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The A.J. Pollock Problem

A.J. Pollock is searching for a deal in 2018 that he could have found in 2015.

A.J. Pollock by Ian D’Andrea is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The A.J. Pollock Problem


Estimated Reading Time: 6 Minutes

As teams begin making moves and the MLB Hot Stove heats up, the focus of the offseason begins to shift towards the free agents still available on the market.

So far this winter, we’ve seen big contracts handed out to Patrick Corbin, Nathan Eovaldi, the New York Mets, and Andrew McCutchen. The anticipation for the signatures of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado on their monster deals is palpable, but there’s another former star who’s getting left out in the cold: A.J. Pollock.

A.J. Pollock was drafted by the Diamondbacks with the 17th overall pick of the 2009 MLB Draft, almost 230 picks before they selected All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. Slated to be the star outfielder for years in the desert, Pollock shot through the DBacks farm system. In 2010, Pollock earned a Spring Training invite, only to break his right elbow making a diving catch, missing the entire 2010 season. Two seasons later, after hitting .318 in for the Reno Aces, the DBacks AAA club, Pollock was called up to the show in 2012. 

The hype seemed real when Pollock hit 28 doubles in 2013. Aside from his .268 average, it wasn’t a terrible first year in the Majors. 2014 has to be an improvement, right?

Pollock played well in the first half of 2014, slashing .302/.353/.489 with an OPS of .853, and it seemed like the young outfielder was on his way to stardom. Pollock then missed the second half of 2014, due to injury. This would be the first of a recurring theme throughout his career. 

In 2015, however, A.J. Pollock showed up for the entirety of the season, and he produced at the level Arizona fans were hoping he would. Over his 157 games in 2015, Pollock raked to the tune of a .315/.367/.498 slashline, an .865 OPS, driving in 76 RBIs on 192 hits, 39 for doubles and 20 of them for roundtrips. 

Not only did Pollock come into his own, he became the perfect opener to the Diamondbacks one-two punch in front of Paul Goldschmidt. The incredible Diamondbacks first baseman had a sensational 2015, smacking a .321/.435/.570 slash, 182 hits, driving in 111 RBIs and crushing 33 home runs. Pollock, hitting in front of Goldy, smacked .315/.367/.498, an .865 OPS, hitting 39 doubles, 76 RBIs, and 20 homers, totalling 192 hits. 

These two All-Stars accounted for one-third of the Diamondbacks runs scored, and 27% of their runs batted in. The only other player Paul Goldschmidt drove in more often than himself in 2015, was A.J, Pollock. This two-man wrecking crew helped right the ship and stop the nose dive that could have been following the 2014 season. 

Arizona was putting themselves on the map in the NL West, and Pollock was a big piece of that transition.

As the 2016 season drew near, Pollock and the Diamondbacks agreed on a two-year, $10.25 million dollar extension. The future looked bright for the Chase Field Centerfielder, until Pollock once again broke his elbow in Spring Training. Pollock would have 41 at-bats in 2016, accruing 10 hits.

After a roller coaster beginning to his career, Pollock and the DBacks looked to start fresh in 2017. With the franchise trending upwards in the offseason on both sides of the ball, it seemed that if Pollock could return to his 2015 form, it was possible that the DBacks could make a run deep into the postseason. 

Instead, Pollock faded into the background, settling into a supporting role for Goldy, David Perralta and Jake Lamb. This would be his main role in Arizona for the next two seasons.

One of the bigger problems with A.J. Pollock is that his main selling point is potential. But how much potential does an injury prone thirty-year-old centerfielder have? According to Pollock, he’s got $80 million over 5 years worth of potential.

There was a time when a player like A.J. Pollock could have gotten this deal, and that was after the 2015 season. Instead, Pollock is searching for a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow that simply doesn’t exist. If any team were to sign Pollock to any deal longer than 4 four years, and worth more than $40 million, they’re insane. If anything, you should add a stipulation that Pollock needs to play at least 70% of the games he’s contracted for. 

