrett had a lot to do with the Tiger’s success last year. To quote from my article from a month ago (more of the article in the name link):

    In 2009, the Tiger’s best defensive starters (and in fact only good defensive starters) were stationed in the infield. 2B Placido Polanco (+12.1), SS Adam Everett (+8.9), 3B Brandon Inge (+8.5) and 1B Miguel Cabrera (+3.4 >> yeah I know, I’m as shocked as you are) combined to be worth approximately +3.3 WAR on defense by preventing 33 runs from scoring compared to the average major league defense. Such is strongly indicative of a maintainable LOB% above the MLB average for the Tigers starters.

    …So what does this say for Rick Porcello’s 2010 prospects? Well for one thing, if the Tigers let free agents to be Adam Everett and Placido Polanco (who collectively prevented 21 runs above average from scoring) go without replacing their up the middle prowess, one can reasonably expect a slight, if not sharp regression in Porcello’s 2010 LOB% and surface numbers (such as ERA; see FB pitcher Javier Vasquez’s change in ERA from 2007 to 2008 as the White Sox OF went from defensively above average to defensively poor). In 2009, the Tigers collectively paid Everett and Polanco $5.6 million, but Fangraphs, who valued a win at $4.5 million last year, valued their defensive contributions alone at $9+ million (and their collective, all-around value at $18.7 million). Even if the Tigers want to be cheap next year, the Tigers should consider resigning their middle infielders. At the right price (let’s say $6 million a year for Polanco and $3 million per for Everett), both players are good defenders with, at worst, league average bats, who could easily provide the team with more than they are paying. This is, of course, a problem with the likes of Magglio and D-Train on the books. Perhaps the Tigers can find a team who is willing to take on some (if not more) of the salary and risk inherent in these two aging, sub-replacement level players for absolutely nothing in return (see the Alex Rios to Chicago deal) in order to free up the salary necessary to resign Everett and Polanco. This seems like a much wiser idea than letting the team’s two best defensive players walk and replacing them with replacement level players (and allow Magglio and D-Train to provide the team with poor value). The Tigers had a $115+ million payroll in 2009 and its hard to imagine that a franchise like the Tigers have much payroll flexibility for 2010, given a projected payroll upwards of $116 million before arbitration.

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    • walkoffblast says:

      Everett has an at worst league average bat? 3 mil is more than he has ever been paid for a season.

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      • Although Everett has never been paid $3, it’s not unreasonable to anticipate a salary in the 2-3 mil range if a guy like Aaron Miles can pull off a 2 yr/$5 mil contract.

        Regardless, the point stands. You can pay the two of them less than $10 mil per season and get tons of profit win value

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      • walkoffblast says:

        The Aaron Miles defense? but he lives on the planet Endor.

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  3. Scottwood says:

    I’m not sure I would say that he is worth at least 3 wins. He is going to be a 34 year old middle infielder with no power, does not take walks and relies on contact. With age regression, one would expect his WAR to decline next season. He will still be a good value b/c he is likely to be league average or above league average and probably will not be paid for that amount. But, I do think that expecting him to match his 2008 and 2009 WAR given his advancing age is going against historical evidence.

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  4. Yorvit says:

    Guys, if you have time please try to do a fan projection for Matt Murton.

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  5. BATTLETANK says:

    Pedro Feliz Placido Polanco

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  6. BATTLETANK says:

    apparently polanco to the phils
    3yr-18mil

    awful move!

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  7. neuter_your_dogma says:

    I thought Polanco didn’t like playing 3B. How do his numbers and skill set transfer to the hot corner?

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  8. mymrbig says:

    Wow, I was a big advocate in some USSM threads for the Mariners to go after Polanco if they could move Lopez. Even if you account for some regression and predict 3.0, 2.5, and 1.5 WAR over the next 3 years, he would still be worth over $20 million. So while I don’t love the deal for the Phillies, I can’t really knock it.

    Still, I wonder what Beltre signs for. Beltre is better defensively and 3.5 years younger than Polanco, plus his bat benefits more from Citizens Bank thank Polanco’s bat.

    Beltre could easily have WAR of 4.0, 3.5, and 3.0 over the next 3 years, so even if you want to go with 3.0, 2.5, and 2.0 for Polanco, there is no way Beltre would get 3 years, $30 million, so he will probably be a better deal than Polanco.

