Oct. 18, 2016
Gregory Polanco Had a Great 2016 Season, but 2017 Could Be Even Better
Gregory Polanco made huge strides in 2016, but this Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder could be in store for an even bigger 2017 season. At only 25 years old, Polanco made significant improvements to his swing and approach at the plate in 2016. He finished the season with a .258/.323/.463 slash line, 34 doubles, four triples, 22 home runs, 86 RBIs, 79 runs, and 17 stolen bases. Out of all Major League hitters this year, only 14 had more than 20 home runs and 15 stolen bases. Out of those 15, only five are 25 years old or younger (Gregory Polanco, Bryce Harper, Mookie Betts, Mike Trout, Wil Myers). As you can see, Polanco is in a very elite group of young talent, but after looking more into his numbers, his game could explode in the upcoming seasons.
After watching Polanco a few times this year, it was very clear his approach at the plate changed. His ability to work the count and show discipline at pitches in and out of the zone was much improved this season. With that said, pitchers began to throw him less strikes. He saw 41.5% of pitches in 2015 in the strike zone, compared to only 38.8% in 2016. The league average was right around 45% over the last two seasons, so obviously pitchers are starting to respect the bat of Polanco. In his first two years in the big leagues, Polanco struggled to take advantage of those pitches in the zone considering he only swung at them 62% of the time (league average was 66.3%). In 2016, much of Polanco's success stemmed from the fact he was starting to take advantage of those pitches in the zone. He swung at 70.1% of pitches in the strike zone, which is over 3% more than the league average, and about 7% more than his previous season.
As Polanco started to react to more pitches in the zone, he also began to focus more on his power potential. While I don't have the data to statistically confirm this, after scouting him a few times, it looked as if Polanco would cast his hands like normal, but he was much quicker to the ball than I saw in recent years. This quickness helped him get out in front of pitches and use his slight uppercut of a swing to provide loft and power. In fact, this led to less ground balls and more fly balls, which is ideal for a Polanco as his speed wasn't quite as effective this season. From a statistical standpoint, he hit 37.1% fly balls, 38.8% ground balls, and 24% line drives in 2016. This is a huge improvement compared to his 2015 season, which he had 34.9% fly balls, 45.4% ground balls, and 19.7% line drives. His new found power led to an 82 point increase of his slugging percentage and 80 points in ISO power. He went from below the league average in both slugging percentage and ISO in 2015, to almost 50 points over the league average in 2016.
As you can tell, Polanco is making the necessary adjustments at the plate to be a very good Major League Baseball player, but will this continue? At only 25 years old, this right fielder has plenty of room for improvement. He made the adjustment this season to start swinging at more pitches in the zone, but now it is time to adjust that and lay off more pitches out of the zone. His strikeout rate is still a little high, but he remains under the league average. His walk rate improved in 2016, so if he starts to focus more on different aspects of plate discipline, then he could truly take his game to the next level. He had a fairly low BABIP this season at only .291. Considering the league average is .300 and he still has above average speed on the bases, I would expect to see his BABIP increase in 2017, which could positively affect other parts of his game.
I truly believe Polanco has the ability to be a .270/.335/.475 hitter in the very near future. While this is a personal projection, I also think the numbers speak even louder than my projection. If he continues to make the correct adjustments, I don't think it's too crazy to say that Polanco could hit over 30 home runs with over 20 stolen bases in a single season. He certainly has all the tools to be a top-30 overall fantasy baseball player, but it could be a season or two before he hits that peak. Keep an eye out for this right fielder in 2017 because I expect a very big step forward.
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