As was announced on Thursday afternoon, Jorge Polanco has become the AL starting shortstop in the All-Star game. Following a blistering start to the season, Polanco has continued strong play and has established himself as one of the premier shortstops in the game, as well as the best player on one of the MLB’s top teams. The shortstop position for the Twins has long been held by light-hitting fellows who were frequently described as “scrappy” and “gritty”, but Polanco has brought a level of play to the position we have not seen for many, many years.
The last time a Twins shortstop was named an All-Star starter was 1979. It has been 40 years and 2 World Series titles since this happened. Jimmy Carter was holding office when Roy Smalley accomplished the feat. The only other time it happened was in 1963, the third season of the franchise’s stay in Minnesota. Zoilo Versalles was the man in that year. Needless to say, this is a rare occurrence.
My question is this: How does Polanco’s 2019 season compare to Smalley in ‘79 and Versalles in ‘63?
Neither Versalles nor Smalley reached the level of excellence at the plate in their seasons as Polanco has so far this season. Polanco’s batting average of .321 is far and away the best of the bunch, with Versalles coming in at .261 and Smalley at .271. Jorge also has a much better OPS than both of his peers, holding a .911 while neither of his predecessors cracked .800. He already has more dingers this season than Versalles had in ‘63 (11-10), and has a chance at catching Smalley (24). He also is likely to amass a higher WAR than either of them, already at 3.8 while Versalles came in at 2.6 and Smalley finished the season at 4.3.
The fielding stats slightly favor Versalles and Smalley, although the difference is negligible (and possibly could disappear). They had slightly higher fielding percentages (.961 and .968, respectively) than Polanco, who is at .958 currently. Both of the old guard landed at 1.0 in Baseball Reference’s defensive WAR while Polanco is currently at .7 (and so is likely to reach 1.0).
Although not all good seasons land players a starting job in the All-Star game, this comparison favors Polanco very well. Although Versalles’ best season was far and away 1965, when he won the MVP, his stats at the plate still were outmatched by Polanco’s 2019. Jorge Polanco is certainly having one of, if not the, best seasons a shortstop has ever had in a Twins uniform.