Along Goes Polly

Placido Polanco finished the 2011 season with a .277/.335/.339 line, easily the worst of his 14-year career. Stats which adjust for league and position make that line look a bit better, but it is hard to ignore the trend that Polanco has been in steep offensive decline since 2007. Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections don’t expect Polanco to improve much at all in the coming year (.307 wOBA; .304 in 2011), so that begs the question: should the Phillies have done more to improve at third base over the off-season?

Going by FanGraphs WAR, Polanco was the fifth-most valuable third baseman in the National League at 2.8 fWAR, a fact that will likely surprise a lot of Phillies fans. Third base has become a position of scarcity. 2011 was the first season since 2003 in which the average OPS for National League third basemen was below the overall league average.

Season NL OPS 3B OPS “OPS+”
2000 .782 .771 99
2001 .759 .760 100
2002 .748 .737 99
2003 .755 .729 97
2004 .763 .773 101
2005 .749 .751 100
2006 .768 .792 103
2007 .758 .766 101
2008 .749 .761 102
2009 .751 .756 101
2010 .728 .733 101
2011 .720 .705 98

“OPS+” simply divides 3B OPS by NL OPS and multiplies the quotient by 100.

It’s not as if third basemen with a better bat than Polanco’s were both plentiful and available at an affordable price. The Phillies were rumored to be interested in former Chicago Cub Aramis Ramirez, but that was before they re-signed Jimmy Rollins. Aside from Ramirez (who signed a three-year, $36 million contract), there were seven other third base-capable players that signed guaranteed Major League deals: Willie Bloomquist, Greg Dobbs, Jerry Hairston, John McDonald, Nick Punto, Edwin Encarnacion, and Adam Kennedy. Obviously, none of the seven compare favorably to Polanco.

Upgrading third base was never a realistic option for the Phillies, at least not without taking a hit somewhere else (in the Ramirez example, the Phillies would have been worse at shortstop). They will have to live with Polanco in the last year of his three-year, $18 million contract, and that’s just fine. Even if you apply a high dose of skepticism towards UZR (and his 2011 NL Gold Glove award), Polanco is considered to be one of the best defenders at the hot corner. The following table lists defensive data (FanGraphs) for third basemen with at least 750 defensive innings in 2011. A shade of red indicates Polanco led; a shade of green indicates he ranked second.

Name Team Inn DRS RZR OOZ DPR RngR ErrR UZR UZR/150
Placido Polanco PHI 1044.2 16 0.775 38 -2.3 10.4 5.9 14 16.7
Pablo Sandoval SFG 904.2 22 0.78 42 -0.6 10.8 2.2 12.3 17.9
Casey McGehee MIL 1233.1 -2 0.71 36 0.3 9.4 -3.2 6.5 7.3
Ryan Roberts ARI 902.1 -4 0.713 23 0.3 -0.3 1.7 1.7 2.6
Chase Headley SDP 895.1 0 0.685 31 0 -2.8 -0.2 -2.9 -5
Ryan Zimmerman WSN 866.2 0 0.677 23 -0.3 -3.4 0.7 -3.1 -4.4
Greg Dobbs FLA 755.0 -5 0.691 17 0 -2.6 -2.2 -4.8 -10
Chipper Jones ATL 1006.1 -5 0.668 35 0.4 -12.2 3.8 -8 -12.4
Aramis Ramirez CHC 1241.1 -12 0.653 22 -0.2 -10.7 1.5 -9.4 -10.9
David Wright NYM 893.2 -7 0.673 40 -0.7 -4.8 -5 -10.5 -16.4
Chris Johnson HOU 841.1 -16 0.668 14 -0.1 -14.2 -0.2 -14.5 -22.2

Glossary – DRS: Defensive Runs Saved; RZR: Revised Zone Rating; OOZ: Out of Zone plays; DPR: Douple Play Runs; RngR: Range Runs; ErrR: Error Runs; UZR: Ultimate Zone Rating; UZR/150: UZR per 150 defensive games.

