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Phillies Player Review: Placido Polanco

Posted by Eric Seidman, Wed, October 17, 2012 08:00 AM | Comments: 26
2012 Player Reviews

Placido Polanco

It was a chilly season at the hot corner (Phillies Nation Photo)

Placido Polanco is finished as an everyday major league player.

Whether it’s his precipitously declining offensive ability or his inability to stay healthy, Polanco simply cannot productively withstand the burden of a lengthy season. He could latch on elsewhere and play out a few one-year deals as a utility infielder and defensive replacement, but this season cemented the notion many fans had last year that he is mostly finished.

Polanco remained stellar defensively, but proved so brutal at the plate that he ranked as one of the very worst with the bat in the National League. In 90 games and 328 plate appearances, he hit a measly .257/.302/.327, with a .279 wOBA. After adjusting for park effects, he hit 30 percent worse than the league average, a mark bottomed by very few.

Among the 137 NL players that tallied 300+ PAs, here are several pertinent Polanco ranks:

  • 12th-lowest wOBA
  • 7th-lowest ISO (Slugging Percentage – Batting Average)
  • 20th-lowest Walk Rate

Polanco walked even less, swung even more, made less contact, and the contact he made was predominantly weakly-hit grounders easily fielded by the opponent. He had the 9th-highest groundball rate in the league. He hit for absolutely no power whatsoever and was such a dismal hitter that fans would have preferred to see the pre-2012 Kevin Frandsen play third base.

However, Polanco remained a very good fielder, saving four runs above average with his glove. His fielding rating ranked 7th among the 50 NL players to man third base this year. That was his only saving grace this season, as the difference between him and Frandsen and, to an even greater extent, Ty Wigginton, was quite evident. Still, this was a waste of a season for such a formerly-talented player. While it was great to see him record his 2,000th career hit, it was awfully tough to watch him struggle to connect with pitches he used to line up the middle.

Now that the season is finished, it’s tough to separate the year from the entire contract, as the Phillies won’t exercise Polanco’s option next season. The three-year, $18 million deal Polanco signed prior to the 2010 season was met with mixed feelings. On one hand, he was an elite defender that could still make solid contact. On the other hand, he was going to switch positions, was already in his 30s, and appeared to be on the downswing of his career. Further decline was expected, though perhaps not this quick nor this substantial.

To prove worthy of his contract, Polanco needed to produce approximately 4 WAR over the life of the deal. Well, he produced 4 WAR in 2010 alone, added another 3 WAR last year, and his fielding this season put him in the black for another half-win this season. All told, his 7.5 WAR in a Phillies uniform from 2010-12 was worth $32 million.

It may be tough to reconcile that Polanco was worth his entire deal in its first year alone, and provided plenty of surplus value when he was clearly a shell of himself at the plate the last two seasons, but that’s another issue entirely. That speaks to the perceived value of offensive stats vs. defense and baserunning. The areas in which Polanco excelled (defense) or performed well (baserunning) aren’t as sexy as a solid slash line. Those stats are still new and haven’t been widely accepted in the mainstream vernacular. Polanco made amazing play after amazing play, but in the mental ledgers of many, the lack of offense was far more detrimental.

The idea that a run produced at the plate = a run saved on defense = a run produced on the bases is still scrutinized by many, which makes it tough for players who produced the way Polanco did in 2010-11 to get proper respect for their overall contributions. The contract was risky given his age and the position-switch, but he surpassed his salaries on fielding alone.

Grade: C-. Polanco had a disaster of a season, but it’s tough for me to give him anything lower than this in just 90 games. He was bothered by injuries all season but still played top-notch defense, and I cannot in good faith give him the same grade as Wigginton. It was difficult to watch Polly’s drastic decline unfold, but he’ll remain one of my all-time favorite baseball players.

Read the rest of the 2012 Phillies Player Reviews here.

Avatar of Eric Seidman

About Eric Seidman

Eric Seidman has written 64 articles on Phillies Nation.

Eric offers his unique analytical perspective to Phillies Nation and is a regular contributor on FanGraphs.com.

 
 
  • Posts: 0 Mary Pat

    Excellent article! He’s one of my all-time faves as well and I’m really glad to see you give him the respect he deserves. As frustrating as he’s been at the plate, his defense has been IMPECCABLE.

     
  • Posts: 0 Ken Bland

    The problem with giving Polly a D- or higher is even a minus in front of the D implies passing, or barely adequate. Overall, was there enough to offset his essentially failed season? Probably, but not necessarily definitely, including being a good defender. But D plus would be as good as it gets.

    If he goes out this way, it’s still a fine career. And I suspect there’s a part time role for him somewhere that if he can avoid injury, enables him to appraoch a B level for ’13. But it’s no guarantee with what I assume is a populated field of reserve types that are more likely to stay healthy.

