Gregory Polanco Stepping Up as the Final Piece of the Dream Outfield

MIAMI — At the start of the 2015 season, there was a debate as to who had the best young outfield in baseball. The debate mostly revolved around two teams — the Pirates and the Marlins — with the Marlins getting a slight edge in most opinions due to the 2014 success from Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna. When paired with Giancarlo Stanton, those two help give the Marlins a very promising outfield, and you could see why they were considered number one heading into the year.

The Pirates had a good young outfield as well. Andrew McCutchen is an MVP, and has been one of the best players in baseball for a few years. Starling Marte has quietly been one of the best in the game the last two years, ranking 23rd in WAR out of 119 qualified position players. The big thing that held the Pirates behind the Marlins coming into the year was the lack of production from Gregory Polanco, who had yet to make the successful jump to the majors.

Polanco struggled a bit last year, to the point where he was sent down and eventually lost starting time to Travis Snider. The Pirates went with him as their starter this year, but he continued to struggle for the first half of the season. That has changed recently, with Polanco being one of the best position players in baseball in the second half. This month he ranks 15th in the majors in position player WAR (1.2), 28th in wOBA (.404) and 29th in wRC+ (163).

If you want to know what changed for Polanco, you need to read Pete Ellis’ article from a few weeks ago, noting the work he did with Jeff Branson to stay on his backside longer, giving him a bit more time to hit the ball hard to all fields. That was on display tonight, as Polanco hit two doubles — one to left field and one to right field. He was hitting the ball hard tonight, with a few exit velocity readings over 100 MPH. Clint Hurdle noted that this has been going on since the series against New York last weekend.

“I would take us right back there, because he had a really good series over the weekend, moving the ball all around the park,” Hurdle said. “Right-handed, left-handed pitching. Hitting with a lot of confidence. Playing with a lot of confidence.”

It might be too soon to say that Polanco has finally figured it out, and that this is the way he will perform going forward. That said, this is what he was expected to do, so it’s not far-fetched to think he can continue this production going forward. Keith Law had an article today naming Polanco as one of nine players having a sustainable breakthrough season.

With Polanco’s production, the Pirates finally have that Dream Outfield© working for them. Andrew McCutchen isn’t having his best season, but will easily top a 5.0 WAR for the fifth year in a row. Since 2011, only Mike Trout (36.4 WAR) has been more valuable than McCutchen (32.4). The next closest is Miguel Cabrera (29.8).

Then there’s Starling Marte, who once again is quietly having a good season. He’s not having as good of a year as 2013 or 2014, but he’s already a 3.0 WAR player, and still finds himself as one of the top players in the game since the start of the 2013 season.

Polanco is what sets the group off, and that was apparent last night in the third inning. With two outs, Polanco came up and ripped a single past the second baseman. He moved to third base on a line drive single by Marte to right field. Both runners scored when McCutchen hit his 30th double of the year. With two outs and no one on base, the run expectancy this year is 0.0957. Polanco, Marte, and McCutchen were able to combine for two runs, using speed by Polanco and Marte, and great hitting by all three.

When you’ve got that type of production at the top of your lineup, you’re going to have a good offense. The fact that the Pirates can back this up with strong offensive production from shortstop (Jung-ho Kang) and catcher (Francisco Cervelli) makes things that much better. It’s no wonder why the Pirates offense has the best wOBA and the best wRC+ in the NL in the second half.

The best part about this is that the Pirates still have at least three more years of this Dream Outfield© beyond the 2016 season. Polanco is just heating up, we might not have seen the best from Marte, and McCutchen remains one of the best in the game. The Pirates are currently on pace for 99 wins, which is an unreal pace. But if they ever get McCutchen, Marte, and Polanco at their best at the same time, they might end up with a team good enough that even the 2015 St. Louis Cardinals wouldn’t be able to keep up.

  • Sorry, I think this guy’s Defense is wanting. He seldom seems in position to make a throw when he gets to a single or a flyball.

