Originally written on Phillies Nation  |  Last updated 5/24/12

Polanco has remained healthy and has gotten hot at the plate. Will it last? Photo (AP)

Placido Polanco was one of the Phillies biggest question marks headed into 2012. After a hot start in 2011 that lead to a starting All-Star nod, Polanco cooled off down the stretch. After returning from the disabled list on July 30, Polanco hit a very nice .284 but slugged a paltry .324, a far cry from his .524 SLG% in April 2011 or even his current career .405 SLG%.

Polly’s 2 for 19 performance with 3 uncharacteristic Ks against the Cardinals in the 2011 NLDS started the questions of “Is Polly done?” His slow start after 18 games, .196/.237/.214 in 60 PA, panicked fans even more. Even with an 0-4 last night, however, Polanco has managed to turn it around. What has changed?Polly’s 3-5 game in a 7-2, April 25 win against Arizona started to set the wheels in motion for a better season. Since that game, Polly is hitting .326/.356/.430 and the Phillies are scoring 4.52 runs per game in that stretch.

Anecdotal as it may be, Polanco was making a lot of weak contact early in the season. Unfortunately, advanced stats do not measure velocity of batted balls that I’m aware of, but Polanco is hitting the ball harder even though he has shown an increase of ground balls of about 7% above his career average this year.  On the more positive side, Polanco has shown a 3% increase in line drives. Over the past few games, Polanco’s improvement seems to be based on the fact that he has been able to find gaps – since April 25, Polanco has hit 6 doubles and 1 HR, compared to 1 and 0 before that.

Is this sustainable? In short, yes. Projected to 162 games, Polanco’s total season pace puts him on pace for .275/.309/.345 with 30 2Bs and 5 HRs while ZIPs “Rest of the Year” projection puts him on pace for .279/.324/.362 with 16 2Bs and 4 HRs.  Both numbers are a slight departure from his .300/.345/.405 career line but would be good for a still-plus-defensive third baseman.

There’s reason is reason to believe his .299 BABIP is a pretty true number as it is close to his .310 career mark so there is not much evidence to suggest his current stretch is luck-based. But wait, there’s more good news! Polanco’s .309 OBP should positively adjust as his current 3.9% BB% should move toward his 5.4% career mark and his 9.2% K% should decrease toward his 6.8% career mark.

Polanco may not be the .300+ hitter with plus defense many Phillies fans had in mind when the Phils signed him in 2010 but there is reason to believe his recent success will continue and will end up leveling out toward the .275-.285 mark with good defense. The question becomes: Is that good enough production out of third base to contribute to a playoff run? With some good, or even improving, health and a little bit of luck, Polly is shaping up to be a major reason why the Phillies succeed in 2012.

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