     
  • Posts: 0 schmenkman

    Nice writeup. Good points on the value of defense.

    And while I also think a C- might be a tad charitable, it’s only a quibble.

     
    • Posts: 146 Eric Seidman

      Avatar of Eric Seidman

      I keep coming back to the context. He made $6.25 million this year and wasn’t such a colossal overall failure the way Wigginton was, to merit an atrocious grade.

       
      • Posts: 0 schmenkman

        I don’t disagree. It will be interesting to see Galvis’ grade — hitting that was at least as bad or worse than Polanco’s, combined with fielding that was as good or better. Curtailed even more than Polanco was due to injuries and the suspension, but all in the context of lower pay and expectations.

         
  • Posts: 4961 Lefty

    Avatar of Lefty

    Eric, you really should get together with your fangraphs’ brethren and re-work the scale when it comes to what WAR is worth in actual dollars. I’m sorry but the figures are way off.

    IMO- If teams actually went with that system of measurement, the price of a ticket and beer would have to double in order to field a 40 man roster, and nearly every team would pay luxury tax.

    $32 million worth of WAR for Polanco the last three years? He might have been worth the 18 he got, maybe for his defense, but Pedro Feliz could give you that for much less.

    Seriously, you guys have created the best baseball metrics site around, and you’re slowly winning people over, but I think you’re really screwing up your credibility with this WAR/$ scale. Just my 2 cents, but you should cut it by about 50%.

     
    • Posts: 146 Eric Seidman

      Avatar of Eric Seidman

      Lefty, the amounts are based on what free agents actually sign for. It isn’t some sort of convoluted hypothetical formula. If you want to discount Polanco’s defensive attributes, that’s another discussion. Maybe you think he was really +10 over 2010-11 and not approaching +30, but what the $/WAR is saying is that, if the Phillies were to buy those wins above replacement on the free agent market, it would cost them $32 million over 3 yrs based on what actual players have actually been paid.

       
      • Posts: 4961 Lefty

        Avatar of Lefty

        It’s about more all players, not just Placido Polanco. Check the 25 man roster of – say the Angels, Tigers or Rangers for instance- how much WAR dollars would they be paying with your scale?

        Anyway, it’s just my opinion and advice, you guys would be wise to get together and take a good “open minded” re-assesment of it.

         
    • Posts: 0 schmenkman

      To add to Eric’s comment, the reason that ticket and beer prices aren’t (even) higher, is all of the pre-FA players who get paid a relative pittance. The Dom Browns, JMJs, Phillippe Aumonts, etc. are what teams rely on to get them cheap value. Players like that, who have not hit free agency yet, including players in the arbitration phase, are not included in the fangraphs dollar value estimations. As Eric said, those valuations are meant to show what a given level of production is worth in a free market.

       
      • Posts: 4961 Lefty

        Avatar of Lefty

        I understand that, and it’s fine until it’s used in improper context like this. If you want to say Chase Utley has already made what he is being paid for this season, I have no problem with that, but in this case 32 million worth of production? Sorry, I’m not buying it.

         
    • Posts: 146 Eric Seidman

      Avatar of Eric Seidman

      Lefty — what you’re talking about is something different than what the monetary worth is measuring. I perfectly understand your sentiments. The $/WAR for a 25-man roster of a team is going to look zany relative to payroll, but the key is what the schmenk-meister just said: many players on a team aren’t in a position to even get a free agent deal. For players under team control, especially before the arbitration process, the results tend to look odd at times. Mike Trout made $400K this year and produced 10 WAR, which could have cost upwards of $50 million on the free agent market. The arbitration deals and pre-arb minimums players sign for are not factored into the formula, yet everyone is evaluated by free agent dollars.

      Placido Polanco was a free agent that signed for $18 million and produced the amount of WAR that, based on other free agent deals, typically costs $32 million. It sounds like you don’t buy the underlying idea that he was worth 7.5 WAR with the Phillies which, like I said, is certainly a valid argument to be had if you distrust his defensive ratings. But right now we’re conflating different arguments. He was worth $32 million based on what his production — IE, WAR — costs on the open market. There is no improper context here.

       
      • Posts: 4961 Lefty

        Avatar of Lefty

        I’ll be open minded and think about it, I suggest you do the same. Why not consider the rookie wage and pre arb in the scale? It’s reality. Anyway, back to work for me. Later guys.

         
      • Posts: 146 Eric Seidman

        Avatar of Eric Seidman

        Nobody said I wasn’t considering it — we’re always looking to refine metrics, and you’re not the first person to bring that up. I’m just saying that there were two different arguments at work in this conversation where both sides were technically correct to an extent.

         
    • Posts: 1135 EricL

      Avatar of EricL

      I don’t mean to pile on or be overly repetitive as schmenk and Eric have basically said this, but sometimes coming at it from a little different angle can help clear up questions or concerns on a topic.