    He throws 3/4 (I know he’s thrown guys out), but there seem to be a lot of extra bases taken on hits to right and right center with the runners racing past him between bases.

    I hope someone is hitting a hundred practice balls a week off the Clemente Wall at PNC, to GP, so he does a better job of “judging” and he should use his glove on those bounces, not his bare hand. It may be a bit slower but it should be more secure.

    Just to repeat, I like him very much but some parts of his game need refining.

  • I just checked fangraphs WAR for OF for all of MLB and all 3 are in the top 30. You what other team has 3 OF in the top 30 in the majors… None.

  • Between Pirates OF & SP, they should be in the mix for a championship for many years to come.

    It seems all 3 are hitting their stride just as the most important part of the year is set to begin. These 3 hitting Cubs/Cards SP is key to turning the tables in Pirates favor this season.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    August 25, 2015 2:44 pm

    Polanco’s maturation and improvement of late has coincided with the Pirates just taking off in regards to winning on an even more consistent basis. He’s been getting on base, driving in some runs, providing extra base power and speed, etc.

    • He’s far and away a better leadoff hitter than Harrison at this point going forward. Not swinging at every ball out of the pitcher’s hand helps.

      • I would have disagreed with this a few months ago (and NMR knows i did disagree with him) but Polanco is a better leadoff hitter, especially now that he isn’t automatically taking until he’s in a hole every at bat. His aggressiveness rather than his patience is what is really helping him take off. You could put Polanco almost anywhere in order right now and he’d fit, besides maybe 4 or 5

  • That ball Polanco hit in the 1st inning last night had to be one of the hardest hit balls I’ve seen all season. Ray Searage gets a lot of praise, as he should, for his work so maybe we should give more Jeff Branson some kudos for his. Pedro’s struggles probably rubs off on Branson to some fans, however Alvarez could still hit 25 HR’s, bat over .260 and he has cut down on his K’s.

    • Alvarez’s struggles? Honestly this is the best all around hitter that Pedro has ever been, in 2015. Yeah OPS is lower, but Pedro is a better hitter. He hasn’t been an automatic out against any pitcher in the last 3 months. I don’t think there was another time you could have ever said that in his career

  • Tremendous decision to stick with him when guys like me wanted to send him west on 70. While I feel he’s never going to be above average defensively, he should do the job. As he continues to fill out, the power should come. Such a pretty swing when he’s making contact.

    • I think he could be. He seems to be taking better routes and getting the hang of the RF wall. And he’s got a rocket for an arm.

      • Maybe. The way the bat has come around can’t count anything out. Just strikes me as clumsy sometimes. Its possible too, he has to “learn the Clemente Wall”. If that makes sense.

        • I hear you about the clumsy. There are some memories burned into my mind from earlier in the year. The Cubs game for example when it looked like someone shot him and he collapsed as the ball fell in front of him for the game winner. And there’s been some balls that keep bouncing around in the corner. But as a whole he’s gotten better I think with the wall.

          • You guys need work on your defensive scouting. Polanco was born to play CF, and has had some real issues learning RF the last year, especially the Clemente wall, which he has yet to figure out.

            That said, his range factor and arm are way above average, even with his issues judging balls occasionally.

            The kid is a Center Fielder plain & simple. Even with his struggles, GP has a +6 UZR/150 & a +3 DRS, and will continue developing into a top 5 defensive corner outfielder. But he would be one of the top 3 defenders in Center next year from what i have seen, doubt the team moves Cutch though…

            • If they ever more Cutch, Marte should be the CFer. Not because Polanco struggles, but because Marte is a legit top defender at any OF spot. Plus arm, plus speed, better route runner than Polanco. His accuracy with the arm is also better.

              • And Polanco is 4 years younger and nowhere near his ceiling defensively. Marte would not be able to touch him on range factor once he settles in, the arm is better with Marte, but I woyld prefer that in RF personally, Polanco has a gun too. Once again GP is not a finished product.

