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How Gregory Polanco got his groove back

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MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at San Diego Padres Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The Pirates’ outfield has been in a rut for awhile now. While a four man rotation has had its pros and cons, it does not do much good when their offensive production is trending the wrong way.

Look at Corey Dickerson, who hasn’t homered since May 4, which does not pair well with his inability to draw walks.

Via Fangraphs.

The league has adjusted to Austin Meadows, and he is in his first big league slump.

Via Fangraphs.

Even Starling Marte has been slowed down since coming off the disabled list.

Via Fangraphs.

But then there is Gregory Polanco, who is trending positively again.

Via Fangraphs.

This has been the definition of an up and down season at the dish for Polanco. That has lead to him being not very popular around these parts, and it’s easy to remember the bad days when your rolling wOBA looks like a “W,” but he is on a roll right now. While some would argue that this is just a streaky hitter getting hot again, there may be more to this recent upswing that makes it more permanent.

Let’s take a look at Polanco’s old stance. This video is from May 27:

He was standing right on top of the plate. While that helped him handle pitches on the outer half of the zone, it left him very venerable on the inner third. Through June 5, only four of his 40 hits were on inside pitches. Even then, those pitches were far closer to the center of the plate than they were the black of the zone.

Pitch chart of Polanco’s hits through 6/5. Via Baseball Savant.

The Pirates’ coaching staff noticed this and worked with Polanco to back him off the plate, and he unveiled his news stance on June 6. So you can get a reference for how far back he is, look at where Polanco’s feet are relative to the edge of the box in this highlight from last night compared to the last video.

From the angle provided, his back foot looks to be over the line in the video from a month ago. Now he has some breathing room. As a result, he’s handling inside pitches much better. Four of his 16 hits since June 6 have been on inside pitches.

Pitch chart of Polanco’s hits from 6/6-6/29. Via Baseball Savant.

While moving away did open up the potential for him to just shift his struggles to outside pitches, he’s still handling those offerings well.

He’s making more consistent contact inside, too. Before June 6, he whiffed on 36 of his 130 swings on pitches GameDay ruled to be either on the inner third of the plate or closer (27.7%). He’s whiffed on only 7 of 42 swings on pitches located there since then (16.7%).

Not surprisingly, making better contact with a better swing path to the inner third has lead to his resurgence at the dish. He’s slashing .320/.426/.600 in his 62 plate appearances since making the adjustment. The only outfielders with a higher OPS than him since the 6th are Juan Soto, Rhys Hoskins, Derek Dietrich, Joc Pederson and baseball’s cheat code: Mike Trout. That’s good company to be with.

There are still plenty of concerns surrounding Polanco, namely his defense and base running, but it looks like the bat that he flashed at the beginning of the season is back. There are probably more factors that are contributing to this streak, ranging from more consistent off days, being used in better match-ups and maybe even feeling the heat with a potential replacement hitting the ground running upon his promotion, but the mechanical change seems to be at the heart of the turnaround. If the Pirates have any hopes of making a mad dash back into the playoff picture before the deadline, they are probably going to need him to keep hitting like this.