As long as Polanco can hit close to the league average for third basemen and continues to play great defense, he will be more than worth the $6.25 million the Phillies will pay him in 2012. The only frightening variable is Polanco’s health — the 36-year-old missed 31 games last year with a back injury and a sports hernia. If Polanco does succumb to injury, Ty Wigginton can easily fill in at the hot corner.

The Phillies’ off-season has been open to quite a lot of criticism, but looking back, you have to give them credit for addressing the third base situation properly: by doing next-to-nothing.

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38 comments

  1. Hunterfan

    January 20, 2012 04:01 PM

    Would it make me a pessimist to think the only reason Amaro came up empty on this was because he couldn’t find a trade partner and not because he realized it was the best course of action?

  2. LTG

    January 20, 2012 04:21 PM

    It seems to me that RAJ could have gotten Ramirez and Rollins if he were willing to be more patient or creative with the closer role. But I’m not sure that Polanco a) could have been traded, b) would have been happy as the best bench player in MLB.

    And Hunterfan, please don’t say “David Wright.”

  3. astrojet

    January 20, 2012 06:55 PM

    Healthy Polanco better than any other option. Did anyone else see Amaro interview on the baseball network this morning? I believe he pencilled jroll into the six hole in the batting order. He seems to want more quality at bats from the leadoff spot. He seemed to say with certainty that Jimmy was hitting sixth, with Victorino leading off. Wonder what good time Cholly thinks about that or if Ruben just talking off the cuff.

  4. Chewy59

    January 20, 2012 07:15 PM

    Did not see that interview but I am intrigued. I hope this scenario would have the top of the order go Vic, Utley, Pence, and then Howard when he returns. Cause if its dropping Rollins to 6 in order to keep Polanco in the 2-hole then I am opposed.

    I would rather see Rollins at the top of the order than Polly.

  5. EricL

    January 20, 2012 07:33 PM

    What’s really scary, at least to a vocal majority of the fan base, is that there’s a really good chance that Polanco’s $5.5M option for the 2013 season will be the best choice at that point as well (provided he doesn’t have some sort of devastatingly awful, injury-marred season).

    The free agent crop for 2013 will include Wright and Youklis, but other than that it’s a parade of old men, has-beens and never-weres. And I don’t see Youklis or Wright available for anything near the neighborhood of $5,5oo,ooo.

  6. Howard Wachtel

    January 20, 2012 08:04 PM

    Maybe Polanco will surprise us in 2012. In any case, no other team wanted to take a chance on him, so there’s not much Amaro could have done. Aramis Ramirez would have been a very expensive option–I’d rather see the money go toward a long-term extension for Hamels or Victorino.

  7. Ken

    January 21, 2012 07:08 AM

    What’s wrong with David Wright? I’d take him in a heartbeat Righthande power hitter coming to a winning organization will make him even better. Strikeout here and there so what I’ve seen Howard do it a couple of times

  8. derekcarstairs

    January 21, 2012 10:50 AM

    It’s probably too late now, but I’ve been maintaining that the Phils need to do a good patch job on the IF by trading for a super-utility IF like Maicer Izturis (or Alberto Callaspo). The Phils need someone to fill in at SS, 2B and 3B. Polanco is not the only problem.

    I don’t see Wigginton as a satisfactory back-up for Polanco. He’s not a third baseman; he just owns a third baseman’s glove.

  9. Phillie697

    January 21, 2012 01:11 PM

    ZOBRIST OR BUST!!!

  10. Jesse

    January 21, 2012 01:46 PM

    I would love to see Jimmy at 6.
    Vic, Utley, Pence, Howard, Mayberry, Rollins, Ruiz, Polanco.
    Or, 5th for the first month or two: Vic, Utley, Pence, Mayberry, Rollins, Wigginton/Thome/Nix, Ruiz, Polanco.

