Did Gregory Polanco return from injury too soon? Yeah, probably.
Gregory Polanco has not had a fun time in 2019.
After working his you-know-what off to get back as soon as possible from a harsh knee/shoulder injury combination, the right-fielder has posted a .243/.304/.426 slashline over 162 plate appearances. While not a far cry from his watershed 2018, in which he slashes .254/.340/.499, the difference is seen in a few choice peripherals.
Namely, his strikeout rate has ballooned to 29 percent, up from 21.9 percent last year (which was his previous career high rate), while his walk rate has dropped from 11.4 percent to 7.4 percent. It all adds up to a 92 wRC+, far from his stout 123 rating last season. One last one: his ISO has dropped 63 points down to .182, showing a serious problem in driving the ball.
Is anyone really surprised by this? Today is June 14th, under the normal timetable set for his rehab, we should have been in the second or third week of Polanco’s return to the majors, instead of 40 games in. With all due credit to the work that Polanco took to get back, it might have been better in retrospect for the Pirates to understand his importance to the next phase of this ballclub, and take more time accordingly.
Polanco is carrying a 14.9 percent swinging strike rate now — again, highest of his career — as well as a 28.1 whiff per swing rate on fastballs.
If he cannot connect on heat, then he certainly can’t do much against the breaking ball, at which he whiffs 38.6 percent of the time. Overall, he’s chasing a ton more than last year - 29.7 percent as opposed to 24.4 percent.
Taking a break from the peripheral party for a moment, Polanco has just looked....off at the plate since his return. Aside from a few stretches here and there where the power would just return out of nowhere, only to meekly shrivel, his timing has looked rather awful:
At this point, what action can the Pirates take with Gregory Polanco to turn his season around? Perhaps it is time for a classic Clint Hurdle “unplugging,” allowing Polanco to get a breather for a few days and get away from trying to grind his way towards daylight.
Sending him on a phantom IL stint followed by a rehab stint is perhaps not a viable solution. What good could seeing Triple-A pitches possibly do at this point? It would likely set him back further, in fact.
With the club falling further and further from contention, all options should be on the table. I’m not going to pretend as if I know the right answers, but what’s clear is that a productive 2019 from Polanco is swiftly sipping through the organization’s collective fingers.