He’s a true utility man, but he should always be on the field somewhere, preferably in right field over a certain someone.
The Major League Baseball season has just begun, and the Pittsburgh Pirates are off to a slow start. A proactive leader might insist that an early shakeup is needed; a more careful leader might suggest that we need to let things run its course for the time being. I fall into the former camp. On a team which isn’t likely to be graced with visitations to the win column very frequently this season, it’s time to make sure the right players are playing.
Enter: Phillip Evans.
Last season, in a game against the Detroit Tigers at PNC Park, Miguel Cabrera hit a foul ball down the right field line. Evans, playing first, gave chase to the ball, showing excellent hustle in doing so. He, however, was on a collision course the right fielder Gregory Polanco. The two collided and Evans remained on the dirt, clearly shaken up. He missed the rest of the season.
Now, in a twist of fate, Evans seems poised to take Polanco’s position away from him. In short, Polanco isn’t what we all hoped he’d become; whether that’s attributable to mismanagement, personal responsibility, injuries, or anything else is a subject for a different article. The fact of it is this: Polanco seldom has good seasons, and that’s a trend which doesn’t appear to be reversing course anytime soon.
The last season of competent production from Polanco came in 2018 when he played in 130 games, carried a 123 wRC+, and contributed 2.5 fWAR. In 2019, he only played in 47 games. Last year, though he did remain in the lineup, his production was nowhere to be seen, carrying a 41 wRC+ and being a -0.7 fWAR player.
Now, early in the 2021 campaign, his bat is still nowhere to be seen, carrying a 10 wRC+ and -0.2 fWAR over his first 17 plate appearances. He’s had his opportunities, and in a previous season, we might be willing to give him a chance to try to sort things out. That is simply not a feasible option anymore.
Evans, on the other hand, has a 265 wRC+ and 0.3 fWAR to begin the season. Before his broken jaw sidelined him last season, he had a 158 wRC+ and 0.4 fWAR through 11 games. Granted, stats don’t necessarily mean all that much this early in the season, and neither of those I mentioned indicate that Evans will assuredly continue on his successful trajectory, but in brief time over the last two seasons, he’s showing something Polanco hasn’t in three years: Competency.
The Pirates wouldn’t be shuffling the lineup in order to try to win more games — that’s a fruitless endeavor this season. But they should be shuffling the lineup in order to ensure they’re giving an adequate number of reps to players who might figure into the imminent future of the ball club — and perhaps who might even be around when the team is good again. Polanco doesn’t fall into either of those categories.
Whether or not the Pirates will make this move is another story. The biggest contributing factor I could think of as to why Derek Shelton won’t replace Polanco — especially this early — is because of the salary Polanco is due ($11 million, according to Spotrac), meaning Shelton’s decisions regarding this subject might be influenced to a greater extent upstairs than on-field situations normally are.
Though infrequently, Evans has appeared in the outfield and I see no reason why he couldn’t make it an everyday home. Because of Evans’ versatility, tenacity, hustle, and production, he deserves to start in right field over Polanco.
Editor’s note: It sounds like Evans will start today.