Since Gregory Polanco has been called up, the Pittsburgh Pirates have gone an impressive 24-14 (.652 winning percentage). Thus, a lot of people conveniently credit his emergence for their prosperity, yet that’s just not true. Polanco, a 22-year-old outfielder, has compiled a pedestrian .253/.337/.347 slash and 0.3 fWAR in 170 plate appearances this year. Respectable numbers for a rookie, but, sorry, he’s not been Pittsburgh’s saving-grace. Josh Harrision’s unexpected, but nonetheless steady production, Neil Walker‘s potent offense, Andrew McCutchen‘s second consecutive MVP season, and much more deserves the praise over Polanco.
He’s been mediocre at best, but for some reason Clint Hurdle continues to slot him in the one-hole. It’s not as if the Pirates lack options. No, in fact they possess seven regulars with a wRC+ over 100, which is considered the major-league average. Polanco, on the other hand, has churned a below-average 93 wRC+. That total only beats one player whom sees regular playing-time, shortstop Jordy Mercer. So, it’s bewildering to me why a change hasn’t been made. Your number-one hitter is supposed to be the table-setter; a guy who gets on-base at an exceptional rate and can create havoc on the base paths. Now, the latter is of no concern for Polanco. He’s stolen six bases already and swept 40 bags in one level of the minor-leagues. Yet his underwhelming ability in the majors to get on-base and drive the ball — especially against lefties — should cause the Pirates to think twice about placing him in the leadoff spot. That said, there is another aspect at play here.
One reason the Pirates probably regularly put the youngster in the one-hole, is the fact he’s a left-handed hitter. It varies, but with Starling Marte on the 7-Day DL, Josh Harrison, who’s a right-handed bat, typically bats in the two-hole. But, like I said, that’s not always the case, and Travis Snider (a left-handed hitter) has been the Pirates’ number-two hitter twice this week. However, with the norm being Marte or Harrison in the two-spot, the Pirates lineup usually don’t see another left-handed bat until the six-hitter, Ike Davis, comes to the plate. Well, at least that’s the case when a lefty’s on the mound, and switch-hitter Neil Walker is forced to bat from his weaker side; the right side. Luckily for Walker and the Pirates, the number of right-handed pitchers in the big-leagues outweighs the number of southpaws. So, when a right-hander takes the mound — and if it’s such a big deal to have that variety — then move Walker up in the lineup. Polanco’s actually quite good against righties with a .792 OPS this season, but my quarrel isn’t really with Gregory leading off versus right-handers — although Harrison with his .793 OPS versus righties is admittedly a better option. My real problem is batting Polanco first with his atrocious 2 wRC+ and .364 OPS against left-handers. With those numbers, Polanco shouldn’t even be playing when a southpaw is on the hill — let alone bat leadoff.