What’s Wrong with Placido Polanco?

Yesterday, we learned that Placido Polanco had earned his second career All-Star nomination. After a great start to the 2011 season, his place on the NL All-Star team seemed all but assured. He played stellar defense at third base, but more importantly finished the first month with a .972 OPS. The Phillies’ offense, which had struggled to score runs, was buoyed at the time by Polanco’s hot bat.

As the calendar turned to May, Polanco cooled down. It was expected, as Polanco’s true talent level with the bat does not yield a .972 OPS. His season OPS dipped below .900 on May 7, but continued plunging. By May 18, it was below .800. On July 1, it had sunk all the way to .695. A cold spell lasting more than two months is no longer a streak but a problem. Unlike last year’s hitting woes, Polanco can’t blame injuries as he has yet to land on the disabled list, though he has the typical wear and tear of the baseball season — bumps and bruises from poorly-controlled pitches and wayward foul balls.

Polanco’s issues seem more mechanical this time around. As the following charts from Texas Leaguers illustrate, Polanco started off pulling the ball to the outfield, but in May and June his batted balls rarely left the infield, and when they did, he hit the ball towards right field.

Overall, Polanco is simply hitting the ball with less authority. Using data from Joe Lefkowitz’s Pitch F/X database, Polanco’s ground ball rate has steadily risen while his line drive rate has declined.

While Polanco’s .632 BABIP on line drives is well below the National League average .712, we are dealing with a relatively small sample size (68 line drives) and his overall trend of weaker contact would help explain it. In previous seasons, Polanco’s ground ball rate ended up in the 45-50 percent range, but he typically made stronger contact than he has been more recently.

If this unfortunate trend is a result of age — slower bat speed and/or reflexes, perhaps — then there is not much that can be done. It’s baseball cancer. However, if the problem is mechanical, then the trio of Polanco, manager Charlie Manuel, and hitting coach Greg Gross should be able to find a way to fix it before their third baseman sinks to the bottom.

Marlins Series Preview with Dave Gershman

The Phillies will start the second-half of a road trip with the Florida Marlins tonight after having taken two of three from the Toronto Blue Jays. With a history of failing in inter-league play, the Phillies are 9-6 in such games this year, a victory in and of itself. The All-Star break fast approaches, but they will have to get through two division rivals first: the 38-46 Florida Marlins and the 49-36 Atlanta Braves. I swapped some questions with Dave Gershman (@Dave_Gershman) of Marlins Daily to preview the upcoming series with the Fish. His answers are below; you can read mine over at his place.

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1. 14.5 games behind the Phillies in the NL East. Give me one reason why Marlins fans should have the faintest glimmer of hope for winning the division.

Instead of giving you one reason why Marlins fans should have a glimmer of hope, can I give you 10,000 reasons they shouldn’t? I’ll stick with the former. Despite an awful showing over the past month, the potential return of ace Josh Johnson added in with the stellar mix of Nolasco and Sanchez gives the Marlins a solid 1-2-3 heading down the stretch. With that and the continued progression (over the past week) of Hanley, the Marlins do have a shot at the Wild Card. Of course, they really don’t though. And those Marlins fans who do think there is a glimmer of hope are probably the same people who think the Royals and Astros can win their respective divisions.

2. Has Hanley Ramirez been the biggest disappointment for the Fish this year?

I’d say that Hanley has easily been the biggest disapointment, but that doesn’t excuse the terrible performance of the other members of the Fish. Mike Stanton has been extremely cold over the past few weeks, and along with that, the bullpen has struggled a great deal as of recent. However, Hanley has perenially been one of the best players in baseball, and he’s currently having one of the worst seasons of almost anybody in the game. Despite some recent improvements on the field and at the plate, he certainly has been dreadful this year. Here’s to Fish fans hoping that his performance this past week is going to continue.

3. Ricky Nolasco‘s K/9 was 9.5 in 2009 and 8.4 last year. So far in 2011, it’s 6.5. Is there an explanation for this?

Interesting that you should ask that. It sure is true that he’s not getting batters to whiff as much as he previously has, and his contact percentages both in and out the zone have increased this year, but 2011 could arguably be the best year of his career. A 3.43 FIP and the lowest home run percentage of his career are both reasons for his quiet success. In addition, his walk rate is lower than it was during the season he posted his lowest FIP (3.35), so the defense isn’t bailing him out or anything. Back to his K rate, his slider and curve have both been significantly worse than in the past, so that could be a reason. Of course though, it is strange that the K’s have disapeared.

4. On a similar note, Anibal Sanchez‘s strikeout rate jumped significantly compared to the last two seasons while his control has improved. What, if any, changes did he make to warrant this improvement?

Anibal Sanchez has been one of baseball’s bigger success stories this year. To be honest, I think it all has to do with yet another year of complete health (knock in wood) under his belt. He’s throwing his fastball harder and it’s been as effective as ever. Also, he’s throwing his change up more this year, especially out of the zone and batters have been swinging. His slider also has an additional mile per hour attatched to it, which is a prime reason for his many swings and misses. He’s never been a guy to walk the heck out opposing lineups, but his control has improved as you said.

5. Mike Stanton should be in the Home Run Derby, right?

Yes. Next question.

In all seriousness, he definitely should be competiting in the home run derby. Of course, MLB probably has to have the most glamorous guys in the home run derby, and especially the guys who will generate the most money from whichever outlets or ways could be provided. But come on, he has 16 home runs on the year and almost all of those homers have been hit to the freaking other side of the hemisphere, so it certianly would be fun to watch him hit in the Derby.

6. The Marlins will get to face both Vance Worley and Kyle Kendrick, while missing Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. Do you think the Marlins win the series?

Despite the Phillies’ two worst pitchers (which doesn’t say much) taking the mound in two out of the three games, I truly believe the Phillies will take the series, if not sweep. Worley is coming off a good start and Kendrick hasn’t been bad this season. The Marlins can’t seem to hit a lick even when they’re facing terrible pitchers, though.

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Thanks to Dave for his insight on the Marlins. Make sure to stop by Marlins Daily to check out my answers to his questions, as well as information and analysis on the Fish. You can also follow Dave on Twitter (@Dave_Gershman) and read his stuff elsewhere at SB Nation.