2012 Player Reviews

Phillies Player Review: Placido Polanco

Placido Polanco

It was a chilly season at the hot corner (Phillies Nation Photo)

Placido Polanco is finished as an everyday major league player.

Whether it’s his precipitously declining offensive ability or his inability to stay healthy, Polanco simply cannot productively withstand the burden of a lengthy season. He could latch on elsewhere and play out a few one-year deals as a utility infielder and defensive replacement, but this season cemented the notion many fans had last year that he is mostly finished.

Polanco remained stellar defensively, but proved so brutal at the plate that he ranked as one of the very worst with the bat in the National League. In 90 games and 328 plate appearances, he hit a measly .257/.302/.327, with a .279 wOBA. After adjusting for park effects, he hit 30 percent worse than the league average, a mark bottomed by very few.

Among the 137 NL players that tallied 300+ PAs, here are several pertinent Polanco ranks:

  • 12th-lowest wOBA
  • 7th-lowest ISO (Slugging Percentage – Batting Average)
  • 20th-lowest Walk Rate

Polanco walked even less, swung even more, made less contact, and the contact he made was predominantly weakly-hit grounders easily fielded by the opponent. He had the 9th-highest groundball rate in the league. He hit for absolutely no power whatsoever and was such a dismal hitter that fans would have preferred to see the pre-2012 Kevin Frandsen play third base.

However, Polanco remained a very good fielder, saving four runs above average with his glove. His fielding rating ranked 7th among the 50 NL players to man third base this year. That was his only saving grace this season, as the difference between him and Frandsen and, to an even greater extent, Ty Wigginton, was quite evident. Still, this was a waste of a season for such a formerly-talented player. While it was great to see him record his 2,000th career hit, it was awfully tough to watch him struggle to connect with pitches he used to line up the middle.

Now that the season is finished, it’s tough to separate the year from the entire contract, as the Phillies won’t exercise Polanco’s option next season. The three-year, $18 million deal Polanco signed prior to the 2010 season was met with mixed feelings. On one hand, he was an elite defender that could still make solid contact. On the other hand, he was going to switch positions, was already in his 30s, and appeared to be on the downswing of his career. Further decline was expected, though perhaps not this quick nor this substantial.

To prove worthy of his contract, Polanco needed to produce approximately 4 WAR over the life of the deal. Well, he produced 4 WAR in 2010 alone, added another 3 WAR last year, and his fielding this season put him in the black for another half-win this season. All told, his 7.5 WAR in a Phillies uniform from 2010-12 was worth $32 million.

It may be tough to reconcile that Polanco was worth his entire deal in its first year alone, and provided plenty of surplus value when he was clearly a shell of himself at the plate the last two seasons, but that’s another issue entirely. That speaks to the perceived value of offensive stats vs. defense and baserunning. The areas in which Polanco excelled (defense) or performed well (baserunning) aren’t as sexy as a solid slash line. Those stats are still new and haven’t been widely accepted in the mainstream vernacular. Polanco made amazing play after amazing play, but in the mental ledgers of many, the lack of offense was far more detrimental.

The idea that a run produced at the plate = a run saved on defense = a run produced on the bases is still scrutinized by many, which makes it tough for players who produced the way Polanco did in 2010-11 to get proper respect for their overall contributions. The contract was risky given his age and the position-switch, but he surpassed his salaries on fielding alone.

Grade: C-. Polanco had a disaster of a season, but it’s tough for me to give him anything lower than this in just 90 games. He was bothered by injuries all season but still played top-notch defense, and I cannot in good faith give him the same grade as Wigginton. It was difficult to watch Polly’s drastic decline unfold, but he’ll remain one of my all-time favorite baseball players.

Read the rest of the 2012 Phillies Player Reviews here.

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