                • You just said you wanted a gun in RF, so clearly no reason to move Polanco to CF. He’s got a fine arm that is getting more consistent. Best case scenario would be Cutch in RF, with Marte and Polanco in the other spots.

                  Marte has an advanced feel for his position, and thus he’s better suited for CF the next few years.

                  • CF is all about running down balls in wide open spaces. Marte would be excellent in CF, but Polanco would get to more balls.

                    And you don’t want your weakest arm in right, Cutch would do very well running down balls in the notch, and the arm would not be an issue in LF.

                    • You think so? I realize we’re all just giving our opinions but I think Marte has a bit of a quicker first step even if Polanco has longer strides. I also think that Marte has a slightly better arm which suits him in CF.

                    • Lets rate facets of defense for Marte and Polanco:

                      Defensive leadership- taking charge- Marte
                      Defensive route running.reading the ball- Marte
                      Never taking a play off- Polanco
                      Throwing arm power- Polanco
                      Throwing arm accuracy- wash
                      Throwing arm release time- Marte
                      First step quickness- Marte
                      Ability to make the big play, sell out to catch a ball- Marte

                      Anything else you guys can think to add, please do. This is just my opinion, but I really don’t think many would argue with most of these

                    • You can absolutely have your weakest arm in right when the wall is 315 feet away. The idea that you don’t want your weakest arm in right is an overgeneralization and doesn’t take into account the makeup of the ballpark you are playing in. As deep as Cutch always plays, you’d want him in right, NEVER left, and certainly not center, he is killing us out there

                    • Well, idk about “killing” us. Thats excessive. He still runs good routes and has the speed for the position. He’s made more flubs than past year, but he isnt making the OF defense a ton worse.

                      We’d be better with Marte in CF, but thats not solely because Cutch is awful in CF.

                    • Fair enough, i’ll relent on that point.

                    • Half the games are on the road where the short right field may not apply.

                    • and half of the games are at home where it does apply. I’m not sure I see your point considering no other visiting parks are the same, but we can sure as hell make sure our team is best positioned for the largest amount of games. I have no problem with him playing in left field for the away games if that makes you feel better. As some of the guys here have said, “look at these guys as outfielders to compare them.” Okay, so lets have them play multiple outfield positions then based on the park. We do all this work for infield shifts, but completely ignore the same concept in the outfield

                    • Amen Brother !!

                • You need a general in center- Marte can be that, Polanco can’t. He doesn’t have the makeup for it. Nothing wrong with that, and it could change, but Polanco will unlikely ever be as good as Marte. Marte’s slightly inferior arm (plus plus vs. plus plus plus) is made up by a much better release time for his throws. Accuracy for both of them is truly impressive

                  • I’m truly not trying to rehash our reliever discussion but just curious in your mindset…wouldn’t moving cutch from center to left field qualify as a demotion in the same sense as having a closer pitch the 8th?

                    As for this topic I totally agree that Polanco is clumsy, if you can’t see that I don’t know what you’re watching. But that doesn’t mean he’s bad! He just doesn’t compare to Marte defensively imo. Cutch has been very underwhelming defensively. His arm has always been weak but the mental mistakes this year have been really frustrating.

                    • I agree completely Mike, but some will filet you on here for saying anything about Saint Cutch. It would almost certainly be looked at as a defensive demotion, but oh well……he isn’t the best center fielder, he shouldn’t be playing center field, period.

              • Personally I would love to see Cutch move over to left field. His offensive game supports it and Marte has better speed and a better arm. You need one of Polanco or Marte in right, so I would just leave Polanco and let him continue to get better.

                • Cutch has the worst arm, so RF sucks in that regard. But he’s likely to lose a step first of the 3, and i think he’s the slowest (though clearly not slow). He runs quality routes, so LF makes some sense but i think in 3-4 years RF suits him best even with a weak arm. Or LF in normal stadiums.

              • Marte is absolutely born to play center fielder. I think given the chance he would truly be better in center than he is in left.

