By: Chris Larson
Every season, there are stars that come out of nowhere and surprise us all. This season, there have been a number of different stars both batters and pitchers that have seemingly come out of nowhere and caught everyone by surprise. Consider Hunter Dozier of the Kansas City Royals for a moment. How about Paul DeJong of the St. Louis Cardinals? On the pitching side, does Caleb Smith of the Miami Marlins or Spencer Turnbull of the Detroit Tigers catch your attention?
The point behind that small exercise was the idea that all four of those names never jumped off the paper to anyone, fans and analysts alike, and have basically helped contribute to their teams in massive ways even though their team might not necessarily be a contender this season.
While each of those four guys have made contributions to their respective team, there is one guy currently smashing up the American League that deserves a lot more credit and he plays on a team located in the Twin Cities, the Minnesota Twins, in case you are wondering. No, we're not referring to Mitch Garver, who has been off to a phenomenal start, or Eddie Rosario, an outfielder that no one ever seems to talk about, but rather shortstop, Jorge Polanco.
So far this season, the 25-year old, Jorge Polanco, is currently hitting: .344/.412/.649 over 148 plate appearances with 45 hits, 11 doubles, 4 triples, 7 home runs, 14 RBI, 15 walks, and 20 strikeouts. In case you are wondering, that .344 batting average is a career high, and the .412 on-base percentage, is five points away from matching a career high. The best part is that it's only May 9th and there are plenty of games left to be played meaning that the sky is practically the limit for Jorge Polanco.
Outside of that, Jorge Polanco made a name for himself yesterday against the Toronto Blue Jays, when he finished the night with five hits, his second five-hit game of the season. The other happening on April 5th of this season against the Philadelphia Phillies. To have one five-hit game over the span of a 162-game regular season is something deserving of credit, but to have two of them is something extraordinary and it might not even be his last five-hit game of the season!
When it comes to the splits, Jorge Polanco has done better against right-handed pitchers thus far compared to left-handers. Against righties, Polanco is batting: .368/.438/.717 with 39 hits, 10 doubles, 3 triples, 7 home runs, 14 RBI, 14 walks, and 14 strikeouts over 121 plate appearances. Against lefties, over the span of 27 plate appearances, Polanco is batting: .240/.296/.360 with 6 hits, 1 double, 1 triple, 0 home runs, 0 RBI, 1 walk, and 6 strikeouts. Granted, the sample size between the two is MUCH different, but a note to skipper, Rocco Baldelli, is to always have Polanco start against righties because he has a very good chance of going yard!
Beyond all of that, Jorge Polanco has also established himself as a great two-hole hitter for the Minnesota Twins. The Twins aforementioned skipper, Rocco Baldelli, has been able to hit right fielder, Max Kepler, in the leadoff spot followed by Polanco and then designated hitter, Nelson Cruz, and the aforementioned, Eddie Rosario, in the three and four spots. Compared to the rest of baseball, that's a pretty solid 1-4 hitters and those four hitters have shown what type of contributions they can make on a daily basis. Polanco alone has done more than his fair share of contributions from the two hole, just take a look at his Weighted On-Base Average by season, as shown on the chart below:
Although all of that is great, you can't necessarily start identifying MVP candidates without comparing the individuals stats to others at that respective position or all of the hitters around the league. For this portion, let's start by focusing on the shortstop position, Polanco's primary position, and see where he ranks from an offensive perspective. Among qualified shortstops, Polanco is tied in fourth with Paul DeJong of the St. Louis Cardinals, Xander Bogaerts of the Boston Red Sox, and Tim Beckham of the Seattle Mariners with seven home runs. Furthermore, when it comes to walks, Polanco ranks fourth with an overall walk rate of (10.1%), second in Isolated Power with a (.305) value, and ranks first in Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) (178).
Switching over to the league now, Jorge Polanco ranks eleventh in on-base percentage (.412), fifth in slugging percentage (.649), and sixth in Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) (.439). Furthermore, Polanco has established the reputation of being someone that feats off of an opposing pitchers curveball as indicated by his pitch type stats. According to FanGraphs, Polanco ranks fifth, among qualified hitters around the league, in curveball hit percentage with a (15.5%) value. Beyond that, Polanco does well hitting changeups as well as indicated by his, changeup hit percentage of (17.0%), putting him seventh on the list in that category. Note to opposing pitchers: Don't throw a curveball or changeup to Jorge Polanco, if you don't want it to end up over the outfield fence!
Take a look at the two charts below for more about the data regarding Jorge Polanco's hit rate for both the curveball and changeup this season compared to the last five years.
As you can see from the chart, Polanco is vastly hitting curveballs more often than he did before, while his changeup percentage has stayed virtually the same. Last season, Polanco finished the year hitting curveballs about 11% of the time, but that amount has increased to about 15% of the time so far this year. Fascinating and it is a credit to something that Jorge Polanco has changed in his swing and the bat path that he takes during his at bats.
Regardless of what ends up happening with the AL MVP race, Minnesota Twins shortstop, Jorge Polanco, has been off to a hot start this season and it doesn't look like he is going to stop anytime soon. The Twins definitely don't get enough national credit, but maybe that will all start changing when the league learns that the Twins are a legitimate contender to win the American League Central and it's because of the offensive forces within their lineup including the likes of Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler, and Jorge Polanco.