    Interesting.

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  9. Shane says:

    Where are you guys see that the Phillies signed Polanco?

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  10. Mike says:

    Polanco loses almost all his value if he goes to Philly and plays 3b. Also, part of the reason why his BABIP was down was that defenses have officially begun playing him like a pitcher in CF and RF, meaning he had a much tougher time getting some of those bloopers he’s hitting the other way to drop because he has no power to the opposite field to make them back up.

    He’ll slug for a high % in Philly because he can hit more HR there than at Comerica, but his BA is not a great bet to be much higher than .300, which means he’s probably a .330-.340 OBP guy with a SLG under .400 (putting him as a fringe-average hitter in his best case scenario at 3b), and then will be playing a position he hasn’t played full-time since 2002 (and hasn’t played at all since 2005). I don’t get this signing at all for Philadelphia.

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    • mymrbig says:

      Technically, the positional adjustments for 2B and 3B are identical, so he shouldn’t lose any value (assuming his defense is equivalent). You are just falling into old stereotypes about 3B being a power position where some defense can be sacrificed and 2B being a premium defensive position where bat can be sacrificed.

      Or to put it another way, the theory is that while his bat will be slightly worse compared with the universe of 3B than the universe of 2B, his glove will be slightly better compared with the universe of 3B than the universe of 2B. These will offset, meaning that (assuming he is just as good defensively), he will be equally valuable.

      Anything more than anectdotal evidence of CF and RF playing him shallower? His ISO last year was basically the exact same as most of his career and it would be odd for a guy with such a consistent established track record to all of a sudden be played different defensively. Doesn’t make sense that teams took that many years to figure out how to position their defense against Polanco.

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      • Mike says:

        Polanco’s wOBA of .321 (which made it the third time in four years that his wOBA was sub-.340) would have ranked him 19th amongst MLB third basemen in 2009, and he’s 34. Is it possible last year was simply a year in which he was unlucky with the BABIP? Sure. But even if he’s luckier in 2010, he’s also a year older, which would seem likely to erode his skills even a little bit.

        Thus, you’re banking everything on the assumption that his defense will be just as good in 2010 at 3b as it was at 2b in 2005-2009. I think that’s a very big risk because you need an entirely different skill set to play those two positions (look at Ian Stewart as an example of a really good 3b and a bad 2b defensively).

        Even if Polanco works out and I’m wrong about all of this, the Phillies still gave a three-year contract to a 34-year-old second baseman that’s not athletic and trending downward and moving him to play a position that he hasn’t played in five years. How does this qualify in any way as smart?

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      • mymrbig says:

        In what way is Polanco “trending downward? As RJ’s post clearly points out, his BB%, K%, ISO, UZR, Spd, etc. are all static. The only way he “trended downward” from 2007 to 2009 was BABIP. In 2007 he was extremely lucky, in 2008 he was about normal for his established BABIP, and in 2009 he was unlucky. Not really any trending in any direction.

        That isn’t to say he won’t start trending downward, but even if he puts up a 2.5, 2.0, and 1.5 WAR the next 3 years, that is still 6 WAR worth over $25 million when the Phillies are only paying him $18 million. I think it is pretty likely that Polanco will be worth 4.5 WAR over the life of the contract, so in that sense I don’t think it is a “bad” deal by the Phillies. However, I don’t think it is a “good” signing because I think there were better ways to spend $18 million over the next 3 years than Polanco. But just because the signing isn’t good doesn’t mean its necessarily bad.

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      • Scottwood says:

        -Polanco has the highest outside swing % of his career in each of the last 2 seasons.
        -He is swinging at fewer pitches within the strike zone than he ever has before these last 2 seasons.
        -He is hitting more fly balls than ever before in each of the last 3 seasons.
        -His line drive rate has been the lowest of his career in each of the last 2 seasons.

        So, to summarize… Polanco is swinging at more pitches than ever outside the strike zone and perhaps as a result of this, Polanco is hitting more fly balls than ever before and fewer line drives than ever before.

