Wednesday, May 29, 2024
AnalysisMLBNational LeagueNL CentralPittsburgh Pirates

What to Make of Gregory Polanco Heading into 2021

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Ever since breaking into the big leagues, Gregory Polanco has become an annual sleeper candidate. Polanco made his name known during his 2014 rookie season when he began his career with a team-record-setting 11-game hit streak. At the time, it seemed as if the Pirates had a star for the future, but Polanco never lived up to those expectations.

Since then, Polanco has dealt with a variety of cold stretches and injuries that have kept him from reaching his full potential. Polanco broke out during the 2018 season when he recorded a very good .353 wOBA, but he has struggled to maintain consistency over consecutive seasons. Despite his rather underwhelming performances, each year Polanco has shown something to be promising about, which has earned him sleeper picks from a variety of fantasy baseball players each year.

The Positives

During the shortened 2020 season, Polanco showed promising power. In 174 plate appearances, Polanco hit seven home runs and stole three bases. In a normal healthy season where Polanco would have around 600 plate appearances, he would’ve been on pace to hit 24 home runs and steal 10 bags. That’s not bad for someone who missed much of the preseason recovering from a COVID-19 infection.

Baseball Savant

If I didn’t make it clear enough before, Polanco hit the ball with authority in 2020. His average exit velocity of 92.9 mph and Hard-Hit% of 51.6% put him within the top 10% of the MLB in both categories. His average launch angle of 20.8 degrees is more in line with his launch angle in 2018, showing that his swing is not far gone. On top of this, Polanco’s Barrel% of 12.6% was far and away from the best of his career, meaning he has a lot more power upside than most seem to give him credit for. Predictive stats like Polanco a lot more than his expected stats as had a near league average pwOBA of .312 in 2020, outpacing his wOBA of .228, and xwOBA of .284.

Polanco also has good stolen base upside. As mentioned earlier, Polanco was on pace to steal 10 bases over a full season, but I think he certainly has the ability to top that. Polanco had an abysmal .214 OBP in 2020, but that could be attributed to not seeing many pitches in summer camp. Over the course of the season, Polanco continued to improve his performance and, while he still didn’t put up a good OBP, this shows that he was readjusting to his routine. With a full spring training, Polanco should have a lot better results. If he can improve his on-base rate, Polanco will get more stolen base opportunities, and a 20-stolen base season isn’t too far-fetched.

Polanco crushes a home run into the Allegheny River. (Baseball Savant)

The Negatives

Polanco’s major downside is his strikeout rate. By looking at his statcast profile, you’ll notice that Polanco suffered from what I call “Miguel Sano syndrome” (someone who hits the ball hard but strikes out extremely often). While Polanco has maintained a high strikeout rate throughout his career, his 37.4% K% in 2020 was alarming. Polanco also struggled to make contact, as his Zone Contact% and Chase Contact% were also down from his career average. Again, this could easily be attributed to his COVID-19 diagnosis and small sample size with limited ramp-up, but it still hinders expectations for him moving forward. His overall plate discipline profile was out of sync, and I’d expect it to regress more to his career averages in 2021.

Baseball Savant

Another area that Polanco struggled within 2020 was his walk rate. His BB% of 7.5% was well below league average, and he’d need to improve on this if a bounce-back season is in the works. Polanco’s pBB% of 8.9% is more in line with his career BB% and is around the league average in the stat, showing that he got a little unlucky during the 2020 season. I’d expect Polanco to have an 8-9% BB% in 2021.

Fantasy Outlook

Overall Gregory Polanco has the tools to be a valuable fantasy contributor. He has enough power to knock the cover off the ball, but he just needs to make contact. If he can cut down on strikeouts and walk more often, we could be looking at 20 stolen bases over a 162 game season. Polanco will compete for the starting spot in right field with Anthony Alford and newly signed Brian Goodwin, but I’d expect him to get the starting job. His injury history is concerning, but I think Polanco is worth taking as a risk-free late-round pick in fantasy drafts, although I wouldn’t be patient with him. With an ADP of 434, he’ll likely go undrafted in most formats, so he can just be a guy to keep an eye on and add if he gets hot.

Owen Daley

Rookie writer for Max's Sporting Studio. Pirates fan, but nowadays I enjoy watching other teams