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.

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3 comments

  1. Rich

    July 04, 2011 08:04 AM

    Polly is getting up there in years and the long season may be starting to wear on him a bit, he is the only Phillies player though who was voted to the All-Star game for his position at 3rd base though, and that is a great accomplishment. We can help Shane get in here: www.mlb.com/mlb/events/all_star/y2011/fv/ballot.jsp?tcid=hpMW-asgballot-FV-2011

    The entire Phillies offense hasn’t been chugging along either this season but we’re at 53 wins which is the most in the MLB.

    That’s what I like about baseball, you just can’t figure somethings out especially by looking at stats or charts, but it’s kind of fun to try.

    Happy 4th to you Bill, and to the readers of Crashburn Alley.

  2. Dan

    July 04, 2011 02:10 PM

    It seems like pretty flawed logic to say he isn’t dealing with injuries just because he hasn’t been on the DL. Especially considering two players on our team (one of which is actually Polly himself) have recently played through somewhat significant injuries. Polly played through the elbow injury, Chase played through the hip injury, both of which required surgery after the season.

    In addition he has also now said he’s been dealing with a pinched nerve in his back. That may or may not be true, but if it is he’s been dealing with injury despite not visiting. I’m not saying that is the whole reason, or even any of it, just pointing out that it seems to be flawed logic.

  3. Jonny

    July 05, 2011 10:15 AM

    I heard his back has been hurting him. Which makes sense when it comes to swinging the bat.

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