The Phillies have signed Placido Polanco to a three-year, $18 million contract. Polanco will play third for the Phils in 2010.

I think this is bad news for Phillies fans, but confused by the fact that Polanco is a very good baseball player. The problem is that he’s a good baseball player because he plays second base.

Here are some of the things that bother me about the idea of signing Polanco to play third base:

He’s not a third baseman. I don’t think there’s much of an argument there. Polanco has not appeared at third base in any of the past four years. On the plus side, he is a very good second baseman and has played more than 2,400 innings at third over his career, so it seems pretty likely he can give the Phillies good defense at third. I feel a little less sure about that than I would about someone who actually provided some team good defense at third over the past four years, though.

He was bad offensively last year and he’s 34-years-old. 285/331/396 last year. OPS+ of 88. In each of the past four seasons he’s gotten at least 495 plate appearances and in two of them he’s on-based .331 or worse.

Even for a 2B he wasn’t good offensively last year. Between the two leagues there were 37 players that got 200 or more plate appearances as a second baseman in 2009. The .730 OPS that Polanco put up while playing second base was 23rd-best. Third basemen should obviously be producing more offense than second basemen.

He doesn’t have the bat to be an everyday 3B. The chart below shows the average slugging percentages posted by NL 3B for each of the past four seasons and the slugging percentage that Polanco has put up. In just one of the four years did he put up a slugging percentage that was better than the average for the position in the NL. He got a ton of hits in those four years, too, going 690-for-2,246 (a .307 batting average):


Year

NL Average SLG by 3B

Polanco SLG

2009

.416

.396

2008

.440

.417

2007

.456

.458

2006

.471

.364

He’s all average — he never, ever walks and doesn’t hit for power. He walks less regularly than Pedro Feliz. He did last year and he has over his career. As I wrote in this post, in a group of players that includes Feliz, Polanco, Crede, Beltre and Tejada, Polanco has been the least likely of any of them to draw a walk in a given plate appearance over their career.

His career rate of getting extra-base hits is miserable. It’s worse than new addition Brian Schneider, who is younger than Polanco and was recently signed to backup Ruiz, and a tiny bit better than ’08 Phillie So Taguchi.

Player Career PA Career XBH XBH/100 PA
Schneider 3,186 221 6.94
Polanco 6,017 399 6.63
Taguchi 1,524 100 6.56

He’s obviously way below the good hitters on the Phillies in terms of their chances to get an extra-base hit. Each of the eight Phillies regulars (including Feliz) got an extra-base hit in at least 7% of their plate appearances in 2009. Utley, Rollins, Werth and Ruiz were all in the nines while Howard and Ibanez were over 12.

This isn’t an addition that’s going to make the Phillies a lot worse. Again, Polanco is a good baseball player and it’s sure not his fault if the Phillies think he’s a third baseman. But it’s not a move that’s going to make them a lot better, either. They had one offensive position on the field where they had a chance to make themselves a lot better and they didn’t do it.

The article linked at the top of the page suggests that Polanco could hit second for the Phils. I think it may make more sense to keep Victorino in the two-hole and hit Polanco seventh after Ibanez and before Ruiz.

Chris Jaffe, who writes for The Hardball Times, has written a book called Evaluating Baseball’s Managers: A History and Analysis of Performance in the Major Leagues, 1876–2008. You can read an excerpt about Gene Mauch from the book at Crashburn Alley.