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Grading the 2020 Twins: Jorge Polanco

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An injured Polanco had a disappointing season

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Minnesota Twins
Despite a disappointing offensive year, Jorge Polanco’s defense actually improved in 2020.
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

As we did last offseason, Twinkie Town writers are grading player who appeared in a game for the 2020 Minnesota Twins. (Last year’s grades can be found here, this year’s here.) Players will be graded individually on an A-F scale based on their hitting, fielding, and whatever else the author wants to consider.

Believe it or not, it was only 16 months ago when Jorge Polanco represented the Twins as the starting shortstop for the American League in the 2019 MLB All-Star game.

Only Kirby Puckett (four times), Torii Hunter (once), and Joe Mauer (four times) have won fan voting and started the Mid-Summer Classic in the past three decades. And Polanco forced his way onto that list, shortly after signing a team-friendly contract extension.

Polanco tailed off in the second half of the 2019 campaign, however, and it was only after the season that we learned the extent of the ankle injury the All-Star shortstop had been playing through. He underwent surgery in November, but was ready for spring training in 2020.

Now, after a disappointing campaign from Polanco, ankle surgery was needed once again. This time around, there were ominous quotes from President of Baseball Operations Derek Falvey about needing “to assess whether or not there is something else going on there that we need to address.”

With that out of the way, let’s assess what Polanco did on the field, although it’s important to look at the results through a “he-was-playing-hurt-the-whole-year” filter.

Offense

There’s no other way to say this: Jorge Polanco’s offense took a massive hit in 2020.

In 2019, Polanco slashed .295/.356/.485. In 2020, those numbers dropped to .258/.304/.354 — hardly above league-average for a shortstop. While his walk rate and strikeout rates each declined slightly, the biggest issue was the power sapped from his bat, presumably due to the ankle injury. Polanco’s Isolated Power (ISO) dropped from a near-elite mark of .190 in 2019 to a paltry .096 in 2020, again well below league-average.

Additionally, his Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA), which is a bit more of a comprehensive offensive metric, dipped from .352 to .289.

Polanco started the year hitting second or third in the lineup every night but by the time the year was over, manager Rocco Baldelli was sliding him down between sixth and eighth in the order on a regular basis.

While Polanco’s approach at the plate, and especially from the left side, appeared to become more and more like a punchless version of Ichiro Suzuki (i.e. swinging the bat while his body was already practically running down the first base line), it’s fair to wonder how much of that was related to the right ankle injury that is again requiring surgery. Polanco has always had a habit of getting his hips and torso moving towards right field, but it seemed more pronounced than ever this year and clearly affected his offensive production.

A bounceback is not only possible, but it’s likely. Polanco was a much better offensive contributor before his breakout 2019 season than he was in the shortened, injury-impacted 2020 campaign. He’ll only be in his age-27 season, so unless this ankle injury becomes a truly chronic issue, there’s plenty of hope in his offense returning to form.

Defense

Polanco has always been a bit of defensive enigma, and that continued in 2020.

Some fielding metrics, including Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) have always pegged Polanco as below-average at shortstop. On the other hand, Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) has always had Polanco in the average to above-average category.

Polanco has occasionally had lapses on routine plays, but that was less of an issue in 2020. His quirky, side-armed throwing motion has mostly been effective, and this side of his massive blunder late in Game 1 of the Wild Card Series loss to Houston, his defense was improved this season.

It’s difficult to isolate how much of the improvement was due to improved positioning within the Twins’ infield shifts, but Polanco was good enough to rank fifth in UZR among qualified shortstops. (Defensive wizard Francisco Lindor led the way, and Polanco finished ahead of baseball’s new hero, Fernando Tatis Jr., among others.)

No matter how you slice it, Polanco improved defensively in 2020 than what he had shown previously at the major-league level.

Verdict

Jorge Polanco’s 2020 season was disappointing. But his defensive improvement and the revelation that his ankle was again a serious issue tempers the frustration with his performance just a bit.

So, what’s next for Polanco? Top prospect Royce Lewis is about to be knocking on the door, though he has only appeared in 33 games at the Double-A level due to the cancellation of the 2020 minor-league season. Truthfully, some level of stagnation in Lewis’ growth, albeit through no fault of his own, probably buys Polanco an extra year before there’s any real speculation about the Twins moving on.

Polanco’s $5.5 million salary for 2021 is a relative bargain, and it only jumps to $7.5 million in 2022. Then, a pair of seasons that hinge on vesting options and carry buyouts, but Jorge could make as much as $10.5 million in 2023 and $12 million in 2024.

Polanco deserves a chance at redemption next season, and he should get every opportunity to show that 2020 was a fluke. Prepare to see a much better version of Jorge Polanco in 2021.

Grade: C

Poll

What grade do you give Jorge Polanco’s 2020 season?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    A
    (0 votes)
  • 18%
    B
    (28 votes)
  • 54%
    C
    (85 votes)
  • 25%
    D
    (40 votes)
  • 1%
    F
    (2 votes)
155 votes total Vote Now