        What to take from this? I’m not sure. But, I don’t think its fair to simply say that his BABIP was lower than career norms b/c of bad luck. When you look at his batted ball type and plate discipline stats, he is a different hitter now than he was from 2002-2007. Just looking at 2008, he had the lowest line drive % of his career that year and had his highest FB% that season. If anything, one could say that he got lucky with BABIP in 08. More fly balls and fewer line drives should have equaled a lower BABIP. Instead, it was above his career norms. In 09, the low line drive rate and higher FB% continued, and his BABIP dipped. Was that bad luck or is it unfair to judge last year’s BABIP in comparison to his career averages when there are other obvious differences that we can see in the stats?

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Scott,

        Thank you for showing how change in approach and/or plate performance actually has some effect on results …

        versus just chalking it up to “bad luck”.

        BABIP, to me, really seems to be a measure of a combination of how hard a guy hits the ball, how many line drives they hit, etc.

        So, when a guy’s BABIP goes down, rather than just chalk it up to the default “luck” response, I’d prefer to (do what you did) and look at their swing stats or how they’re being pitched to try and decipher how their approach and/or contact quality at the plate has changed.

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      • mymrbig says:

        Scottwood, you have some good points there. I’d caution against reading too much into LD/GB/FB ratios since there can be some subjective changes (person noting whether something is a FB or LD in particular) and natural fluctuation. But I failed to accout for these. Still, even though his LD/GF/FB ratio seems to have shifted and his O-Swing% has increased, he is still making good contact with the ball (IFFB% and ISO in line with career averages). So his selectivity has declined, but he is still making lots of contact and good quality contact (for him).

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  11. Phylan says:

    Allow me to clarify this signing for you Mike: Ruben Amaro.

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  12. Steve says:

    I’ve always thought Placido Polanco was the weakest of the Three Tenors, so I am surprised to see how much money he got.

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  13. Steve says:

    I would be wondering how much this contract signals that the market may not be as weak as we thought, but then I remember that this is just Ibanez all over again. It will probably look like a similar outlier by Spring Training (at least in terms of years, since the dollars aren’t crazy).

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  14. neuter_your_dogma says:

    Not having to pony up a 1st round pick for Polanco has to have some value to the Phillies as well.

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  15. Mo says:

    $18 million for polanco to play the hot corner??

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  16. mymrbig says:

    In other news, after RJ defends Keith Law’s NL Cy Young vote, Klaw turns around and snaps fangraphs in the but with a wet towel during today’s chat.

    “Cesare (Jet City, Washington)
    According to Fangraphs, Polanco was worth 50 million over the last three years … does anyone seriously think their valuations have any basis in reality?

    Klaw (1:33 PM)
    My favorite line on those came from a GM: ‘Their replacement level is, like, me.'”

    Of course, changing the replacement level floor for valuations wouldn’t change the relative values of the players compared to each other. So even if you were to agree with this anonymous GM, it doesn’t mean the WAR aren’t a useful analytical tool.

    I bet we could almost figure out who the anonymous GM is by considering who might actually look online and know who fangraphs is. At least narrow it down to 5-10.

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  17. Eric says:

    Really? 3/$18? Apparently defense is still undervalued.

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    • JoeR43 says:

      Score one for Philly here for getting a guy who provides a slightly above league average bat (albeit with nasty fluctuations thanks to his propensity to put the ball in play) and a very good glove for less.

      I love how Ruben Amaro Jr. says he rejects SABRmetrics, even though signings like this are exactly what Moneyball was saying; why 3 WAR for $12 mil when you can get 3 WAR for $6 mil?

      Example: Jason Bay will be worth 3.5-4 WAR in 2010, probably. He’s going to earn at least 2x this.

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  18. PhD Brian says:

    I am always surprised how much you guys think some “old” age declines a player. Rarely does age take much skill from any player until around age 34, but then it is not a huge difference until like 36 or 37. A guy will perform about the same at 33 as he does at 29. Only a tiny tad worse at 35 as 33. Sure 40 year olds are going to suck compared to age 30, but usually age affects are vastly overstated by bloggers here. Turning 34 does not mark a huge fall off in talent. Its just a very small fall each year until about age 37, then it accelerates. So luck will factor far more into Polonco’s value over this contract than age and talent decline.

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  19. Falco says:

    Considering the Phillies recent FA history and the reasonable price of the contract, I’m willing to give the team the benefit of the doubt here.

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