              • What U say about Marte is true, but in PNC Marte needs to be in left & Polanco in center to best protect the notch. Marte is our best at any OF spot, GP’s best spot is center & Cutch would be best served in RF–less ground to cover & less running overall keeps him fresher. Cutch’s arm plays best in the shorter area of RF in PNC.

            • “He seems to be taking better routes and getting the hang of the RF wall. And he’s got a rocket for an arm.” Not exactly burying Polanco here. I think he’s got a high ceiling for an OF, at any position, but has shown some awkward early struggles but has gotten better. I agree with you. The team will never move Cutch. I think Marte would be better in center but we all know this isn’t going to happen while Cutch is on the field.

            • Great reply Gallatin. Obviously Arthur never saw him play CF. I did.

              • Probably a conversation for 2019 but since we’re on the subject – who do you think would be better in CF; Marte or Polanco?

                • I have already made a case in this thread for GP in CF. He would be lights out within a year IMO.

              • Me too. He is way better in CF.

          • He is very awkward, clumsy…..dunno if that will ever change, but it might with time

        • I think he becomes less clumsy looking as he grows into that frame of his.

          • I agree. And I think he’ll get a little better on the bases too.

            • …..he’d better

              • Marte was a little absent minded on the bases when he came up. He’s gotten better. I think with some experience he’ll het a little better each year.

              • Polanco top 10 in stealing, at a 70% clip.

                He’s already a good baserunner, but we 100% remember the times he makes a stupid young player mistake. Polanco isnt a poor baserunner. If he never got any better as a baserunner, he’d still help his team more often that not.

                • I’m not sure what that comment is based off of Luke. a 70% base stealing clip is about as useful as a stat to use to make your point that he is a decent base runner as a relief pitcher with an ERA of 2.50 in 20 innings is good to show he’s a lockdown pitcher. Base running skills and base stealing are too completely different skills. His base stealing (once he stops popping off the base) is valuable. Everything else he does on the bases from a decision making standpoint, reading balls, and being mentally in the game from a situational, is downright poor.

      • I guess it depends on whether you look at arm strength and accuracy as a separate tool from defense or all together. If you look at it all together he can still be above average because his arm is amazing, which we saw again tonight. His routes suck because he in fact IS a center fielder. Never played right field in his life before here at the major league level except for a couple handfull of games at indi before his callup. I would be curious as to how he would play in center given the opportunity. I still believe strongly that all 3 of them are out of position, Cutch should go to right, polanco to left, and marte to center given Cutch having the worst range and arm of the 3

        • That’s how I would do it but it’s a moot point seeing as that would be a demotion if you will for Cutch. Really an embarrassment of riches out there.

          • They can position it like the Twins did years ago with a TRULY great center fielder, Tori Hunter. Less room to cover, less running, less body beating, better health. The movement to keep him healthy and in more games

    • Unless you totally hate stats, he likely already is an above average defensive player. His speed allows him to cover more ground than most, and his arm is strong. He’s basically hit or miss on his routes, but thats really stopping him from being elite.

      28th in DRS, 20th in UZR, 21st in UZR/150 among all OFers.

      He looks clumsy because his body is giraffe like.

      • Im looking at a negative dWar and UZR thats between average and above average.

        Thats about what I said I thought he was. Thats where I get frustrated with the blog world.

        • His UZR puts him in the top 30, so in comparison he’s fine. You arent likely to be 30 clearly better OFers than him, and one of the ones that clearly is wears the same uni as him.

      • ….and because he IS clumsy. It’s okay, he can be clumsy and still be good, but some of the stuff that he’s done this year is clumsy on a catostrophic level considering it directly caused us to lose 2 games. 1. The play where he fell in the 13th inning waiting for the ball to come down. 2. a play not far from that where winding up for a throw he completely let go of the ball in the backswing and we lost another game – you can throw in that ball he somehow managed to play into a triple just a couple days ago as a more recent 2015 example. The visiting announcers were literally laughing at him

        • Which is why they calculate things like defensive runs saved. He’s saved more than he’s given up. He’s an above average outfielder even with his rookie “what was that play” situations.

