Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list.
Gregory Polanco, OF, Pittsburgh (Profile)
Level: MLB Age: 22 Top-15: 1st Top-100: 17th
Line: 37 PA, 5.4% BB, 13.5% K, .371/.405/.457 (.414 BABIP), 147 wRC+, 0.3 WAR
Brief Introductory Note
Very celebrated Pittsburgh outfield prospect Gregory Polanco made his major-league debut last Tuesday. So far as assessing what sort of player Polanco is, that week of data isn’t overwhelmingly helpful. Moreoever, the author isn’t the sort of person who’s qualified to make substantive comments regarding a batter’s swing mechanics or the most likely way in which said batter’s body will develop.
What I can do, however, is utilize a couple of tools available here at the site and render some relevant footage into GIF form.
What follows is a brief examination of Polanco’s first week in the majors utilizing those same skills — with a view towards reviewing, for entertainment purposes only, Polanco’s best and worst moments afield and at the plate.
All of Gregory Polanco’s Defensive Plays
By means of data supplied by Inside Edge, one is able to inspect not only all of Polanco’s defensive opportunities, but also to get a sense of the rate at which those same opportunities are generally converted by the rest of the league.
Here, for example, is a chart of all the plays Polanco has made defensively thus far:
And here’s a second chart — in this case, of all the play (singular) Polanco hasn’t made:
As is probably to be expected from a week-long sample, the majority of opportunities with which Polanco has been confronted have been of a relatively routine nature. For the most part, he’s converted those opportunities into outs. One play has been less than routine, however, and another has been less than converted.
Worst Defensive Play: June 10 vs. Chicago
Polanco made his first major-league defensive miscue in his first major-league game — on a seventh-inning fly ball care of Anthony Rizzo. Note that I’ve used the word miscue and not error. Indeed, Rizzo’s batted ball was officially scored a double. The video scouts of Inside Edge, on the other hand, suggest that such opportunities are converted into outs more than half the time.
Here’s the play in something close to full:
And a closer, slow-motion shot of the not-catch part:
The problem here was absolutely not Polanco’s ability to reach Rizzo’s fly. Without knowing precisely where Polanco started the play, it’s difficult to understand how excellent or not his route was. Excellent enough to reach the ball, is one correct version of the answer.
No, the problem was actually catching the ball — which, given the proximity of same to the outfield wall, suggests that perhaps Polanco, unfamiliar with the park’s dimensions, was somewhat distracted by the prospect of ruining his whole career the very day it started.
Best Defensive Play: June 13 at Miami
Polanco’s best defensive play thus far was one made on a batted ball that — again, according to Inside Edge scouts — that is converted only about 10-40% of the time. It was, in other words, as difficult as the Rizzo fly ball above was easy.
Here’s the play in its entirety, on a Reed Johnson fly ball to short right:
And the play again — in this case with Polanco visible for the majority of the clip:
Worst Swing: June 14 at Miami
Having now recorded 37 plate appearances, Polanco has offered at only 26.4% outside the zone, according to PITCHf/x — i.e. slight better than league average. So when one speaks of Polanco’s “worst swing,” it’s with the caveat that, given the available data, he’s probably taken fewer bad swings than a league-average hitter has over that same (brief) period.
Polanco’s worst swing came on a 1-0 pitch against Kevin Slowey. Which, a note about Kevin Slowey. Since 2007, the league-average first-pitch strike percentage is about 60%. Slowey’s own first-pitch strike percentage is about 70% — a figure which is certainly one, if not two, standard deviations above league average. The reason Slowey throws so many first-pitch strikes is probably because he lacks the sort of velocity to throw fastballs in fastball counts. Over Slowey’s career, opposing batters have recorded a .449 wOBA against Slowey on 1-0 counts or after 1-0 counts.
It’s not surprising, then, Polanco would demonstrate some sort of enthusiasm at the prospect of seeing a 1-0 fastball from Kevin Slowey — which, he did see that kind of pitch. Unfortunately, it was also about a foot above the top of the zone on the outer half of the plate:
And more to wit:
Best Swing: June 13 at Miami
With few exceptions, the best sort of swing is one that produces a home run. Gregory Polanco recorded one home run during his first week in the majors. By the transitive property, that was Gregory Polanco’s best swing.
Here’s said home run — against Miami’s Mike Dunn — in fast motion:
And a very similar thing, but much slower:
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