  11. LTG

    January 21, 2012 02:12 PM

    Wright’s defense has become a problem. A whole win lost per year according to FG for the last three years running. His power is showing signs of waning. ISO below .200 2 of last 3 years. Without the power he is a 2 win player max, which is not enough to justify the ~15M he gets currently. And Polly last year was an almost 3 win player. If the power returns, then he is probably a better option than Polly by about a win. But a 30 year old 3B who is showing signs of wear and tear is not the bet I would want to make at that price.

  12. Richard

    January 21, 2012 04:39 PM

    Frankly, I prefer Rollins leading off. I realize this is anathema to many, but I think the best lineup, assuming everyone’s available, is:

    Rollins
    Utley
    Pence
    Howard
    Victorino
    Mayberry/Brown
    Ruiz
    Polanco
    pitcher

    …possibly flipping Ruiz and Polanco, depending on how the latter is hitting; that is, a lot like the lineup that closed the season and played the NLDS

    I like Victorino’s speed in the middle of the lineup, and he seems to hit better batting there, too. I don’t know if he changes his approach batting leadoff.

    As for Polanco, yeah, the Phillies made the right move in not making one at all. The problem with Wright is his defense sucks, he’s in decline, and he costs way too much for that kind of package, and considering the Phillies existing payroll.

  13. hk

    January 21, 2012 05:29 PM

    If I was Tampa’s GM, I would not trade Zobrist for Dom Brown. Zobrist is awesome and he’s signed for a total of only $17M for the next three seasons.

  14. Jesse

    January 21, 2012 06:22 PM

    I don’t like Victorino hitting after Howard simply because a significant about of Shane’s SLG% was in him using his speed to turn 1Bs into 2Bs… I mean, yeah, he does have power, of course, but not as much as his SLG or ISO suggests. Remember that stretch last year when Howard just became Tony Gwynn mysteriously? I don’t wanna see him clogging up 1B and stopping Victorino from getting to 2B because he had to stop there. I have no qualms with other speedy guys like JMJ or Rollins behind Howard because they do have more legit power and also rely on their speed less to get on base or get to 2nd…

  15. LTG

    January 21, 2012 06:59 PM

    While I agree that Victorino should hit higher in the lineup than Rollins because he has better OBP skills now, I am skeptical of this “a significant about of Shane’s SLG% was in him using his speed to turn 1Bs into 2Bs…” Can anyone defend this claim? From what I have seen and the stats (Victorino has converted a higher rate of FBs into HRs than Rollins the last 2 years), Victorino’s power is as legit as Rollins’s. Perhaps Rollins 4 years ago was a better power hitter than Victorino is now, but that’s neither here nor there when deliberating on this year’s lineup.

  16. Fatalotti

    January 22, 2012 09:23 AM

    Why do people think the Phillies would have been better off with Aramis Ramirez at 3B?

    Last year, Ramirez had 3.6 fWAR to Polly’s 2.8 fWAR. I’ll give you that. But when we look at the last 3 years for the two players, a different story is told.

    Over the last 3 years, Ramirez compiled 6.2 fWAR, while Polly compiled 10 fWAR. Now, fWAR is a counting stat, so lets look at it on a per 162 game basis. On a per 162 game basis, Polly wracked up 3.98 fWAR, whereas Aramis Ramirez only wracked up only 2.83 fWAR.

    Now, some may say that Polly played 2B in 2009 with the Tigers, so that may skew the numbers, since he won 2 GG at 2B. Except, that his UZR was worse in 2009 than it’s been in 2010 and 2011, and I don’t know if the positional adjustment between 2B and 3B is so great as to discount the fact that Polly has just been a much more valuable player than Ramirez over the last 3 years, and we should expect that continue going forward, especially if we expect Polly to return to some semblance of offensive respectability (95-100 wRC+).

    Also, Bill mentioned Polly’s health, which is a legitimate concern. But Polly has played 407 games in the last 3 years. Ramirez, on the other hand, has only played 355. Ramirez did play 149 games last year, but he hasn’t exactly been the model of health over the past 3 years.

