It’s not quite the return of Iverson, but the Phillies have signed Placido Polanco to a 3-year deal, pending a physical, to come back to Philly and play 3B and hit 2nd for the 2-time defending NL champs. The deal is reportedly worth $18 million.
As I wrote yesterday, Polanco is a definite upgrade to Feliz, and at only $500,000 more it is certainly a good deal. However, like with Jamie Moyer and Raul Ibanez, I think that Amaro went 1 year too long on an aging player in his declining years. Polanco will be 36 in the final year of his contract. Unlike Ibanez though, he is not a power hitter and is likely to decline less rapidly. This move will also look a lot better if we use the money we would have spent on a Beltre or a Figgins to improve our pitching.
So what kind of player is Placido Polanco these days? We know he’s a solid BA guy (.303 average since 2000), doesn’t strike out (2nd hardest in baseball), doesn’t walk (only 36 last year) and plays good defense (gold glove winner at 2B in 2009, and well above average career metrics at 3B). But in today’s age of ridiculous baseball stats, we can learn a lot more before he steps on the field.
FanGraphs provides amazing data on how players have performed against certain pitches and what kind of contact they make, among other things. Polanco’s full array of stats are available here, but here are the takeaways I found (from FanGraphs and other sources).
- Polanco does most of his damage on fastballs, but isn’t particularly susceptible to breaking pitches. He is worst against change-ups, but not particularly bad or anything.
- He is arguably the best contact hitter in all of baseball. Last year, 97.3% of strikes he swung at he made contact with. That was #1 in all of baseball. He made contact on 81.2% of the pitches out of the strike zone he swung at, good for 5th best in baseball, and his overall contact/swing % was 93.2%, 3rd in baseball, and 0.1% behind the leader (Marco Scutaro).
- Polanco has a career 9.9 UZR/150 (Ultimate Zone Rating) at 3B in 322 games. That would have been good for 7th in baseball in 2009. Pedro Feliz’s UZR/150 in 2009 was 5.0.
- His WAR (Wins Over Replacement) was 3.1. This is a complex stat that measures how many wins a player adds to a team over an average player. Many stat heads are using it as their main statistical measure of players these days. By comparison, Feliz’s WAR was 1.3 and the most comparable Phillie was Shane Victorino at 3.4.
- Bill James’ (he’s smart) 2010 projection for Polanco is a .296 BA with a .343 OBP and .403 SLG%.
- His BABIP in 2008 was below normal for him, which contributed to his “low” .285 average last year.
- His baserunning was above average in 2009 with a 1.3 EqBRR (Equivalent Base Running Runs). This is a huge improvement over Feliz, whose EqBRR was -5.6, by far the worst on the team (2 runs below Ryan Howard) and one of the worst in all of baseball.
When I originally analyzed the 3B options for the Phillies, Polanco fell below Figgins, Beltre, DeRosa and Tejada. But, I’ve changed my stance a little and feel this is a positive signing. Here’s why…
- I said many times during the playoffs that Jimmy and Shane could not continue to be our 1-2 hitters with their terrible OBP. Polanco will be a much better #2 hitter than Shane and allow Shane to move to a run producing role in the 7-hole.
- I love defense and good baserunning, and Polanco brings both. Of the other options, only Figgins would have provided above average performance in these 2 areas.
- As I said yesterday, he is a safe, cost-friendly pick-up. Only DeRosa would have gotten a similar contract and Beltre and Tejada are injury risks.
- Adding to the “cost-friendly” aspect, this moves upgrades our 3B situation while leaving money open for pitching. If we use that money, it will only make this move look better.
All told, I’m happy to have Polanco back. Doesn’t have the upside some other moves might have had, but he is a professional hitter who in eager to contribute to a title contender. Welcome back, Placido.