Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

MLB News

Inbox: Do Pirates plan to stick with Polanco?

Beat reporter Adam Berry answers fans' questions
November 16, 2017

The underachievement of Gregory Polanco is worrisome. How much patience will management show if there is no improvement? -- Steve S., Port Charlotte, Fla.Look no further than Polanco's contract and you'll understand he's a big part of the Pirates' long-term plan. He's going to get every available chance to succeed.

The underachievement of Gregory Polanco is worrisome. How much patience will management show if there is no improvement?
-- Steve S., Port Charlotte, Fla.

Look no further than Polanco's contract and you'll understand he's a big part of the Pirates' long-term plan. He's going to get every available chance to succeed. In April 2016, the Bucs gave the outfielder a five-year, $35 million extension worth up to $58 million through 2023 if they pick up his options.
Polanco showed flashes of his potential that season, but overall, you're looking at a .252/.315/.401 hitter with 49 home runs in 494 games. He has produced 4.2 Wins Above Replacement in four seasons, which is a little bit less than Starling Marte totaled in 2016 alone.

It seems like an excuse, but injuries have been Polanco's biggest problem the last two years. He seemed to turn a corner in 2016, hitting .287 with an .867 OPS through July, then a balky knee derailed his season. Still, Polanco swatted 22 homers and drove in 86 runs while stealing 17 bases in 144 games. It was a step forward, something to build on.
:: Submit a question to the Pirates Inbox ::
But he was rarely -- if ever -- fully healthy this year as he battled various injuries and hit .251 with a .695 OPS, 11 homers, 35 RBIs and eight steals in 108 games. Polanco is not playing winter ball, instead focusing on getting healthy and ready for next season. Anyone who follows his social media can see he takes his workouts seriously. He wants to play up to his potential.
This is probably the third offseason the Pirates have entered with the hope that next year is the year Polanco, now 26 years old, puts it all together. But hey, maybe it will be.
Have the Pirates cooled at all on Gerrit Cole? He has not looked as much like a staff ace the last couple years, but maybe closer to a No. 2-3 starter. Thanks!
-- Tim W., Cranston, R.I.

Not at all. The Bucs still believe Cole is their ace. He has elite fastball velocity, a full arsenal of pitches and a great grasp of his craft. You saw it all work in 2015, when he finished with a 2.60 ERA in 208 innings and placed fourth in the National League Cy Young Award voting.
Cole was physically limited by injuries in 2016, and his numbers suffered accordingly. It's harder to make sense of his past season.
He ranked third in the NL with 203 innings, 10th with 196 strikeouts and 14th among qualifiers with a 1.25 WHIP. He took the ball 33 times and made 20 quality starts, tied for fourth-most in the NL, and he had 10 starts of at least seven innings while allowing two or fewer earned runs. That's all good.

Then you see his final numbers, including the 31 homers allowed, a 4.26 ERA and an adjusted ERA+ that was just 1 percent better than league average. That's not ideal. Cole said there were "more good ballgames than not" and chose to focus on the positives heading into next year. The Pirates will do the same.
Why do think Charlie Morton was so effective in the Astros' postseason? I don't remember him throwing 2,389,298 mph for the Pirates. Is it coaching?
-- Bob S., Pleasant Gap, Pa.

Morton's first turnaround was in Pittsburgh -- as a ground-ball machine powered by two-seam fastballs and infield shifts, not this four-seam flame-thrower who emerged in Houston. After Pittsburgh traded Morton for salary relief, he started throwing harder and increasing his curveball usage. He simply didn't want to pitch to contact anymore.
The veteran looked different during his brief stint with the Phillies, and the Astros bet on that transformation. According to FanGraphs writer Travis Sawchik, Morton said his improvement was driven by one thought: "I got tired of giving things up to fate." Morton took control of his own career, and now, he's a World Series champion.
"His Game 7 performance was the best of the Charlie Morton we saw," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. "He added the ability to throw the four-seamer up and in to left-handed hitters. He had that power sinker. He had the power breaking ball. When he was healthy [in Pittsburgh], he threw the ball really well.
"There were times he battled through some injuries. There were times he wasn't throwing the ball well and didn't have that confidence. So it didn't surprise us to see Charlie Morton do that at all. We'd seen that guy. We weren't able to help him be that guy enough, and Houston did, to their credit."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.