    Lastly, when their respective salaries are considered, it’s not even a competition. Polly actually gives you more on-the-field value for FAR LESS money than Ramirez. And if you are inclined to believe that Ramirez may have more on-the-field value next year, I can’t see how you could think it’d be that much more value. And, considering their disparate salaries, would that nominal increase in on-the-field value be worth the high increase in money?

    Since I don’t think Ramirez would provide more on-the-field value, I’ll say unequivocally no, but even if I were to concede that Ramirez would provide more on-the-field value (for the sake of argument), given their salaries, I’d still unequivocally say no.

  17. GB

    January 22, 2012 09:27 AM

    Sure, we can “live” with Polanco in 2012 just like we have with Feliz, Bell, Nunez and all the rest since the Phils sent Rolen packing.

    The problem is the Phils have utterly and completely failed to produce a even passable 3B prospect from the draft/farm since Rolen and thus have had to rely on spending $$ on retread vets or stop-gap solutions with Polanco just being the latest one.

    Yes, Polanco has skills defensively and that is important with our pitching-dependent approach, but OFFENSE is also needed from 3B and the “contact” – slap hitting Polanco is pretty hard to stomach.

    Hopefully, at some point, the Phils will get their act together on the farm for these IF positions…we had a similar issue at SS and had no real negotiating room with Rollins because he knew no one was ready from the farm and the market was empty other than Reyes.

    So, sure we can “live” with Polanco; the truth is the Phils have no choice but to do so and its their own fault…

  18. hk

    January 22, 2012 09:56 AM

    Considering the options and the assumed desire to remain under the luxury tax threshold, I think the right move was to plan on giving Polly 1/2 or more of the starts at 3B in 2012. My only minor complaint is that I would have preferred to see them bring in a cheap 3B who hits better vs. RHP’s than Ty Wigginton (career .324 wOBA vs. RHP’s) as a complement to Polly (career .328 wOBA vs. RHP’s).

  19. hk

    January 22, 2012 11:34 AM

    BB,

    Do the ZIPS projections have a better track record than other projection systems? Does a 2012 ZIPS projection exist for Ty Wigginton? Szymborski did the Phillies ZIPS projection prior to the Wigginton deal and the Rockies projection after it.

  20. Bill Baer

    January 22, 2012 12:25 PM

    I’m not sure on the historical record of ZiPS, but I’ve “known” (in the sense that one Internet person can know another) Szymborski for a few years and will easily vouch for his work. I’ll actually have a short post up tomorrow using them.

    I asked him about the Wigginton projection last night, you can find it here:

    twitter.com/#!/DSzymborski/statuses/160902103966027778

    249/312/399, OPS+ 89, 14 HR, 52 RBI in 434 AB

  21. LTG

    January 22, 2012 01:03 PM

    While Ramirez might not be a huge improvement, the WAR stats don’t tell the whole story. Ramirez’s shoulder injury pushed his numbers down in 2009 and 2010 was an aberration due to luck (.245 BABIP vs. career ~.295). We probably could depend on a 1 WAR improvement while paying precisely what the WAR is worth ($5M). Not great but something.

  22. hk

    January 22, 2012 02:38 PM

    LTG,

    It’s not as easy as just saying for an extra $5M, they would get +1 WAR unless they traded Polanco in a salary dump (a la the Sox giving away Marco Scutaro yesterday). Otherwise, they would be paying an extra $11M (Ramirez’s salary less Valdez’s) as Ramirez would most likely be replacing Valdez on the roster. Would Polly be worth ~1.2 more WAR than Valdez in the reduced role that Valdez currently plays? We also can’t ignore the fact that Ramirez signed for 2013 and 2014 whereas Polly is only guaranteed to be here in 2012 (with 2013 as a reasonably cheap mutual option).

  23. LTG

    January 22, 2012 03:10 PM

    Right. This is why I pondered way back at the top that RAJ had reasons like these in mind when he didn’t fight for Ramirez too hard.

