Forgot About A.J. (Pollock)

Every year around this time, Major League Baseball starts their periodic All-Star Game voting updates. This year’s process has been flawed, to say the least. And like we always do about this time, we go through and pick the updates apart and see who still hasn’t got their due, to try to find the right recipe for the game. In doing so this year, the most glaring omission appears to be A.J. Pollock.

As of Thursday, A.J. Pollock was 11th in the majors in position player WAR. Let’s start there. If we look at the top 10, we can note that as of our last ballot update — which was Monday for the American League and Tuesday for the National League — that every one in the top 10 had at least 900,000 votes, and all but Joc Pederson had at least one million. Pollock, however, didn’t rate. He wasn’t one of the top-15 vote getters among NL outfielders, and 15th place Starling Marte had totaled 635,125 votes thus far. So Pollock is pretty far behind his fellow WAR leaders.

It’s not just those ahead of him either. Going down the list, we don’t get to someone equally shunned until we reach Brian Dozier at 18, as Russell Martin, Adrian Gonzalez, Miguel Cabrera, Joe Panik, Stephen Vogt, Brandon Crawford and Yoenis Cespedes all have seen their name virtually punched at least 850,000 times as well. Well, that may be understating it: Martin was at 855,798, while everyone else in this group clocked in with a minimum of 1.1 million.

Pollock, meanwhile, is left in the dust. Is it because D-backs fans are comatose? That seems unlikely. Paul Goldschmidt has moved to the top spot in the first-base voting, and that seems like it would be tough to pull off without the support of Arizona fans. Pollock might not be getting the support of the national audience. That’s understandable, since he doesn’t hit a lot of long balls, but it probably isn’t fair.

Pollock, as we’ve mentioned, is off to a hot start, but this also isn’t the first time he’s been good. In 2013, he put up 3.6 WAR. And this wasn’t in a full season, either. With the Diamondbacks not being able to decide which of their outfielders they wanted to keep long-term, Pollock had to share time with Gerardo Parra and Adam Eaton in center, and with Jason Kubel, Cody Ross and Martin Prado taking up space in the corners, he didn’t have a ton of opportunity there either. Fortunately, the Arizona front office made a couple of decisions the following offseason, and suddenly he had the center-field job all to himself. That is, until Johnny Cueto broke his right hand on a hit by pitch. That cut down most of his 2014 season, though he came back for September, and acquitted himself well. It was another three-win season, but it would have been more had he stayed healthy.

So, this year seems like he’s breaking out, but if we filter his production through the “last calendar years” function in our leaderboards, we see a bit of a different story:

AJ Pollock WAR Breakouts, 2013-15
Timeframe WAR MLB Rank NL Rank
2015 2.6 11 8
2014 3.3 73 36
2013 3.6 59 31
Last 1 Cal Yr 3.3 62 29
Last 2 Cal Yrs 8.1 32 14
Last 3 Cal Yrs 9.7 54 25

The number that sticks out, to me, is the past two calendar years. Here we are able to cover the production around his injury and see Pollock really has been one of the very best players in the NL for more than just the past two months. In the past one calendar year filter, he obviously drops off a little because he he was down for three of those months, but even still, he grades out as a top-30 NL position player. Not bad.

There’s also the way that Pollock produces. Namely, he doesn’t do anything poorly. He doesn’t walk a ton, but he doesn’t strike out a ton either, and his BB/K is always either right at league average or a little above. He doesn’t hit a ton of homers, but his ISO is still plenty above league average — particularly this season and last. And while previously he had been only able to hit for power at home, he is doing his best to change that perception — his road ISO this season is a robust .210. More to the point, we’ve seen with players like Matt Holliday in the past who have had big home/road splits in an extreme environment but then keep bopping when they leave it for good. Pollock would likely be fine elsewhere.

Pollock isn’t pull-happy, and while he hits plenty of ground balls, he has good reason — since the start of last season, his infield-hit percentage ranks 11th in the game. He probably owes a lot of that to his speed, which is yet another asset both on the bases and in the field. Since the start of 2013, his range ranks ninth among outfielders, his UZR 11th and his DRS ninth.

Back to his batting, we can see that he has done a good job of staying within himself this season. Last season, 51% of the pitches he saw were inside the strike zone, and that has dropped to 47% this year. Pitchers seem to coming around to his talent. And yet, Pollock is expanding the zone less than he did in 2014 — his O-Swing% has dropped two percentage points, from 30.2% to 28.2%. His overall swing rate remains unchanged, he’s just picking his pitches better. That may not show up in his walk rate, but it’s still important.

The National League has a lot of talented outfielders, and right now Pollock isn’t among their most popular. That’s OK. The Diamondbacks are still a long way from contention, and even with Paul Goldschmidt and Pollock, they certainly don’t have a high-powered attack, so if it’s deemed that Goldschmidt is their only All-Star, well there are worse fates. A.J. Pollock missed half of last season, and as such a lot of casual fans probably don’t know about him yet. But Pollock certainly deserves strong consideration. He has been among the game’s elite for more than just this season, and he plays a really fun brand of baseball — he doesn’t do anything poorly, and he does several things well. Those types of players are fun to watch. Hopefully this will be the last time the voters can say that they forgot about A.J.

We hoped you liked reading Forgot About A.J. (Pollock) by Paul Swydan!

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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com. He has written for The Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.

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dewon brazeltron
Guest

Prejudice against Polish Americans must end. Great Pollacks like Kazimir Pulaski shaped early America and they deserve respect

plus kielbasa is delicious.

Beavers
Guest
Beavers

Deserve respect by calling them Polacks?

Only Glove, No Love
Guest
Only Glove, No Love

Tadeusz Ko?ciuszko is offended he spelled Polack wrong.