Welcome to episode nine of the Pirates Playoff Projections series!
If you read my intro to the Bucs Dugout site back in July, you’ll remember that I’m a big fantasy baseball fan, which makes me a bit of a numbers/projections guy at times. I still use the eye test plenty to help me find players I like, and there’s nothing quite like enjoying a Pirates baseball game with the emotional interest of a lifelong fan, but I love the statisical, fantasy side of the game as well.
With that in mind, I thought it might be a worthwhile project to start projecting what key Pirates players will need to do in 2020 if the Bucs are going to shock the league and end up in the playoffs come October. I know, I know, it’s a stretch based on the season we all just witnessed. But with a new manager and staff starting to come together, I figured it’s a good time for some optimism.
Each week I’ll pick a player and go through what their 2020 season might look like under the assumption that they’re able to help lead the black and gold to their first playoff appearance since 2015. Let’s go Bucs!
This might be the toughest episode to tackle in this entire series. El Coffee was once a top-end prospect. Not only in the Pirates system, but in the entire MLB. He was a one-of-a-kind talent, and he played that way through every step of the minors.
We all know how the rest of that story goes. But, whether we like it or not, all signs point to Polanco serving as the Pirates’ everyday right fielder come Opening Day. That is, at least until he does something promising enough to garner some trade interest from the rest of the league.
The most recent murmers from the Winter Meetings are that Ben Cherington is comfortable with Bryan Reynolds serving as the everyday center fielder if things work out that way. That paired with the trade rumors surrounding Starling Marte solidify Polanco’s job security even more. But the question from there becomes, “Is he healthy enough to be a starting outfielder all season?”
When (mostly) healthy in 2016 and 2018, “The Next One” was a solid source of power with some steals mixed in. The hope was always that he would hit for a better average than he’s shown at the major league level, but at this point he’s yet to boast anything higher than a .258 mark in the big leagues. The defense has been shaky too, which makes watching him pound outside pitches into the dirt even harder to deal with.
With all of that being said, I think we would all agree that a playoff run in 2020 would likely include a relatively healthy Gregory Polanco helping out the Pirates’ depleted power contributions. While that’s probably not the most likely outcome, that’s the angle that I’m taking in this article. So, *sigh*, here goes!
It was well documented that Polanco made an adjustment prior to his injury last season that involved him standing closer to the plate. That change checks out in the numbers, as he pulled 47.1% of his balls put in play compared to just 20.2% to the opposite field. I fully believe he’s a better hitter when get’s his arms extended and pulls the ball in the air. That should also help naturally inflate his home run numbers.
While I do expect the steal numbers to continue trending south, and there’s too much sample size to project a drastic increase in batting average for 2020, we have seen power potential from a healthy Polanco before. Also, he hardly got to benefit from the juiced ball in 2019, and I’m going to assume there won’t be a major change in the ball this year. Let’s see what I came up with for an optimistic projection for number 25.
Remember this perspective is assuming Polanco helps carry the team to a miraculous playoff run (even more miraculous if Marte is not a part of it) which means, in these projections, he’s a Pittsburgh Pirate for all of 2020. It also means he’ll likely over-achieve based on what we’ve seen from him in the past.
Gregory Polanco 2020:
137 games played
560 plate appearances
.260 BA with a .315 OBP
26 home runs, 78 runs, 88 RBI, and 10 stolen bases
What do YOU think? Give me some over, under, or just rights down in the comments below. I’m also always happy to hear your thoughts on more in-depth statistics like HR/FB, Hard Hit Percentage, BABIP, and more. Hope you’re all having a good offseason so far, and I’ll be back next week to tackle another Bucco stat line for 2020. Until then, Let’s go Bucs!