Placido Polanco Is Good at Baseball

Lately I've been hearing a ton of criticism directed at Placido Polanco. I understand that this kind of thing tends to happen when you go 2 for 19 in a playoff series that your team loses, but that doesn't change the fact that it's unfair. There are better third basemen in the world than Peanuthead, but not as many as you might think. He's still pretty good and replacing him this offseason shouldn't be a high priority.

I think the root of the problem here is that very few people seem to realize how scarce third basemen are these days. Polanco is admittedly not a great hitter, but relative to his peers he isn't that bad either. There were 27 guys in MLB who played at least 600 innings at the position this year, and Polanco ranked 18th among them in wRC+ (88). By way of comparison, the right fielders who ranked just below the median in wRC+ this year were guys like Nelson Cruz, Torii Hunter, and Nick Markakis - not worldbeaters by any means, but if they played here, nobody would be outraged about their hitting. Neither should anyone be outraged about Polanco's hitting.

Of course, the more salient point is that hitting isn't the whole story. You have to take fielding into account too, and Polanco is really good at it. I know that fielding stats are imprecise and need to be taken with a grain of salt, but when they concur with one another, attention needs to be paid. And in 2011, the stats did concur with one another: Polanco's UZR was +14. His Rtot was +12. His UZR/150 was +17. His Rtot/yr was +16.

That's, like, really good. So good, in fact, that even though Polanco only played 122 games and didn't hit particularly well, his Fangraphs WAR came out to 2.8, which was enough to put him in the Top 10 3B in MLB.* What's more, he did it for only $5.25 million. In contrast, the Braves paid Chipper Jones $13 million for 2.1 WAR over 126 games.

[* His BB-Ref WAR was lower at 1.8. I don't understand how that makes sense, considering that TZ and UZR were in agreement this year. But whatever.]

Finally, although some people have understandably expressed some concern about his trendline over the course of the season, I'm really not all that worried about it. As we all know, Polanco had an absurdly hot April at the plate followed by an absurdly cold May and June. But both sets of data are so absurd that I don't think it's a good idea to draw any real conclusions from either of them. Instead, I'm comforted by two things. First, after Polanco came off the DL for the final time in August, he posted a wRC+ that was almost identical to his full-season wRC+: the same full-season wRC+ that allowed him to post 2.8 fWAR in 122 games. Second, his fielding numbers stayed steady throughout the season. In April and May, his UZR/150 was +18. In August and September, his UZR/150 was +17.

The bottom line is that Polanco was not a weakness in 2011; he was a strength. Of course, it's possible that he'll stop being a strength in 2012. He'll be 36, after all, plus even if he continues to play well when in the lineup, he could get hurt even more often than he did in 2010-2011. But while these possibilities are a little worrisome, I don't think they're worrisome enough to justify trying to replace Polanco now, especially when you consider (1) what a steal he'll be next year at $6.25 million as long as he doesn't decline too much, and (2) how costly it would be to bring in anyone else who's any good.

Polanco may actually be the only good, cheap, veteran 3B in all of MLB today. If you know of any others, tell me who they are because I can't think of any. There are plenty of moderately priced, bad alternatives out there, but why would you want them? They include a lot of guys who hit better than Polanco, but are worse overall. Spending millions of dollars on some butcher like Mark Reynolds would probably not be helpful. Sure, runs scored would increase, but runs allowed would increase even more. That is not a formula for success.

If the Phillies have money to burn this offseason, there are better places to burn it than third base. Maybe bringing in a decent backup would make sense (if you can name any - I can't), but anything beyond that would be unwise.

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