          Yes, some of the stuff he has done has been bad. Overall, he’s been at worst average. And thats not too bad for a kid clearly still dealing with issues of “im a giraffe like body playing baseball”. Every player has oh shit moments that lose games, it happens. Marte had his in STL (among others). Those plays were bad, but weighting them more because of when they happened isnt stuff i care about.

          No one player loses a game by himself, and a fan who says he did isnt someone imma argue with.

          • Any play a player fails to make which is routine that quite literally ends the game directly to do that failure, is on that player’s shoulders. Those rare situations turn a game that we are not losing, into a game we have lost, all in an instant. I’m glad you aren’t going to argue, because it’s a point of view and I don’t agree with your take on this subject. Doesn’t mean you are wrong, because again it’s an opinion, but i strongly disagree that a player who drops a ball in a tie game in the 13th inning and allows the winning run to score didn’t “lose” the game, he sure as hell did

          • …..and I agree that young players make mistakes, but that’s not an excuse. He is a major league ball player and some of the types of mistakes he’s made, aren’t mistakes that most young players of his caliber make. I am certain he will get better, but we aren’t talking about later, we are talking about now right? You and I have different basic points of views on players in general going back to Cervelli. You choose to only look at a player’s full body of work to determine his value, while I do tend to focus on areas which fundamantal basic baseball playing skills that should have been learned when they are 12 years old are not being done properly, which is inexcusable regardless of how “good” of an overall player they are. No matter how good they are, they are not maximizing talent in some cases for little stupid reasons, and that really bothers me as a baseball purist

            • Or as i call it, a guy who takes plays and makes them out to be way more OMG than they are.

              No offense to you, but you crap on stats and act like stats are silly, and then also act like single moments in a season can be used to define a player. I disagree and hate overreacting to specific plays either good or bad. Cutch isnt great because of 1 game winning HR or a giant error, he’s great because of his overall body of work.

              Polanco isnt a moron for stupid mistakes here and there, he’s a quality player because of his overall body of work. Gnashing your teeth about “not doing things a 12 year old would do” is wasted energy because every player makes a stupid mistake multiple times a year. All the “so inexcusable, what a moron” does nothing for me. Help a team win 95 games and overall be a good player and i see no use for that. I dont like players making dumb mistakes, but its gonna happen. So long as we win a ton of games around it, coolio.

              • I don’t crap on stats, but i don’t pray to them either. No offense to you, but you have a ton of problem seeing things as they are. 90% of a pie could be good but 10% rotten and you say overall it’s a good pie. I’d prefer to cut out the rotten piece and eat the rest. To each his own.

    • And you know this, ” …..and he’s never going to be above average defensively “, how ?

      • Its an opinion Leo- just like other opinions you’ve criticized before. I agree that its annoying when people post opinions as a fact, but you do it all the time too.

  • All the feels.

  • How were things left after Polanco and his agent ended discussion (or was it an indication of lack of interest in discussing) an extension that would buy out the arbitration years and maybe longer? I believe this was last year at the time of or shortly after the time of his call up. Has Huntington said anything about whether talks along those lines will be conducted?

    • I believe Marte had about a year and a half under his belt before he signed his contract extension. I would be very happy with something similar if Polanco finishes the year strong. Maybe something closer to Yelich’s deal even. As a side note – if Polanco does get extended and his extension is worth more than Marte’s, will this create any friction? Does it matter? Is that type of thing a concern during negotiations?

      • Markets change with time. Being they are on the same team, same upbringing in the organization (DR) and practically in the parent club for the same amount of years (extension or not) it might cause some, but Marte also profiles more as a CF, while Polanco is primarily a corner outfield player. His growing pains in defensive metrics may be the FO saving grace

        • I actually think it’d make both happy. Both get paid and rewarded for not easy journey’s to the bigs. Different skill sets and markets they were paid in. I think players tend to genuinely be happy for others for getting paid. If anything, it helps them ask for more later on.