Williams: Expectations Have Hurt the Perception of Gregory Polanco

My favorite Marvel movie is Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

There have been ten movies released by Marvel Studios since The Winter Solder came out. Those include two of my favorite comic book characters — Spider-Man and The Black Panther — getting intro movies, plus two great ensemble movies (Civil War and Infinity War, obviously, because Age of Ultron was a bit of a letdown) and the Guardians of the Galaxy movies.

It would be easy for me to say that any one of those movies is better than The Winter Soldier. When pressed, I might even pick one of those above over The Winter Soldier. Actually, I’d probably just created a tiered ranking system and put several movies in Tier 1, but you already know that if you’ve seen my prospect rankings.

I like The Winter Soldier because of expectations. I wasn’t a huge fan of the first Captain America movie, so I went into the second one with expectations lowered. It was arguably one of the best Marvel solo movies to date at the time, but the quality of the movie combined with the lowered expectations made it my favorite.

Expectations can be a funny thing. They really are worthless in terms of evaluations. If a movie is good, it really doesn’t matter if you went into it with high hopes or some skepticism. The expectations don’t change the quality of the movie.

This is true with baseball players as well. If a guy comes up and puts up around an .800 OPS, he’ll have some sort of value attached to his results. If another guy comes up and has the same results, then there should be no difference between the players.

But that’s where expectations can be a tricky thing.

Gregory Polanco came into the majors with the loftiest of expectations. It’s easy to say that he hasn’t lived up to those expectations. At his best, he’s been a 2.3 fWAR player, which is around league average production. He shows flashes of being capable of more, but injuries and inconsistent performances prevent him from the overall breakout that would lead to him reaching his expectations.

Every time I write about the future of the outfield, I know I’m going to get some sort of comment about how Polanco shouldn’t be guaranteed a job. He’s too inconsistent. He’s not good enough. He’s frustrating to watch. And so on.

Then there’s the flip side of expectations. This site might have the biggest Jose Osuna fans that I’ve ever seen. That started long ago for some, when John Dreker first featured him in 2010. It has since picked up steam over the years.

Osuna wasn’t a top prospect at any stage, and wasn’t in the Pirates’ plans as a starter. The expectations for him have been lower as a result of this. But this has also led to people elevating him above where he should be.

I’m not trying to compare Polanco and Osuna and say that this is a decision the Pirates have to make. I do want to compare them because the reactions to their situations are interesting.

Polanco has a .797 OPS this year. He’s got a 115 wRC+ and a .338 wOBA. His numbers in the month of may are higher, with an .888 OPS, a 144 wRC+, and a .380 wOBA. And yet people are down on him and want him replaced.

Part of this might be due to the first impressions of the season, when he had a .747 OPS in April — not bad, but not great. Part of it might be the outdated look at batting average as a good indicator of value. He still has a .224 average, and had a .198 average in April. He does have a .273 average in May, but the other stats are far more valuable.

Then there’s Osuna. He’s got an .805 OPS, a 117 wRC+, and a .341 wOBA. Those numbers are about the same as Polanco, and they come in a smaller sample size. Osuna came up and had a big game in April, then went back down. That big game is enough to distort his other stats, with a .641 OPS, a 73 wRC+, and a .276 wOBA during the month of May.

The reaction to Osuna is that he needs to be in the majors, and he should be given a bigger role in the majors. And it’s not just this year. He had a .697 OPS in a brief time last year, along with a .293 wOBA and a 78 wRC+ — numbers that were considered horrible for Polanco in the same season — and fans wanted him in the majors entering this season, and getting a bigger role.

It makes you wonder what the reaction would be if Polanco came in with lower expectations.

Of course, these things can change. I’ve seen Adam Frazier go from the low expectations approach where people want to see him as a starter, all the way to where he’s a starter and people want to see him in Triple-A, with no one ever really settling on him being just a bench player.

I don’t think I’ll ever understand the reactions to different players, especially how some players get locked into a narrative regardless of performance. I have a feeling that expectations play a huge role in how we perceive a player’s performance, or in some cases, how we can overlook the performances for better or worse.

In Gregory Polanco’s case, I think the lofty expectations have created a situation where the only thing he can do to avoid criticism for his performance — even when it’s as good as it has been in May — would be to live up to those lofty expectations.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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Polanco has 7 rbis in the last 7 weeks, correct? Is it really shocking that fans are frustrated with him? I mean Scotter Gennert had 6 rbis tonight!


It’s really not a complicated concept. Expectations are a function of the product itself. Have you ever had a sip of Coke that you had no idea had gone flat? When you are expecting a delicious return from a product based upon previous experience or reputation but are unknowingly greeted with something that does not remotely match the quality of the product you believed you were getting , the quick flash of surprise followed by palpable disappointment amplified the products faults. You paid the same amount of money for the flat Coke as you would a regular Coke yet, you received a product on par with the much less expensive Food Lion Brand Cola. That doesn’t make the Food Lion Brand Cola suddenly equivalent to Coke, it means you got ripped off and were better off paying less money for the store Brand Cola, instantly making the store Brand Cola more appealing. Extended Metaphors aside, Polanco has been flat virtually his entire career and is simply not worth the price tag that other talented, non-flat players receive. Especially when another, cheaper player produces better numbers (I don’t care how close the numbers are, Osuna has better numbers, period).


I think it’s also important to note that Polanco has been trying to add (or access) power since reaching the Majors. It’s not uncommon, especially early in that process, to sacrifice average and strike out more frequently, for a batted ball profile to favor the pull side, when a player makes this adjustment. Until they’re comfortable with the power, it’s hard to bring the average back into the fold. The expectation of Polanco as a power hitter have contributed to his performance directly, too, I think.

His development in this respect has been slowed by injuries. A full healthy season will see, I anticipate, marked improvements each in accessing the power, and coupling it to a high average/OBP performance. This season is the first time he’s really, truly, accessed the whole of his power, I think. Now the rest needs to fall into place.

Steve Zielinski

We expect more from those who have been given more.


Tim, I disagree. All the way through the Minors he used all fields and was a great talent. Now all he tries to do is yank it out. He hits foul balls down the First base line 2 out of 4 pitches. I watched him in the minors and was really impressed but now I see him as a Homerun or strikeout guy. I’m really disappointed in his approach now. And batting 2nd in the lineup is really hurting the offense. Just my opinion.

michael t

Expectations have hurt the perception of Polanco because of what we are witnessing in his performance. On this site and elsewhere he was hailed as a five-tool prospect and the long-term deal negotiations contributed to the buildup.
The reality is that the prospect who was projected as a potential center fielder has performed worse in the field than the metrics capture, and looked very indifferent or confused while doing so.
Mistakes on the bases continue despite the experience. That’s two of the “five” tools below par and not mentioned in the article but obviously it has the fans frustrated, contributing to Polanco’s perception problem.
Add to that a constant dialogue from the on air former major league commentators that Polanco does not “adjust” to how he is being pitched and it not surprising there is a negative perception. Dickerson is being offered up in comparison for his plate approach. We see the issues and hear about them every night as fans.

I think if he would clean up the defense and base running things would quiet down a bit.


I think Polanco perception also suffers from how limby he is. When he screws up, it just looks worse, more flaily, just because of how he’s built. And so those mistakes and the slumps and the strikeouts stick in people’s minds. Polanco is a victim of his frame.

The reality is, he strikes out at a roughly average rate, and until this season, has been a roughly average defender and a plus baserunner for his career. The baserunning and defense skills still exist, he just needs to access them again, and his hitting (bolstered by a very good BB% and a good ISO) is already good with some upside for more.

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