Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Other Twins Breakout

August has been an exciting month for the Minnesota Twins. While they have continued to command the second American League Wild Card spot, they've also watched Byron Buxton continue an incredible breakout. Despite all of the praise he's garnering, there's another youngster commanding your attention. Enter 24 year-old, Jorge Polanco.

On June 7, the Twins placed Polanco on the bereavement list. His grandfather had passed away, and the Minnesota shortstop was set to return home to be with family. There's been plenty written about the relationship Polanco had with his grandfather. A close friend, Polanco leaned on his elder as a father figure, and respected him very much. 

Upon returning to the diamond, it was almost as if the emotions were continuing to take their toll on him. In 32 games following his return to the lineup, Polanco had hit the skids. He posted a .146/.205/.214 slash line, and he had just five extra base hits over that time frame. For a guy who's bat had always been his calling card, his line had bottomed out at .213/.265/.308.

Then, as the calendar turned to August, Polanco had also seemingly turned a page. Over the course of his last 24 games dating back to August 2, the Twins shortstop owns a .378/.411/.656 line with 15 extra base hits and four longballs. He has been a catalyst for a Twins lineup that is surging, and he's seen his efforts rewarded being bumped up to the third spot in the order. A bat first player, Polanco had once again regained his swagger.

It's incredibly hard to deduce what, if any, impact the passing of his grandfather had on his game. It is fair to note that baseball is an extremely mental sport, and for a guy struggling at his profession, there was probably other things weighing on his mind. Out of minor league options, Polanco was likely spared from a fate that could have had him back at Triple-A Rochester. Instead, he wrestled through his own struggles, and has gotten back to the player Minnesota has always expected him to be.

On the season now, Polanco owns a .253/.300/.390 slash line. While the .689 OPS still sags behind the .757 mark from a year ago, it's a microcosm of how far he had fallen off the wagon. After looking like a player that may need some seasoning to get things back in line, he now appears to be the impact bat that can continue to help Minnesota stave off regression.

What's maybe most impressive when it comes to Polanco, is that he's gotten back on the horse while never truly falling off with the glove. There hasn't ever been much concern with Polanco's ability to hit, but him sticking at short in the big leagues has always been met with skepticism. Now through 130 games in 2017, Polanco has played 860.2 innings at short. In total, he's been worth an even 0 DRS while improving his UZR to -3.7 (from -10.9 in 2016) and increasing his RngR to 1.7 after a -5.5 mark a year ago.

Given the inefficiencies of defensive metrics, numbers aren't nearly the be-all-end-all. What they do tell us however, is that Polanco is hardly a detriment. He doesn't cover the ground you'd necessarily hope for from a shortstop, but his range is above average, and he is hovering right at replacement level when it comes to runs saved. Given the demands of the shortstop position, and the amount of elite gloves that play there, he's been far more an asset than a detriment.

With just over 30 games left for Minnesota, Polanco is putting it together at the right time. His bat is scalding, and while it will see some slowing down the stretch, expecting it to level off to career norms is hardly a negative. On defense, he's continued to toe the line, and that's probably a bit better than was expected.

Over the course of his career, whether or not he has to make a move to second base, the trajectory continues to be an upwards one. Polanco is a guy that should continue to be mentioned among the core of Buxton and Sano. The youth movement has not only begun, but has taken shape, and allows the Twins to be thought of in a different light for the immediate future. This team is going to make waves in the AL Central and beyond; this 2017 run is only the beginning.

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