  24. MG

    January 22, 2012 05:06 PM

    I agree with everything about this post except this line “If Polanco does succumb to injury, Ty Wigginton can easily fill in at the hot corner.”

    Wiggington is a butcher defensively at 3B and Cholly has shown a strong preference since ’07 to give up a little offense at 3B in order to have an above average defender there. If Polanco goes down for a stretch, it will be a some combo of Wigginton/Valdez/Orr & Mini-Mart.

    One thing I did wish that Amaro did was find a competent glove at 2B/3B who wasn’t a complete zero offensively. It was only going to come via a trade though given the FA this offseason.

  25. LTG

    January 22, 2012 05:47 PM

    “One thing I did wish that Amaro did was find a competent glove at 2B/3B who wasn’t a complete zero offensively. It was only going to come via a trade though given the FA this offseason.” This probably describes a starter given the talent pool. Hard to get one of those for your bench.

  26. Bill Baer

    January 22, 2012 08:15 PM

    @ MG

    That wasn’t so much a description of Wigginton’s skill but of his acumen. He has experience playing third base; it’s not like throwing Brian Schneider out there.

  27. Phillie697

    January 22, 2012 09:30 PM

    @hk – why do you gotta hate and bust my Zobrist dreams??? I mean, if Dom Brown isn’t enough, we can throw in Trevor May, right??? After all, RAJ is pretty much allergic to prospects. I have not met one he either doesn’t want to trade or doesn’t want to let rot in the minors.

  28. LTG

    January 22, 2012 09:39 PM

    It’s not an allergy. He just prefers the wine connoisseur’s approach to prospects. Don’t pop the cork until the player is at his peak.

  29. Phillie697

    January 22, 2012 10:22 PM

    Except he doesn’t age them himself. He prefers to sell them un-aged at a fraction of the price in order to pay for other people’s aged wine at full cost.

  30. LTG

    January 22, 2012 11:20 PM

    He popped the cork on JMJ and Bastardo, for example.

  31. Phillie697

    January 23, 2012 01:46 AM

    Before this year, nobody even knew JMJ and Bastardo were “prospects.” They were viewed as nothing more than spare parts. Neither of them were on anybody’s list of Phillies prospects. Every once in a while, the “junk” he can’t trade away sometimes turns into something useful.

    Vance Worley had some love, but then again, I don’t think RAJ WANTED to pop that cork… I think Vance basically made it impossible for RAJ not to play him.

  32. hk

    January 23, 2012 07:06 AM

    697,

    I think it’s best that RAJ not get involved in trade talks with Andrew Friedman. I fear it wouldn’t end up well. That being said, Zobrist is a realistic trade target for the Phils, but not until 2014 at which time he’ll be ripe for RAJ at age 32 and on the verge of becoming too expensive for the Rays (one final season at $7M with no chance of them extending him) unless they have a new stadium.

  33. Phillie697

    January 23, 2012 11:08 AM

    I’m deathly afraid that by 2014, the Phillies won’t be thinking about trading for Zobrist because we will suck.

    But I agree with you on Zobrist. He’s too young to be on RAJ’s radar right now.

  34. KH

    January 23, 2012 01:15 PM

    I’ll take David Wright ever day but Sunday. I bet if that guy was traded away from the Mets to a team like the Phillies he would rebound. It can’t be fun to be a NY Met these days and that stadium is horrible to hit in. I don’t buy he is washed up at 28 or 29 or whatever he is. People like to talk about being professional and things like that but the state of the Mets has to be depressing to a guy like Wright.

  35. KH

    January 23, 2012 01:16 PM

    Lol, I meant to say every day and Sunday.

  36. Phillie697

    January 23, 2012 02:24 PM

    @KH,

    I’m sure a lot of people feel the same way you do (myself included), but I’m not sure I want to pay 15M/year to find out if I’m right or wrong, and that’s what people are trying to say here. If he comes for free, heck yeah I’ll take him. But he doesn’t.

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