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Michael/Male/26-30. Lives in United States/Pennsylvania/Wexford/Christopher Wren, speaks English. Spends 20% of daytime online. Uses a Fast (128k-512k) connection. And likes baseball /politics.
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Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Polanco for Third 

I’ve spent the last several days paging through the 2005 Bill James handbook looking at the volumes and volumes of data presented in the pages of the book. (I'll review the book one of these days.) I looked at James’ player-by-player projections for 2005 and noticed something interesting…

The big news of the 2004-2005 offseason for the Phillies (so far) has been Placido Polanco’s surprise decision to accept arbitration with the Phillies instead of testing the free agency waters (particularly baffling decision given St. Louis’ likely interest in him). Polanco’s return gives the Phillies five infielders for next year. Polanco’s old spot at second base is now occupied by Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins and Jim Thome have firm holds on short and first base, so the likely spot for Polanco is at third base, where he played in 2002 when he joined the team, replacing Scott Rolen. The problem is that the Phillies have a third baseman, David Bell, entering the third year of a four year deal with the team. Who would be a better third baseman for the Phillies?

Here are what James has projected for each player in 2005:

Bell: .325 OBP / .402 SLG / 74 Runs Created / 16 HR / 32 2B
Polanco: .335 OBP / .427 SLG / 76 Runs Created / 13 HR / 27 2B

The numbers made me take notice specifically for something I said in my year in review: David Bell had an unusually good year in 2004. His .363 OBP is significantly higher than his career .313, as is his .458 slugging percentage (career: .401). Bell didn’t merely rebound from his awful, awful 2003 campaign (.195 BA / .296 OBP), he established some career highs at the age of 32. James projects Bell’s numbers will take a dive in 2005 and I don’t see any reason to disagree with him.

Polanco had an injury plauged 2004 campaign and ended the season hitting .298 (.345 OBP). The numbers were actually slightly ahead of his career totals (.295 BA / .339 OBP), as was his .441 slugging percentage (.410 career). Polanco has the image amongst the fans as a light-hitting, "get on base" kind of guy, but the numbers say he has as much pop to his bat as Bell: his career slugging percentage is .009 higher. Polanco is also one of the finer defensive infielders in baseball:

2004:
Bell: 3.6 Fielding Win Shares per 1,000 innings
Polanco: 5.6 Fielding Win Shares per 1,000 innings

The decision to accept arbitration caught the Phillies off-guard (I assume they made the offer to get compensation for him when he left), but the Phillies could look to spin Polanco’s return as a positive. Trying to deal Bell would be a start. He’s probably just had his career year and his numbers will likely decline in the big way. Polanco, who is three years younger than Bell, is still in his prime and playing close to his potential.

Let’s see what happens.

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