Placido Polanco’s Glove Totally Worth Awful Offense
Not a misprint.
That’s right – you’re offensively bumbling, physically bruised, 36-year-old corner infielder, Placido Polanco, blaringly obviously a shell of what he used to be with a stick, has a thoroughly documented history of being the best in the game at his position with a glove. Ever.
Like, ever ever.
All time, Polanco's .982 fielding percentage is the best -- THE BEST -- of anyone to ever play the position. Better than Mike Lowell (.974, No. 2). Better than former Phil Scott Rolen (.968, T-11, with Don Money). Better than Hall of Famers Brooks Robinson (.971, No. 3) and George Kell (.969, No. 9), who you'd better believe got their Cooperstown busts for their glove work. (Robinson won Gold Gloves consecutively, from 1960 until 1975. Yeah. That's 16. Which is, like, a lot.)
How that's been good for only a single Gold Glove at the position? (In 2011, for record.) No. Effing. Idea.
Now, Polanco has three on his mantle – the other two logged for his work as a second baseman in 2007 and 2009 (with the Tigers). To that end, it’s also worth noting, his fielding percentage as a second baseman (.993) is also the best for anybody at the No. 4 spot. (I know. Nuts.) Better than Craig Counsell (.991, No. 3), Mark Ellis (.991, No. 4), Freddy Sanchez (.990, No. 8), Dustin Pedroia (.991, No. 6), Brandon Phillips (.988, No. 16) – even Ryne Sandberg (.989, No. 9), the captor of consecutive NL Gold Gloves (with the Cubs) from 1983 to 1991. Which is nine. And also a lot. And, really, the hallmark for defensive specialists at that position.
And to think: People are trying to bench this guy.
Shame you can't say the same about his hitting, especially, particularly, painfully now.
With six strikeouts in 39 at-bats in this young 2012 season, Polanco's on pace to more than double his per-season strikeout average. (For record, he's never struck out more than 50 times in a year. Then again, he's never been 36-years-old and sporting the structural stability of a sugar cube either.)
Still, that's OK by us. His fielding makes up for it.
Sports hernia or not, busted finger or not so bad, Polanco is still among the best in the bigs at scooping screaming grounders down the left side of the diamond. To date, he's working a 1.000 (yeah, no, no -- that's perfect) fielding percentage, putting him in company with multi-Gold Glove winners (Kevin Youkilis and David Wright) on more chances than anyone still strutting a pristine mark (34). And Polly's also rocking the second-best range factor -- it measures a player's per-game contribution to outs.
Which, no, shouldn't really mean all that much. (For one, the guy he's behind in the ranking, Miguel Cabrera, is essentially to baseball defense what Jessica Simpson was to John Mayer's man parts.)
Except for when you consider that Polanco has lead the majors in fielding percentage in each of his last three seasons. (Four times in his career.) He also lead the majors in assists (with 259) in 2011, and, basically, has cleaned up at range factor per nine innings at third since 2010. (Finished first in baseball each of the last three years.)
Basically, that’s his baseline. And he’s maintaining it. For now.
You can argue, if you'd like, the clock is ticking on that, and he's bound to come apart like a Twizzler Pull 'n Peel around a sugar-parched diabetic as the season progresses. That his defense, as we see it today, has the shelf life of unwrapped meat. (Or of that in "The Oregon Trail." (Sigh.) To be young...) He has, after all, suffered 17 documented ailments since 2010, according to Baseball Prospectus. (Wigginton only 10. In his 12-year career. Yeah.) Which, yeah, basically makes for more than one every baseball month, and doesn't bode well for a pressure-packed 2012.
But, even then, what's the alternative?
A trade? With this depleted a farm system? With these three micrometers of space from the luxury tax ceiling? In this hollowed out, post-second Wild Card game trade market?
Save for David Wright -- who'd cost you Dom Brown, Vance Worley, an off-expense Bentley for Sandy Alderson and a few hookers -- there's not a trade out there worth the sticker price. And that includes from-nowheres Chase Headley (SD, No. 2 in MLB among 3B in OPS), Jack Hannahan (CLE, No. 7) or Kyle Seager (SEA, No. 10), all on clubs you can expect to be buried in the standings before the deadline -- and by offers for the zillion clubs who aren't, and could use some value.
Wigginton? Who's got a lower career fielding percentage at third (.950) than at any other position on the diamond? A measure that ranks 16th -- SIXTEENTH -- among active players at the position?
One-tenth of a win? (Per the difference of the players' wins above replacement player (WARP). Wigginton's is 0.1. Polanco's is 0.0. Yeah. Big bump, indeed.)
For a career .265 hitter only one season removed from his one and only All-Star season. (With the Orioles, which, yeah, meant he was Joe Girardi's selection by obligation -- because baseball warms up to the idea of top-to-bottom representation of its clubs at the All-Star game, even if said "bottom" means, like, the algea and barnacle-crusted bottom of a barrel tied to the ankle of the last guy to question the new playoff format -- not preference.)
Not at the expense of that leather. No way.
(Especially not after Wigginton blew Cliff Lee’s 10 scoreless against. Nuh uh.)
To that end, there's something to be said for finding comfort in a team-wide specialty. Hate to talk like this -- especially when it puts a label on the offensive deficiencies that can only be described as mesmerizingly woeful -- but maybe the team should embrace this, and Polanco, as its identity. Defense-first, if only out of necessity. Polanco and Galvis and even, at times, Ruiz have the offensive literacy of a British choir boy. But they more than make up for it with their games' other halves.
When it doesn't, we'll chat.
But until then? Let's cool it with the Ty Wigginton promotion talk. Or anything else.
Because it’s Polanco’s job to lose. And he hasn’t yet.