Why 70%? Because in his seven years of big league service, A.J. Pollock has failed to play in 114 games all but twice. That’s a big problem for a big contract.

But perhaps he could live up to the hype? Even the experts don’t believe that. Baseball Reference has Pollock’s 2019 projections set pretty low, and way below a $16 million AAV valuation. 

And therein lies the issue. There is nothing about A.J. Pollock’s numbers that show any evidence of deserving a 4-year, $80 million dollar deal. 

If we’re using Cain as our gold standard of “good contract for a good player” Pollock doesn’t come close to hitting Cain’s numbers. 

Cain’s 162 game average numbers look something like this: 

.293/.351/.420, .772 OPS, 176 Hits, 32 2Bs, 12 HRs, 28 Stolen Bases.

Pollock’s 162 game averages, look similar:

.281/.338/.467, 805 OPS, 163 Hits, 37 2Bs, 19 HRs, 26 Stolen Bases.

While you may look at those numbers and say “they’re almost identical”, I’d remind you that there is simply no chance that Pollock plays 162 games. So if we’ve following his career averages, we can drop those numbers by 30% to get an accurate picture of his production. 

Even Baseball Reference has Pollock projected to only play 70% of the season, and he hasn’t even signed with anyone yet. 

You know who is an even better comparison? Ender Inciarte.

Inciarte was traded by the Diamondbacks after the 2015 season, the one where Pollock showed up and showed off. The former D-Back has since blossomed into a very solid outfielder in Atlanta, earning himself a contract extension to stay at SunTrust Park. The Braves now have an interesting conundrum now that phenom Ronald Acuna, Jr. has arrived in a big way for Atlanta. Acuna is a natural centerfielder, and Inciarte is currently captaining the outfield from that spot.

The Braves have to decide what to do. Do they squash Acuna’s natural position for a corner outfield spot, keeping Inciarte in Center? Or do they move Inciarte to left field, letting Acuna play his natural position, and hope that Inciarte’s defensive prowess translates to a corner spot? (HINT: They absolutely will.)

The way it’s going now, it would seem like the Braves are going to maintain the status quo until something changes, and that could be a while. Inciarte is showing no signs of slowing down, while Acuna just got onto the scene and has some hardware to live up to. 

If the Braves had Pollock instead of Inciarte, I can guarantee they’d already be planning to move Acuna to center, and they’d be looking for a corner outfield to split time with A.J., or take over once he gets hurt. 

A.J. Pollock hasn’t provided too many answers in his seemingly short career. Instead, the current free agent brings more questions to the table. Can he stay healthy? Can he produce without Goldschmidt? Can he get back to 2015? 

The problem for Pollock is that he can’t answer those questions. The only way for him to know is to keep playing and find out. Which makes his posturing as an answer to a club’s outfield and offensive issues, kind of problematic. 

By setting himself up to the be the solution to an outfield problem, Pollock’s setting himself up for failure. The Diamondbacks have already expressed their disinterest in bringing him back and they started Gregor Blanco and Jon Jay last year. If they don’t want him, with all of the dysfucntion in their organization, how can you trust A.J. Pollock’s future?

The problem with A.J. Pollock is you can’t trust him to live up to his own expectations. You can only pray to whatever god you believe in that you don’t get burned.

But the numbers point to disappointment.

Justin Colombo is a 2017 Broadway Show Softball League All-Star at 3B/SS. He's essentially the Manny Machado of the Kinky Boots team. Justin has been writing about Baseball since he was a little kid. Now that being an actor in NYC has given him a lot of free time, in 2015 he decided to take his passion public and founded Three Up, Three Down as a way to express his love for the game. From there, Three Up, Three Down grew from a hobby to an obsession. After years of growth and one insult from MLB's Historian, Justin launched The Turf, a way to expand into all areas of the sporting world. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter. LET'S. GO. METS.

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