      Here’s a good overview of how they calculate the dollars per WAR value: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/win-values-explained-part-six

      It’s only based on free agent salaries because those are the only wins you can really buy on the open market. If a team went out and bought all 25 positions through free agency, then, yes, you’re right, it that payroll would be huge and ticket/concession prices would need to go up. But they can’t, because the non-free agents aren’t on the market.

      The $/WAR calculation just tells you the amount of money a team would likely have to spend to buy that particular amount of production on the free agent market. That’s why you only consider free agents – because those are the only wins you can buy.

      If, as the dude with the goofy heart avatar says, you’re saying that you don’t think that Polanco was that valuable because his worth was mostly derived from his defense, then that’s a different argument all together, based not on the $/WAR calculation, but on how much value defensive runs saved provides. In other words, that would be a critique of WAR itself, not the $/WAR calculation, which is separate, but obviously reliant on WAR being somewhat representative of the number of wins that player provided.

       
      • Posts: 146 Eric Seidman

        Avatar of Eric Seidman

        Great explanation. And yes, I need to learn how to change my avatar. One of these days.

         
      • Posts: 4961 Lefty

        Avatar of Lefty

        Oh, you’re just an overly repetitive piler oner and you know it. Thanks man I get it, still don’t like $/WAR as it’s presently constructed, but I get it.

         
  • Posts: 0 George

    The problem I see with these numbers that are being thrown around is that free agent value, despite all the newer stats, is not usually based on defense, but on things like RBIs, HRs, and batting average, and sometimes OBP. Fielding doesn’t figure very prominently in most front office thinking (although it is figured somewhat).

    Until that changes, Polanco will never be seen by baseball execs as a 7.5 WAR player. That’s probably the reason he didn’t get $32 million in the first place.

    Polanco was mighty fine on defense WHEN HE WAS IN THE GAME. But his absences forced the team to use the horrid Wigginton, the mediocre Fontenot, and others who couldn’t play 3rd and didn’t hit much better than Polanco. In my opinion, if you’re sitting for 72 games, you’re essentially putting a replacement player in the game. That should lower your WAR significantly.

     
    • Posts: 0 schmenkman

      It seems that Polanco’s WAR IS penalized when he sits. It’s a counting stat, and it doesn’t increase when he’s not playing, which is why he only had 7.5 WAR and not 10 or 11 or something. Now the Phillies had some bad luck and some good luck in replacing Polanco. Wigginton was below replacement, but Frandsen added 1.6 of WAR.

      But what I think you’re saying is that if the Phillies had known Polanco would be so hurt and ineffective this year, they would have spent more (in money or a trade) in shoring up the position. And by not having an opportunity to do that it cost the team, and that should somehow be reflected in Polanco’s numbers.

      Here’s a question: would the 7.5 (and $32M value) make more sense if it came at a steady rate of 2.5 in each of the 3 years? What if he got all 7.5 in year 1, and the Phillies knew he would be too hurt to play in years 2 and 3?

       
  • Posts: 4961 Lefty

    Avatar of Lefty

    Eric S. I get it, I understand you are using what they’d get paid in FA. And as long as there is a level playing field, I have no problem with WAR whatsoever. If Polanco and his 7.5 fWAR is measured equally using the exact same formula against Evan Longoria and his 16.2 fWAR over the same three year period, I’m fine with it. Although I’m not in love with cumulative WAR. If you want use a WAR per game average, or just year by year, that’s fine, but Polly’s first year and his last are much too different to average out or be cumulative. George is right, we should consider “when he is in the game”.

    But we all know that Longoria (picked purposely because he also missed a lot of games) is too young for a huge payday- 6 years 17.5 is what he’s in the midst of being paid, and that’s much better than most young players. To say that his value is what he will get in FA is to me inaccurate. What if he never makes it to FA? What if he signs an lower extension because he is happy in TB? (He already did, he could again) What if he gets injured, ruining his big payday? The assumption of FA to Value is wrong in my mind, I strongly believe you should think it through again, there has to be a better way.

    Also, I value the hell out of defense, and so should WAR. I just don’t think you need to pay as much for it when you are not getting production from the bat. Pedro Feliz, WIlson Valdez, hell Juan Castro – they can all play excellent third base, but they all have basically minor league bats. With guys like Polly you have no speed, and no power. I don’t care that he’s a .300 contact hitter, I just don’t see the value. You might as well have those other guys and pay less.

    Concerning Mike Trout- If he were eligible, do you really believe Arte Moreno would lock him up for, say, 10 years at 50 million? Or any other owner for that matter? HALF A BILLION dollars? These are humans we are talking about, with the same frailties as any other athlete, I really think these numbers are inflated by at least 50%. I believe that if you really stand for accuracy in numbers, which is what SABR metrics is supposed to do, then you’d want to get this right. Again, all due respect for the wonderful work you folks do.

     
    • Posts: 0 hk

      Lefty,

      If you are comparing Polanco’s $/WAR over the past three years to Longoria’s, you still don’t get it – despite your claim that you do – because Polanco signed with the Phillies as a free agent while Longoria signed a team-friendly long-term contract while he was still under team control. Longoria is irrelevant to the $/WAR in free agency conversation until he becomes a free agent (if he ever does become one).

       
      • Posts: 4961 Lefty

        Avatar of Lefty

        hk,
        First I want to say that you have long been a respected poster on other sites, and I enjoy reading your comments.

        I totally agree with your last sentence, in fact it probably clarifies what I’ve been trying to say better than I have been able to.

        Everything I have read about stand alone rWAR, fWAR, WARP, tells me it is a comparative tool to be used for the purpose of establishing how valuable a player is, compared to another (vs. a replacement player). Am I wrong there?

        It’s when $/WAR comes in that the disparity shows up. If you can’t use the number to compare two different third basemen “Longoria is irrelevant to the $/WAR…” then what purpose does it serve?

        Maybe what I’m calling for is an entirely different number, a new one. I may write Dave Cameron about this.

         
      • Posts: 0 schmenkman

        If I may jump in again, you’re right of course — WAR is used to compare how valuable one player is vs. another (both of them relative to the baseline of the typical replacement player).

        e.g. in 2010-12, Polanco produced 7.5 WAR, Longoria 16.1 WAR

        Applying the $/WAR ($4.5M per 1 WAR) to that will give you the exact same ratio between the two players, but with both numbers multiplied by 4.5.

        e.g. Polanco’s 2010-12 level of production would cost about $32 M on the free agent market,
        and Longoria’s level of production would cost about $69 M

        And the way to think about these last numbers is this: if we wanted to go out before the 2010 season and buy 7.5 WAR, it would have cost us about $32 M (because teams have actually paid about $4.5M per WAR). If we wanted to go out and buy 16.1 WAR, it would have cost us $69 M. On average. Some teams overpay, some teams underpay, and as someone said, defense is generally undervalued, etc. But on average, to get the production that Polanco has given the Phillies, it would have cost ~$32 million.

         
      • Posts: 0 hk

        Lefty,

        Thanks. Let me try another stab at this…

        1. WAR is a descriptive calculation, not a predictive one. Therefore, we can use it to compare what happened (i.e. Longoria generated > 2x more WAR than Polanco over the past 3 years).

        2. $/WAR is only a calculation that should be used when trying to determine (in foresight) how much a free agent should be paid or (in hindsight) whether a free agent earned his contract. If you are using it to determine how much to pay a free agent, you should predict how much WAR you think the player will generate during the length of the contract and multiply it by ~$4.5M. If you are using it to assess a completed contract like Polanco’s, if you believe he was worth 7.5 WAR, the calculation holds that the Philies got somewhere around $32M of value for $18M.

        3. It sounds like the $/WAR that you are seeking = All $ paid to MLB / The sum of all MLB players’ WAR. This would give you the average price paid for each 1.0 WAR for an entire season (or seasons), which you could then use to determine which player provided the best value to his team.

        I hope this, plus others’ comments, helps.

         
  • Posts: 0 Psujoe

    Yikes, pagan had a 4.8 WAR this year. What’s his $/WAR?

     
    • Posts: 0 hk

      Pagan is an interesting case because the defensive metrics are so volatile on him over the past few years. If I was looking to sign him this off-season, I would start with the average of his last three seasons – his age 29 to 31 seasons – which is 3.7 fWAR and 3.4 rWAR per season. If I targeted a 3 year deal for his age 32 to age 34 seasons, I would probably expect his WAR to begin to decline and estimate his fair value at somewhere around 3 WAR per season. However, due to the fact that the supply of free agent CF’s plus those CF’s that are allegedly available through trades seems to be much greater than the demand for them, I would expect to pay whichever CF I sign at a discounted (< $4M/WAR) rate. I would be happy if the Phils can get Pagan or Upton for $35M / 3 or even Victorino for $24M / 2.

       
  • Posts: 521 Bruce

    Avatar of Bruce

    The first line I read in Eric Seidman’s blog is “…Polanco is finished as an everyday major league player.” I think that is a rather rash and presumptive statement to make.

    I do understand Polanco having a horrible year with the bat and injuries obviously played a role in that. However, as Seidman conceded, it didn’t hurt the former multi-gold glove winner’s (for 2nd and 3rd base) skills in fielding. If Polanco can miraculously recovered and be in good health for a full season, his unhampered hitting may improve for another club taking a chance on him and have the confidence in him to be that everyday player with the gold glove at a key position.

     
 
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